Peter A. Gudmundsson
In an era when “support our troops” bumper stickers are common and billboards and radio advertisements abound with rallying calls to give veterans a job, it is not surprising that many employers are overwhelmed and confused. Good intentions permeate most efforts to employ veterans at the national, state and local levels. Motivated by patriotism, compassion and genuine gratitude, men and women from all walks of life are stepping up to honor, celebrate and support our veterans. Our nation’s finest appreciate this sentiment but the unintended result of this fury of rhetoric can be unclear messaging, inefficient hiring practices and sloppy resource allocation. Four myths permeate the field of veteran hiring. Let’s explore some of these misconceptions.
Veteran unemployment is an epidemic. Many people think that we suffer from an epidemic of veteran unemployment. The media would have us believe that hundreds of thousands of veterans roam our streets just one step from destitution because of their inability to find work. In fact, veterans are MORE employed than citizens as a whole. April’s Bureau of Labor Statistics figures cited national unemployment at 6.3 percent and veteran unemployment at 5.6 percent. It is true that younger veterans under the age of 24 suffer unemployment at 12.8 percent versus 11.1 percent for all, but many of these veterans are taking time off after they leave service or going to school part time. These numbers are not surprising when one considers the provable truth that veterans make great employees.
More social and government services are needed to address veteran unemployment. First lady Michelle Obama recently announced yet another government- funded website to “get veterans jobs.” Regardless of the party in power, the federal government often acts as if “more programs” are the only solution to the perceived problem. In fact, the technologies adopted rarely understand how employment really works in the private economy. Likewise, nonprofit organizations spring up at a regular rate to tackle the “problem.” A recent George W. Bush Institute study counted 46,000 veteran service organizations in the country today. Of course not all address employment, but our challenge is not the lack of service organizations but over-proliferation of these well-meaning organizations.
Post-traumatic stress afflicts most veterans. When hiring managers and recruiters are honest, they confess that the “elephant in the room” of veteran hiring is the fear that veterans may suffer from PTS. (Note that post-traumatic stress is not a disorder, it is the reaction of a healthy brain to unusual and uncommon stress.) Solid numbers are hard to obtain, but most veterans never see combat and of those who do, less than 15 percent experience some sort of PTS. This compares with regular citizens, who suffer from PTS at about an 8 percent rate as a result of abuse, accidents or other stressful experiences. Furthermore, the vast majority of PTS can be accommodated in the workplace with zero risk of violence and negligible cost to the employer.
Veterans need special software to “translate” their experiences to civilian purposes. In recent years, a number of vendors, including the government, have created software that purports to translate military occupational specialties into their civilian counterparts. The outputs of these systems are usually either comically obvious (an Army truck driver can be, well, a truck driver) or unhelpful and limiting (an artillery officer can be a land surveyor or an infantryman a security guard). In practice, if one wants to understand the value of a veteran’s skills experience, ask her. She will tell you. Just show a bit of patience and creativity. Don’t you think an infantry squad leader who has negotiated with Afghan village elders can handle an irate customer for your company? Hiring veterans is not charity or duty, it is sound business practice. Just as a company deserves no special accolades for recruiting talent from top colleges, so it goes with veteran hiring. The smart companies get it and do it right. The key is to get beyond the hype and sentiment and develop a workable plan. Know why your company seeks veteran talent and develop a plan for obtaining it. We owe our veterans respect and gratitude for their service but you owe it to your owners, customers, other employees and yourself to hire only the best, our veterans.
Peter Gudmundsson is the CEO of RecruitMilitary, a veteran hiring company. He is a former Marine field artillery and infantry officer and resides in Dallas. He can be reached at peter@RecruitMilitary.com