For 69 percent of military veterans, the biggest hurdle they face returning to civilian life is finding a job, according to a Veterans' Employment Challenges study. No wonder that the jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans is over 10 percent—higher than the nationwide average. For younger veterans aged 18 to 24, it’s a whopping 20.4 percent.
In 2011, President Obama’s Joining Forces initiative challenged the private sector to hire and train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. The goal was surpassed in 2012, but as the statistics above indicate, there’s still more to be done.
Myths Vs. Realities
Why are business owners not hiring veterans? “Many employers, especially if they don’t have prior experience with military personnel, can have stereotypes of veterans being rigid, inflexible and not having real leadership skills because they had to follow orders,” says Russ Hovendick, whose company, Directional Motivation, provides career guidance with a focus on veterans and who wrote the book Deployment to Employment: A Guide For Military Veterans Transitioning To Civilian Employment. “They may have trouble understanding the ‘military speak’ of veterans, who often include military acronyms in their conversations. Smaller employers may feel they don’t have adequate time and resources to bring veterans up to speed in a work environment if the veteran has no prior industry experience.”
In reality, more than 80 percent of military jobs have a direct or very close civilian equivalent, says Lisa Rosser, founder and CEO of The Value Of a Veteran, which teaches organizations how to recruit and retain military veterans. Small-business owners who overcome stereotypes about veterans can enjoy many benefits from hiring them. “Most people who have no exposure to the military assume all the military does is combat-type roles,” says Rosser, a 22-year military veteran herself. “They don't realize that the military has health-care practitioners, legal professionals, logisticians, telecommunications and IT professionals. In addition, all service members have at least some experience in operations, process improvement, managing projects and training, and those in the officer grades and enlisted grades E-4 through E-9 also have supervisory, managerial and leadership experience.”
In addition, Rosser notes, because veterans have been trained not only in a specific occupation but in a variety of job roles, they’re often a perfect fit for small businesses that need employees to wear many hats.
“Veterans also bring flexibility when it comes to working conditions,” Hovendick says, “such as a willingness to work shifts and weekends, and to tolerate adverse environments involving cold, wet or hot conditions.”
Dina Dwyer-Owens believes so strongly in veterans that she spearheads the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) national VetFran program. Founded in 1991 by her father, then-IFA chairman Don Dwyer, Sr., VetFran offers monetary discounts to veterans who buy participating franchises. “Veterans’ training is a benefit to any small business looking to stand out and be a leader,” Dwyer-Owens says. “More than 1 million men and women are expected to leave the military and enter the civilian world in the next five years. The skills and values those military veterans can offer—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage—is a talent pool that can transform small businesses."
There are some bottom-line benefits as well. “Many employers may not be aware of the training and schooling benefits the GI bill provides for an employer,” Hovendick adds. “These benefits can provide free schooling and related job training for veterans employed with their firms, in addition to tax credits.”
The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides incentives of up to $5,600 for hiring unemployed veterans, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit doubles the existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities, to up to $9,600. (The President’s FY2014 Budget will call for making all veteran hiring tax credits permanent; currently, they’ve been extended through the end of the year for employees who start work before January 1, 2014.)
“Tax credits come right off the bottom line of what a company owes in taxes each year, so the savings can be significant,” Rosser says, “especially since there is no limit to the number of veterans you can hire who are eligible.”
Ready, Set, Hire
Ready to hire a veteran? It’s important to meet them halfway. For example, you may need to make some adjustments in your job descriptions. “Too many [employers] get wrapped up in finding an exact job title match, and that's not going to happen when looking at a typical military resume,” Rosser says. Instead of looking for a specific job title, “boil your job description down to the skills you need: ‘I am looking for someone with at least four years of logistics operations experience who has supervised teams of five to 10 people.’ That sentence would describe many occupations in the military.”
Networking with friends, relatives, colleagues, your local chamber of commerce, job sites such as Career Builder and Monster, and Veteran Service Centers is a good place to start your search for veteran employees, Hovendick says. You can also visit the following military veteran job boards to list job openings:
Help veteran employees succeed by approaching assignments in a military fashion. “The military is very mission focused,” Rosser explains. “Service members are used to jumping right in and getting to the task at hand, even if they don't have previous experience doing that exact task. The military taught them to be resourceful and to seek out information or advice when needed. So tell them what you want done, describe what a successful outcome completion looks like, give them a deadline, then sit back and let them work. You'll be pleasantly surprised.”
Hovendick believes small-business owners who hire veterans will discover a resource that can be a foundation for lasting business growth. He says, “If you follow through in developing and retaining veterans, and veterans find an employer that truly values the skills they bring, the word is quickly disseminated within the veteran community."
Think hiring a veteran may be for you? Check out these hiring resources:
Read more articles on hiring veterans.
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