Veterans bring a wide variety of skills, abilities, and experiences found nowhere else, and which can make meaningful impacts to their civilian organizations.
This post was meant for July 25th, 2020, National Hire a Veteran Day, to show off the incredible benefits of hiring veterans in today’s job market. However, due to some technical difficulties, this post got delayed until now! I apologize for the delay for those of my loyal readers who expect to see my posts every week. I also missed the Coast Guard’s birthday on August 4th during this time, so happy birthday Coasties! Without further ado…
Veterans comprise 8.5% of the workforce, accounting for approximately 4 million individuals since September 2001. This might seem like a small number, however the recent push from both government and business leaders shows there is a serious demand for veterans in the workforce.
Quick caveat to this conversation, there is what is called a protected veteran status that is extended to permanently injured veterans, surviving spouses, veterans of major wars, and recently separated veterans. This status is given by the federal government and while it works very similar to other anti-discrimination laws, it also potentially allows businesses to claim a Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). This provides monetary incentives to hiring veterans, but I will not be getting into that, as it does not highlight the true long-term benefits of hiring a vet.
1. Education and Training
What makes veterans so special in the civilian workforce? It might surprise you since veterans have access to the highly coveted G.I. bill, that education is not what separates them from their counterparts who never served. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of veterans with various levels of education closely mirrors non-veterans.
Veteran vs. Non-veteran education comparison
However, when we refer to veteran education, usually it does not mean education in the traditional sense. The military takes men and women as early as 17 and in as short of a time as 6 months (not including boot camp) remake them into electricians, corpsmen (equivalent of an EMT in civilian terms), mechanics, and soldiers. I am a product of the Naval Nuclear Program that in one and a half years had my hands on an active nuclear reactor. In what civilian industry does this happen? Regardless of the MOS or rating that a veteran held, they learned responsibility, how to learn quickly, and trust in their teams.
Members of the military also hold down auxiliary duties. I know many of my brothers and sisters reading this just gave an audible groan, but because of our “versatility” that the command expects of us, veterans can quickly learn and absorb a new task. This might seem that a veteran becomes a jack-of-all-trades, but in reality, it just makes us flexible and adaptable. Veterans do not shy away from a challenge just because they have not done it before. In today’s business environment, job descriptions are rarely set in stone and employees are asked to increasingly work outside of their original bounds, something that will come as a second nature to most veterans.
2. Effective Leaders
The United States Military has been training leaders since June 14, 1775. In this time, they have revised and refined what it means to be a leader and how to build leaders from individuals who may not be “natural-born” leaders. Traditionalists believe that leaders are naturally selected, or possess certain traits that make them more successful in these roles, however the military has taken individuals from all socio-economic, racial, and religious groups. Regardless of where they come from, the military has been radically more successful in creating leaders than any civilian organization.
Related Article: Leadership within the military has had to lead soldiers into battle and motivate men and women to do things most individuals would not be able to do. Read about it in Leadership’s Role in Change
In the Naval Nuclear Program, we are taught that all individuals of the program hold leadership roles regardless of rank. Indeed, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the father of the U.S. Nuclear Navy bred a culture that rank held less sway than traditional departments in the military. He wanted all members to be able to question orders as it pertained to the safe and effective operation of the reactor.
This might sound counter-intuitive to the leadership point I am making but stick with me. Admiral Rickover stressed the responsibility of leadership and its role in an effective fighting force.
Responsibility is a unique concept… You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you… If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
Veterans take these leadership lessons that are so ingrained as to be natural and normal to them to their civilian organizations. Imagine for a moment a manager who genuinely cares for the well-being of the individuals of his/her team, as if they were in the trenches with them, while able to manage complex projects/processes. A leader who has the strategic vision to not only accomplish the local mission but see how their efforts affect the organization as a whole. These are the leaders that the military creates.
3. Adaptable Arrangements
By the top-down nature of military structure, veterans tend to organize their teams according to a similar structure. There is much flexibility in the veteran’s organization, often rearranging team members according to individual talents to best make the most optimal combinations as required for the situation.
Adaptability: Adaptability equals survivability. Stay flexible and apply your mind to deal with the unexpected challenges life throws at you.
Seven Keys to Excellence, Navy SEAL Evolution of Excellence Campaign
What does this mean for your organization if you decide to hire a vet? He or she requires a more structured organization to operate in, preferring to understand the “reporting structure,” however are more than comfortable to operate for “missions” outside of the traditional chain of command. This allows for greater flow of information throughout the business while allowing for a more matrixed approach to organizational structure when need arises to get the job done.
4. Drive to Succeed
I cannot tell you the number of people who knew me before the military and said something like “you’re a completely different person” or “the military gave you a sense of purpose.” For most veterans, the military changes them for the better, but what it really instills is a drive to succeed. This drive comes from the nature of the business that the military is in. When failure is not an option and could mean many people are injured or killed, members of our military except nothing less than excellence from themselves and those around them. They advance their pursuit of their personal and organization’s goals through dedication, perseverance and the innovation that has made the U.S. military into the most capable fighting force the world has ever seen.
There’s likely a place in paradise for people who tried hard, but what really matters is succeeding. If that requires you to change, that’s your mission.
General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Army Retired
Struggles and adversity are par for the course for a veteran, so much so that they have internalized the solutions to not just move past it, but to succeed despite it. Indeed, most members of the military take great pride in their stories of overcoming some enemy (either real or figurative). This drive to succeed originally came from a veteran’s responsibility to their unit, branch, and country, a response to the high expectations placed upon them, however, most bring the same drive and conduct to their civilian organizations.
Notes to the Hiring Company
1. Constructive Feedback
As mentioned in benefit #4 above, people who have served in the military take a lot of pride in their achievements. They have done many great and wonderful things in their careers and how they got there was through hard work, dedication, and a will to succeed that is hard to match. Veterans are not perfect. The military has a coaching program that discusses a member’s career desires and how to attain them, holding nothing back from where a person is falling short on the command’s expectations.
Taking this in mind when an employer is thinking of hiring a veteran will go a long way in ensuring your new employee is integrated into your organization. Most veterans will need a very clear source of constructive feedback from their “chain of command.” This will ensure he or she understands the desires and expectations of the new organization and how to succeed within it.
2. Clear Direction
Similarly, veterans will need clear direction of roles and responsibilities within an organization. In the military, there is only black and white as it pertains to what an individual’s role within a team is. There is no room for gray when indecision or role disputes could cause an injury or death. Hiring a veteran means they will require this level of detail from the organization or will develop it themselves (see point #3 above).
To ensure there is no friction within a veteran and individuals within your organization, it is best to clearly define the direction and vision you see for them and how they integrate into your business. In the absence of direction, most veterans will keep themselves busy by creating work, even if that work is counter-productive to their leader’s undisclosed desires. If you want to best utilize a veteran’s abilities, point them in the direction and let them show you what they are capable of.