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November is Military Family Month
It's a Saturday morning in early fall, the start of a new SHRM certification preparation course in Hampton Roads, Va. For those who are not familiar with Hampton Roads, we are home to the largest naval base in the world, plus at least another 10 military bases serving all branches of the U.S. armed forces. It is not unusual for one of my classes to include people working for civilian companies as well as active duty service members, veterans and military spouses. This class was no different.
During introductions, one student told me that this class did not relate to anything she was doing in her "real" job in the military—even though she was doing HR. She said she was taking the class to help her get promoted and find a job after she was discharged. And that she would only be able to take the SHRM-CP exam because the SHRM-SCP exam did not apply to her—even though she had been in the HR field for over 10 years.
I had to stop her at that comment. I knew she wanted to pass the test and succeed, but in her mind she felt she was already behind. I explained that HR in the military does most of what HR does in the civilian world, they just use other words for it.
For example, companies have orientation and onboarding; the Navy has boot camp and indoc. The civilian world has career development; the Navy has career counseling. We both deal with recruiting, relationship management, consulting, risk management, strategic goals, global assignments (with and without families), succeeding with a limited number of employees, and so on. The only difference is that one group wears clothes that can be purchased anywhere, while the other wears the uniform.
Yes, I know there are other differences; there are also a lot of similarities. The student asked how I seemed to know so much, to be able to start talking in military lingo. I explained that my knowledge came from a husband who had retired from the Navy after 24 years, from serving as an Ombudsman for the Navy from the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, from working in the uniform shop, and from teaching both military and civilian undergrad and grad classes.
Now another student asked why I was taking the time to translate the words—military members should just learn the civilian words and keep moving. I explained that the civilian world can learn from the military, just as the military can learn from the civilian world. We are both in a profession that the majority of us enjoy. We all earned our knowledge through experience and hard work, the same way we earn our certifications. By helping each of us to understand the other's work environment, we both win.
For those of you who are thinking about trying for your SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP, either as a military member or as a civilian, I applaud you. I know you can pass the exam. For those who have taken the exam and passed, take a moment to give a word of encouragement to those who are studying or trying to decide if this path is right for them. One thing I have learned is that whether you work for a for-profit or not-for-profit organization, the military or the government, we are all in the same HR profession.
Susan K. Craft, M.S., SHRM-SCP, is president of Consulting by Design of Princess Anne, Norfolk, Va. She is past president of the Virginia SHRM State Council and of Hampton Roads SHRM, and has held many other leadership positions with both groups.
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