Veterans at Work Initiative Builds Business Case for an Untapped Talent Pool

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Veterans at Work Initiative Builds Business Case for an Untapped Talent Pool

Monique Jenkins, SHRM member and HR Manager for Enterprise Talent Management Services with the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.​

Judith Tavano, a seasoned human resources (HR) professional, knows that employers struggle to find qualified talent.

She also knows that there is an untapped talent pool that they are overlooking: veterans. 

As the spouse of a military veteran, she lends a unique perspective with insights into both worlds. She has independently helped veterans seeking employment for nearly 20 years. Two years ago, her Northwest Arkansas SHRM chapter received a grant for a program that helps veterans find jobs. Yet, Judith found there was still more to learn about veterans and the civilian workforce.

Establishing the Business Case

HR professionals are always looking for talent. Depending on the geographic area and/or industry sector, filling specific needs can be difficult, Judith says.

"As HR professionals and business leaders, we talk continuously about skills gaps and finding candidates with the skills needed to stay competitive in the 21st century — while 200,000 trained and work-ready adults are transitioning out of the military every year," she says.

The trick for employers, she adds, is to tap into this talent pool. That's where the SHRM Foundation's Veterans at Work Initiative can help. Despite her decades of experience helping veterans seeking employment, Judith says the program helped better inform her for the work she's been doing. The program, developed by HR professionals, people managers and front-line supervisors is a multifaceted, free and self-paced course that is available to anyone.

It helps HR professionals and people managers learn the value that skilled veterans  and members of the military community bring to the civilian workplace. Participants earn a certificate, which demonstrates their commitment to attracting, hiring and retaining these talented professionals. Upon completion, SHRM members can earn 10 professional development credits toward their SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP recertification.

Judith says she better understands the broader veteran community and its needs.

This community includes the National Guard and Reserve.

"When I reflect back on what I learned by taking the Veterans at Work course and how I use what I learned, the part of the program that resonates the most for me is the step-by-step guide to building the business case for hiring and including veterans in the civilian workplace," she says. "In my work, helping to position veterans for the civilian workplace and educating employers as to the benefits of hiring veterans [and active-duty National Guard and Reserve (members), I find that most employers struggle with the 'why' for hiring veterans."

Veterans at Work gave her content and context to share with employers asking that question. The course shows veterans as entrepreneurial, skilled, resourceful, resilient, tech savvy, team oriented, committed, culturally sensitive, familiar with the value of inclusion and, in so many cases, more highly educated than is expected.

Research indicates that most of the general public has little contact with the military and are unaware of how skilled, trained and educated modern military service members are, Judith says.

SHRM member Monique Jenkins is the HR Manager for Enterprise Talent Management Services with the Georgia Department of Administrative Services. She serves as an internal consultant to state HR leaders and their teams in the areas of talent acquisition and performance management.

"One of the things that we hear in the employment space is employers want to support veterans. They're just not sure how to do it," Monique says. "The Veterans at Work Certificate program lays out that framework for them."

Monique, who often promotes the Veterans at Work Initiative at HR conferences, has received feedback indicating that employers find the information valuable because they just didn't know where to start to learn more about recruiting, hiring or retaining veterans.

"It helps to set the stage to help them understand why this is so important and how they can truly be impactful for a veteran," she says.

She is personally motivated to promote the program because she's also a veteran. Monique enlisted when she was just 17. After serving a few years, she left to enroll in college and has worked in HR on the civilian side her entire career.

"I want to make sure that employers have what they need to really help and value veterans so they can ultimately make good hires," she says.

The Veteran's Perspective

Rick Silva must have applied for nearly 70 jobs.

The Army veteran had about 20 years of HR and recruiting experience in the military. He was optimistic about his chances of securing a similar role in the civilian sector. But it wasn't the case.

"There's a perception that companies want veterans. But once you're out there, it seems like the opposite," he says.

Nearly one-third of veteran job seekers are underemployed, according to a Call of Duty Endowment study. Of all the jobs Rick applied for, he only received a handful of phone calls and just one interview. He says there's a disconnect between the military and civilian sectors. The jobs may have been similar, but the lack of awareness in the civilian workforce can be a barrier for veterans like him.

