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Employers Share Veteran Hiring, Retention Strategies

A young man in military uniform smiling.

​HR and business leaders shared what their companies are doing to attract, hire and retain military veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses at the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) INCLUSION 2020 virtual conference.

Chris Cortez, vice president of military affairs at Microsoft, said that to help veterans succeed, companies must shift from a veteran-friendly approach to being veteran-ready.

"HR makes a real difference in the lives of those transitioning from the military to civilian careers," said Cortez, who as a major general in the U.S. Marine Corps led the branch's recruiting command in Quantico, Va. "But too often, hiring veterans is viewed by companies as a check box. If we want to integrate veterans in the workforce, we must go beyond veteran-friendly to create and maintain veteran-ready businesses. That means putting veterans to work in meaningful ways, recognizing their unique value and investing in their individual success."

Cortez said that at Microsoft, veterans are recognized by the unique hard and soft skills they possess in logistics, operations, security, resilience and teamwork, among others.

"Veterans are trained to quickly assess, analyze and fix a situation with people from across an array of specialties," he said.

He added that approximately 200,000 service members transition out of the military each year and seek civilian jobs. "But simply recruiting veterans to generic roles does them a disservice," Cortez said. He cited data from a Syracuse University study that found that nearly half of veterans leave their first post-military civilian job within a year, and two-thirds leave within two years.

"That doesn't have to be the rule," he said. "To set veterans up for success, it's better to align their individual experiences with business needs. Retention rates are positively impacted when veterans are able to use their acquired skills in their new roles. The veteran retention rate at Microsoft is over 80 percent after two years."

Additional investments in veteran hires at the company include training programs that cover technical and soft skills, an assigned mentor to help vets navigate company culture and personal career growth, and an employee resource group (ERG) for veterans.

Pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb has taken the ERG concept further with its people and business resource groups (PBRGs), which function like ERGs but have full-time lead managers from the business, a business plan and a budget to accompany the plan.

Kristin Jemison, the lead for the Veterans Community Network PBRG, said one example of her group's working with a business to drive positive change was when the company's military leave policy was being re-evaluated. PBRG members helped improve the policy based on feedback from military reservists at Bristol Myers Squibb, she said. A team from the PBRG partnered with the total rewards team to come up with recommendations and implement the improved policy.

James Beamesderfer, vice president of veterans initiatives at Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial, said veterans and supporters of veterans from his company's ERGs engage in the hiring process, attend recruiting events to talk about the workplace culture and connect with candidates, and train hiring managers and HR professionals on how to better understand veterans' resumes. Prudential also runs a campus recruiting program in partnership with Student Veterans of America and has created student internships specific to veterans that include assigning interns a "battle buddy" at the company to help them navigate working in a corporate environment. There's also a job portability program for military spouses, who are typically educated and experienced but have resume gaps because of military relocations. "Our program allows military spouses to work remotely when they are relocated so they can continue to build a career at the company," Beamesderfer said.

Kevin Whirity, national military and veteran recruiting lead at Deloitte, said his firm has used military ERGs to customize onboarding for veterans and identify the different needs service members will have. Deloitte has also created a physical health and recovery function that focuses on wounded warriors, their caregivers, and transition-assistance programs managed by the company's learning and development team.

"We realized the company needed to shift away from screening out to screening in and have taken on a hiring-to-train strategy," he said.

John Perez, the head of military and veterans affairs at Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, N.J., said his company also has a development program in which veterans can experience six-month rotations by function and business unit to foster career exploration.

But it all starts with talent attraction, he said. Recruiters at Johnson & Johnson focus sourcing methods to reach veterans through targeted events, partner organizations and job boards.

At the same time, hiring managers must be all in on hiring from military communities, Perez said. "Be clear about the business case, the value of veterans' skill sets and the diversity of the veteran population," he added.

SHRM's Veterans at Work Certificate Program

HR professionals can learn more best practices to attract, hire and retain veterans through a new education program from the SHRM Foundation and sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal. The Veterans at Work Certificate Program includes a content review and training on evidence-based guidelines for practice, including case studies implemented by other organizations.  

The certification program launches Nov. 14. It is free and open to all HR professionals. Anyone holding the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP credential may also receive 10 professional development credits toward recertification.


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