DOL Salutes Female Veterans in STEM Fields

By Kathy Gurchiek Nov 11, 2014
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Female veterans’ contributions to the military and the workforce were spotlighted during the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) annual Salute to Veterans on Nov. 10, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

A panel of former military members examined strategies for promoting the hiring of veterans, as well as employing female veterans in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“We know, increasingly, employers are looking to hire [male and female] veterans for the same reason we’re looking to hire veterans—because they’re great employees. They have all the skills [your organization needs] to succeed,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said.

Female veterans in STEM occupations earn 33 percent more than women working in non-STEM fields, making it “a real imperative to help women veterans to complete training in these fields,” he said. “This is an issue that is of such critical importance to employers.”

They are the fastest growing population among veterans, making up approximately 20 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans and STEM careers are seeing rapid growth in the U.S. economy, according to the DOL

“We are building a modernized, refurbished skills superhighway, enabling workers to get good jobs and businesses to find good workers,” Perez said. “We have to work with all due urgency to ensure that we are helping to connect women veterans to the programs that will help them launch their own journeys down that superhighway.”

A barrier for women in STEM and non-STEM fields is a lack of paid family leave, he pointed out.

“We need to face that challenge [so] women who want to work are not discouraged from doing so because of outdated policies.”

Another challenge is the tendency for female veterans not to identify as veterans once they’ve transitioned out of the military.

That can lead to missed opportunities. Adrian Cervantes, a Marine Corps veteran working as a regional representative for Airstreams Renewables Inc., said recruiters at his organization who worked military job fairs had often assumed only the men at the fair were veterans. Today, the company uses veterans on its recruitment team and makes a point to ask female attendees if they are veterans.

That approach, coupled with a better understanding of how military job descriptions translate to business language, has helped increase the number of veterans his company has hired, Cervantes said.

Automotive company Hyundai offers free training courses for veterans preparing to transition into the civilian workforce, according to Robert Korje, a Marine Corps veteran who helps veterans get into the company’s training program.

“Offering a veteran—male or female—an opportunity to get training before they actually join the organization is very valuable,” he said. While the potential employee may have worked as a mechanic or in motor transport, “we offer them the ability to learn the skills we need in the automotive industry. It allows them to actually decide if they want to pursue that career.”

He also advised recruiters to consider the image they project during job fairs for transitioning military members.

“A lot of kids won’t talk to a recruiter dressed in a suit and tie,” said Korje, who typically wears a polo shirt or collarless shirt with khaki trousers when at job fairs.

He advised veterans to network with members of groups such as the American Legion and VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and rid themselves of the notion that those organizations are for old men with whom they have nothing in common.

“They will help those employers get those [military] candidates they’re looking for,” he said. Also, “a lot of those people… have their own businesses and companies,” which could lead to job opportunities for younger veterans, Korje pointed out.

Navy veteran Ryan McLay today works as an archaeological lab analyst, but at one point after leaving the military, she had to use food stamps. McLay admitted that she didn’t embrace her veteran status “until I got to the point I needed some help.” She advised veterans to connect with each other.

“That shared experience is a great resource,” she said, adding that professors, managers and others also can serve as valuable mentors.

A majority of workers in high-growth STEM fields are going to be men, Malissa McLean, an information technology program manager at the DOL, reminded female veterans.

“Give your co-workers a chance to get to know you,” said McLean, who served in both the Army and Air Force. “Understand that change can be hard for some people … but veterans are known for coming in with an extraordinary work ethic. Continue to use that as a positive thing.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

Related Article

BPW MentoringProgram Helps Female Veterans Land Jobs, HR News, November 2013

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