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CHICAGO--Why should your organization hire veterans? Because of their strong values, their leadership skills and their proven ability to perform in stressful situations, said Bob Ravener, chief people officer for the Dollar General retail chain, at a Practitioner’s Exchange session Tuesday at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition.
Ravener, a Navy submarine officer in the 1980s, has created a high-profile veterans hiring program at Dollar General as well as programs at two of his previous employers.
In a rapid-growth retail environment, Dollar General faces significant competition for talent. The focus on veterans has helped set the company apart. But Ravener is also passionate about sharing with others what military talent can do for organizations.
He recalled how, at age 24, he was responsible for 150 lives on a nuclear submarine.
“My greatest growth and development have come from those moments of uncomfortable situations, stretching me beyond my wildest imagination,” Ravener said.
Likewise, today’s veterans can bring considerable experience and training to the corporate world, he said.
To establish a veterans hiring program, the first step is to gain the support of senior business leaders. One way to do that is to help them understand that hiring veterans can help the company’s bottom line.
More than 200,000 veterans enter the workforce annually; about 500,000 spouses work at least part time. When you add in extended families, they make a consumer base of about 80 million Americans.
“You’re talking about a sizable population of this country,” Ravener noted. “I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a very loyal, dedicated consumer group, as well. This is a group that knows where their support is and knows where it’s not. So anytime you’re trying to convince senior leaders in an organization why they should hire people from the military, tell them ‘It’s part of business, and if you’re not bringing in people from the military, you are losing out on business, as well.’ ”
One challenge he’s faced is persuading hiring managers and business leaders not to overlook veterans because of their lack of retail experience. “You want to hire for the talent and train for the skill.”
At the outset, the applicant with the relevant experience may appear to be the better choice. “But six months or a year later … those individuals with the talent are going to far exceed those individuals who just have the requisite skills that you bring on board,” Ravener assured. “And it’s sometimes hard to convince people because they just want to get the job done today.”
To help ensure that veterans have an opportunity to succeed, Ravener said, the company allows them an extended onboarding period. “We give them a longer lead time to get acclimated to the environment.”
Employers can receive help from military agencies in setting up a program to hire veterans. Dollar General has worked with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and the Army’s Transition Strategic Outreach office.
HR professionals should develop a strategy and process for hiring. For example, Dollar General, working with the states of Tennessee and Florida, took the lead in bringing more than 100 employers together for simultaneous veterans job fairs to fill more than 5,000 jobs.
Companies should also make sure the public knows what they are doing. The discount retail giant puts signs in the front windows of its 11,000 stores nationwide, makes its efforts visible on its website and spreads the word via social media.
Dori Meinert is senior writer for HR Magazine.
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