Great quotes form VCS friend Steve Robinson
Amidst a sluggish economy that keeps slogging, increasing attention has been called to the abysmal employment rate of returning veterans. How bad is it? The latest figures by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report unemployment numbers for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001–a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans – as 12.1%, a number far above the national average for the civilian population. What’s worse, this number is expected to go up after U.S troops have completely withdrawn from Afghanistan. And let’s not forget that 26% of recent veterans suffer from a service-connected disability, adding to the daunting obstacle course for reintegration into the civilian work world.
Which all means that if you were brave enough to serve your country, your employment prospects are dimmer than if you had just stayed home.
Fortunately, many leading companies are recognizing this injustice and going to great lengths to make themselves veteran friendly. What corporate social change trailblazers understand is that hiring veterans isn’t just socially conscious – it’s also smart business. Veterans bring tremendous skill sets to the civilian workplace that aren’t always easily identified on resumes but which show up as the sort of coveted qualities that make for the best kinds of employees. That’s why connecting vets with employment goes beyond hiring one vet at a time or sponsoring hiring fairs; it’s about changing business cultures to recognize the value of vets while also helping vets articulate how their military skills are transferable to the civilian world.
Reinventing What it Means to be Veteran Friendly
Prudential is one example of this sort of corporate pioneer of good, with an entire department dedicated exclusively to helping veterans. As Prudential’s Vice President of External Veteran Affairs, Stephen Robinson is charged with developing best practices with regards to veterans employment issues and ensuring that Prudential is a welcoming place for veterans transitioning to the workforce. Robinson’s duties don’t stop at Prudential’s door, however; he’s also responsible for sharing these best practices with other corporate leaders to widen the national support net for veterans.
As Robinson puts it, “I believe 100% that in supporting veterans we help ourselves. We get people who are talented, motivated, dedicated, and this helps us improve how we do business and solve problems. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families recently published a white paper on the business case for hiring veterans. It reviewed 30 years of data around veterans, and this all boils down to many of the things that I know vets possess – the intangibles that companies are starting to learn.”
For example, according to Robinson, if you give veterans a mission and help them understand their role in its success, they will go off and accomplish it without much supervision. Veterans are dedicated and have a demonstrated ability to work in arduous environments and take on complex tasks. The data also shows that vets typically work harder, longer, don’t take as many sick days, and they have the demonstrated ability to inculcate themselves into the culture and improve the systems.
“I like to tell people: what could you as a company do with someone who has, over the last 10 years, served in the world’s most arduous environments, operated the most technically advanced equipment, made life and death decisions, in a place where those decisions have geopolitical consequences, and returned and served with honor? Those people could do pretty much anything you asked them to do and anything you will train them to do. When you hire a veteran and bring them into your company and they feel comfortable, safe, welcome and respected, you get productivity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, honesty and determination. Those things are hard to come by without having had some experience. Those are just a few of the many intangible attributes that veterans bring. Veterans display the ethos and morals and resourcefulness that hiring managers want. That turns into productivity.”
Even if your company doesn’t have an entire department committed to helping veterans, the potential for impact is enormous, especially if you involve your employees in skills-based volunteering opportunities. Take, for example, Alcoa Foundation, which launched a partnership with American Corporate Partners last year to fuel its pro bono volunteerism efforts. ACP connects corporate professionals with veterans to help transfer their skills and guide them when seeking new long-term civilian careers, earning a degree or setting up their own business. The response from Alcoa employees to this program was overwhelming; the goal for the first year was 50 people, but within just a few weeks the company reached 150.
One of those enthusiastic volunteers was Andy Mills, a Vice President at Alcoa, who decided to commit to a year long mentorship program and assist a veteran named Leonard Green with his transition from the Armed Services to the civilian workforce. No stranger to the process himself, Andy wanted to use his own experience and reach out to a fellow veteran.
“When I retired from the military five years ago, I was fortunate to have several people help me during my transition. I pledged to pay this forward when I had the chance. When I heard about the mentorship program through my company’s foundation I saw it as an opportunity to use my background and help someone else. Together we have worked through the process of transition from the military, preparing for interviews, job selection, and negotiation for salary and benefits.”