A civilian-military divide does exist, according to a report published by the U.S. Chamber Foundation about veterans in the workplace. The study indicates that greater efforts are required as veterans are onboarded into the civilian workforce. Such efforts include providing training to help co-workers understand the unique attributes of military service members.

Monique says there are numerous programs assisting veterans transitioning back into the civilian sector. However, there aren't many programs educating civilians about veterans.

"They are the ones who need to know," she says. "They need to know what that veteran can bring to the table."

Adam Bolenbaugh is another veteran who thought he had acquired enough HR experience in the Navy to transition into a similar role outside the military.

It turned out that his 14 years of recruiting, training and personnel experience within the military wasn't enough. Civilian hiring managers told him that he needed a HR degree for the jobs that he was applying for. He went on to earn that degree, but was then told that he lacked HR work experience. Employers didn't recognize his military roles as equivalent to the civilian positions he applied for. He was finally hired at a company where there was an awareness about veterans and the soft skills they bring to the job.

Veterans are dependable, organized and dedicated to their jobs, Adam says. The Navy instilled in him its core values of honor, courage and commitment. Veterans are also more educated than their civilian peers. According to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, 65% of veterans have some college education or higher. 

"You're very dependable and reliable," Adam says. "Your all-around work ethic is very strong because that's what you're taught in the military."

Findings from The Center for New American Security also indicate that 68% of employers reported that veterans perform "better than" or "much better than" their civilian peers.

Another report published in 2017 by the Call of Duty Endowment and ZipRecruiter also reveals that veterans stay at their jobs longer than the median employee tenure of 2.5 years.

Monique adds that a veteran's impact in the workplace is soon evident: "They are going to be individuals who can come into an organization and make an immediate impact, as well as relate to anyone at any level."

Sabrina Davis-Fuller, a veteran who still serves in the Army Reserves, better understands the disconnect now that she's on the civilian side of HR. Sometimes it's just a matter of semantics — though the roles are similar, some jobs are called different things in the military.

More than half of HR professionals have little knowledge of military structure, according to the U.S. Chamber Foundation's report about veterans and the workplace.

 "The frustration is when a soldier knows that they can do a job. They know that they can be trained for it, but the employer may have doubts," Sabrina says. "The biggest thing that I would like for them to understand is that we're hard workers."

 Understanding Both Sectors

 SHRM member Crystal Palacios is one of those HR directors who recognizes and values veterans and members of the military community. The human resources director at Del-Air hired Adam. They connected quickly, Crystal says, because of his military experience.

She's a former military spouse and her son now serves in the Navy. Her motivation for completing the Veterans at Work Certificate program was both personal and professional. She knows that one day, her son will reenter the civilian workforce. When that time comes, she hopes that employers will value his strengths and skills.

 "My hope for people managers and anyone with an influence in hiring decisions is that they really just remove any past biases they may have formed about service members," she says. "It's our responsibility as employers to provide a network of support for our transitioning military service members and their spouses."

 Several of her team members have also completed the Veterans at Work Certificate program. It's helped them better understand their employees who are veterans and members of the military community. Her company has held veteran's appreciation events and will soon launch a mentoring program for veterans. 

 "Even though some of my team members weren't directly in talent or recruiting roles, I felt, as HR contributors, they should have the same breadth of knowledge and exposure to resources. I think we all connected the dots once we all received the same training," Crystal says. "That's probably the biggest gift that the SHRM Foundation has given employers and HR personnel is resources to help identify and connect those dots."

 The way Judith Tavano sees it, the Veterans at Work Initiative helps make her a better HR professional, while also serving those who have given much to their country and fellow citizens.  

"Having this kind of research as an arrow in my quiver, hard data I can bring to employers, is invaluable to my work in helping veterans [and active duty National Guard and Reserve (members) enter and thrive in the civilian workforce," Judith says.

Apply now in the SHRM Foundation's free, 10-hour, self-paced Veterans at Work certificate program.

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