3 Ways That HR Can Help A Veteran – and Positively Impact Their Lives

From the HR blog at TLNT.
From the HR blog at TLNT.

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S., and while many of us are spending the day appreciating the service of those in the armed forces, I think it is also important to think about the ways people in HR can positively impact their lives.

For one, people in HR are in a unique position to see both the veteran hiring impact, the impact of reservists and National Guard members on the workforce, and opportunities for disabled veterans.

With that in mind, here are three things you can do to help a veteran:

1. Reach out

The biggest step people seem to miss is the first one. I think it is always one of those things that is easy to sweep under the rug or forget about.

Here’s the big issue though: for young veterans, the transition into the private sector is tough. As recently as March, unemployment among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars hit 21 percent. Even after a veteran is out of the service for almost a year, unemployment figures still top the double figures.

How do we become part of the solution on this? You’ve got to reach out to veterans like you do other under-represented people in your company: proactive communication before, during and after transition into the private sector. What could this involve? A call to our local National Guard base helped get us taken care of locally.

When I worked on military recruiting, we worked with bases on the West Coast. We would make an effort to be there face-to-face, and when we couldn’t afford to do that, we would offer time, resources and sponsorship of career focused events.

You have to have the curiosity to reach out though.

2. Learn about military service

As a person who hasn’t served in the military, it’s at times a bit intimidating to talk military language while recruiting or dealing with possible deployments. There’s a language barrier there that some folks are embarrassed about.

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I remember when I went on my first trip to MCAS Miramar in San Diego, I started talking to various levels of military personnel and I would ask them about their time in the service, what skills they are bringing back to the private sector, and what they wanted to do. Most were more than willing to talk me through what various designations meant and how their skills translated over into what we had.

For me, it was a willingness to be humble and admit I didn’t know much about military service and a commitment to learn more. Being able to talk to family members and friends who served and knowing what the major bases were doing (you can get some of that info here) was a big plus.

The other resource are people who have served within your own organization. On any recruiting trip, I would take someone along and not only would they help me on the ground, they would also help fill in gaps in knowledge while we were traveling. The biggest plus for both parties was being willing to learn and listen.

Another point we also forget is working with reservists and National Guard members who are facing deployment (or in some cases, redeployment). This can be a delicate issue and there is not only uncertainty about leaving their family, friends, and home for a deployment but also about job security. Knowing the law and restating the companies commitment is the bare minimum. Whatever additional support you can offer is going to go a long way in helping.

3. Take action

Being willing to take action and thinking about your job openings and how they could be fulfilled by military experience is a big piece of the puzzle. But another one I think people should think about is what you can do to incorporate disabled or combat veterans (with less transferable skills) into your recruiting mix. A couple months ago, I read a great take on this by Josh Letourneau on Fistful of Talent about the issue and while the whole article is worth a read, I want to look at this part:

While I greatly respect those Veterans who were not “Combat-Arms” focused, they’re not the individuals most susceptible to losing limbs or their sight, etc. That’s not said to discount the importance of Combat Support by any means, because supporting the actual WarFighter is absolutely necessary. But what I am suggesting is this: It’s not the “skilled” guy (or girl) typing on a keyboard back in the air-controlled, “Green Zone,” Command-and-Control tent that gets rocked by an IED. It’s the Marine on patrol in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq. It’s the Soldier “winning the hearts and minds” of the Afghani population in the Korengal Valley of Aghanistan. Again, you get the picture.

So, am I biased? You bet. See, when I volunteer at the Atlanta VA Regional Hospital, I don’t work with Veterans who are “skilled.” Why? Not because I wouldn’t, but because they don’t ask me to. They’re being competed for; they’re “good to go.” I find myself working with the people who are missing legs and arms (sometimes both), most of whom can’t get an interview with a local Piggly Wiggly because they’re not “skilled” enough. Nope, they’re the guys and girls that bought into the Military Recruiting vision – they wanted to “fight the bad guys” (or “fight for their country”), not knowing what the long-term costs of such a sacrifice might be. Yeah, yeah, the “We Thank Our Troops” bumper stickers are nice, but they don’t help anyone get a job. In a sense, these Disabled Veterans are “Not Gone, But Forgotten.”

So my challenge is how do we get HR folks more invested in this process, not just for skilled veterans but for all of them? That’s the real point where we need action. And that’s an area where HR pros can absolutely take the lead on in their organizations and make great win/win solutions for veterans and their companies.


2 Comments on “3 Ways That HR Can Help A Veteran – and Positively Impact Their Lives

  1. Lance,

    I found your third point particularly striking. I think that until we as a profession learn to look beyond our rigid requirements around “relevant past experience” this will be a problem not just for vets but for anyone changing roles.

    The truth is, doing something well at one place doesn’t always mean you can do it well somewhere else.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’d love to see people hire those with passion and a desire to learn, not just those who have “done it before.”

    Nice post!

  2. Certainly, members of the military (active / inactive) have a lot of offer to a company. Instead of viewing them in a negative light, they have experience levels and leadership capabilities that exceed the civilian world by far.

    Take a second look world! Reach out to the military members to protect our country.

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