The Whiteboard: Employers Should Give Job-Seeking Veterans A Closer Look


December 2015
By Richard Randall

When I sit down to write a column on Pearl Harbor Day it is hard not to have my thoughts turn to our military veterans. That, in turn, makes me think about the dichotomy of a shortage of skilled labor and a veterans’ unemployment rate above the national average.

At the end of 2014, the unemployment rate for veterans who served after September 2001 was 7.2 percent. The unemployment rate for the general population was 5.6 percent. The veterans’ unemployment rate was 29 percent higher than the rate for the general population. I believe that if business leaders thought more about the advantages of hiring veterans, those differences would be reversed.

Why should organizations go out of their way to hire veterans? One obvious reason is to give a hand up to people who sacrifice part of their youth image of soldierto serve our country. You could call that an emotional reason. I suppose it is, but it is not a bad reason and certainly not the only reason by any stretch of the imagination.

Veterans since September 2001 are people who signed up for military service knowing there was a very good chance they would be deployed in harm’s way. Some might have done it only to get a job or job training, but they still did it knowing they could be put in danger at any time. Some did it simply because they wanted to serve. Who doesn’t want people willing to risk it all to serve our country? Or to take a real risk to get a job or an education?

Veterans know how to get up in the morning and get to work on time. In fact, they have been programmed to do that. To some, this might seem like a silly reason to promote hiring veterans. But it isn’t a silly reason to most of the business managers I work with. Coming in late, calling off at the last minute and having a laundry list of excuses are behaviors that are all too common today. Many people really don’t get the commitment to be at work. Veterans get it and they have a proven record of doing it.

Veterans have proven they can be trained. Whatever branch of the military and whatever job, veterans have proven they can learn and master new things. No one goes into the military with the training to fill a military role. They all get trained and if they can’t be trained they don’t become veterans.

We all want people who can be team players. Veterans know how to work as part of a team. Everything in today’s military is about teamwork, team morale, team performance. It is another thing that is indoctrinated into veterans through extensive training and work assignments. Not many businesses can afford the extent of team training and experience our veterans bring to the job.

People who have been in the military understand the need for a leadership hierarchy. They expect to have leaders and to follow them. At the same time, these veterans have been taught to think for themselves when leaders aren’t on the scene or there are breakdowns of communications. They can operate independently because they have been trained in the job and understand the mission. Don’t you wish you had more people like that on your team?

In our military, very young people are expected to take far more responsibility in much more critical circumstances than their counterparts in the private sector. They handle expensive and complex equipment or lead their counterparts in important missions. They work under enormous pressure and stress. The military doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for people to be “seasoned” or to coddle them.

In many cases, veterans have skills that are directly translatable to business, such as management, logistics or technical skills. Where their military skills aren’t transferable, they are an indicator of their ability to learn a complex job. I’ve often said that a person with the right attitude and a willingness and ability to learn will run circles around a person who arrives fully trained and armed with a bad attitude or an inability to think.

Why aren’t more veterans being hired? Much has been written about misconceptions about veterans. Stories in the media make it sound like all of our vets are mentally on edge, which could not be further from the truth. Many hiring managers get hung up on the direct transfer of skills rather than looking at the teamwork, problem-solving, results orientation and leadership skills of the individual.

When employers tell me they can’t get enough “good people,” they usually mean people with good attitudes, behaviors and trainability. If that is your problem, consider the fact that while veterans may not come with the exact job skills you need, they are definitely good people.

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