SHRM Discusses Challenges of Getting Veterans Back to Work

News Updates

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) was invited, along with nearly 30 private-sector companies, to Capitol Hill recently to discuss the challenges employers face in finding and hiring returning U.S. military personnel for civilian jobs.

The meeting was a three-hour Veterans Employment Summit that the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hosted in September 2011.

Bob Cartwright, SPHR, president and CEO of Intelligent Compensation in Texas, represented SHRM at the summit. He is a former SHRM Total Rewards/Compensation & Benefits Special Expertise Panel member, and sits on the board of the SHRM Texas State Council. His company is a compensation and HR consulting firm.

Cartwright joined other participants, including:

  • Utility industry representatives, such as Edison Electric Institute.
  • IT companies such as Microsoft and ITT Systems Corp.
  • Health organizations such as Inova Health System.
  • CSX Corp.
  • Wal-Mart.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • American Corporate Partners, a private-sector program that matches veterans with mentors at corporations such as IBM, Verizon and Pepsico.
  • U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.

Participants were unanimous in their desire to do more to help get veterans back to work.

Cartwright pointed to the experience of a friend who served as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan. Six months after retiring from active duty, his friend hadn’t been able to land a job.

“[He] couldn’t get an HR person or a company to speak with him because they didn’t know what to do with a Navy Seal, so they just didn’t give him the time of day. But if you break down what he’s brought to the table, it’s huge.”

That disconnect is an often-cited complaint from veterans and employers.

A SHRM 2010 survey of HR professionals found that 60 percent said translating military skills to civilian job experience is still the major challenge of hiring veterans.

One suggestion was a reverse boot camp to help military personnel transition better into civilian life. However, unless commanders are empowered to devote time to this, military personnel have only days to prepare for their transition. Often their attention is focused on returning home and not on resume preparation, one summit member pointed out.

Companies such as General Electric (GE) tap into the knowledge of the veterans already on staff to help in recruiting, hiring and retention of other veterans; GE has an affinity group dedicated to staff who are veterans.

The plethora of organizations dedicated to helping veterans land jobs is confusing, according to one summit participant, who claimed there were 14,000 such organizations in the United States. One suggestion was to build two or three IT systems that veterans would use to seek jobs in the private sector. Other ideas:

  • Applying the tax credits employers receive for hiring veterans to training costs for those hires, such as six-week, on-the-job training courses or training programs at community colleges.
  • Translating military experience directly to state-required licensing and professional certifications.
  • Rethinking the process-heavy provisions of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which SHRM and some employers say are burdensome and do not address the problem of getting veterans back to work.

Edison Electric Institute’s “Troops to Energy Jobs” program, which it launched in July 2011 to increase its military recruitment, is aimed at identifying skills gaps and finding ways to fill those gaps. It plans to use former military personnel to help them recruit military talent and coach those job prospects through the hiring process.

The September 2011 summit was the latest in a series of SHRM activities aimed at helping employers attract, hire and retain military personnel.

SHRM Annual Conferences in recent years have featured networking and concurrent sessions designed to give HR professionals tips on attracting and recruiting veterans.

In June 2011, SHRM President and CEO Henry G. (Hank) Jackson was among a panel of experts providing testimony at a Washington, D.C., hearing on “Putting America’s Veterans Back to Work.” The following month he attended a Los Angeles military job fair where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepared boxes of items for distribution to troops.

SHRM’s member resources include a dedicated Military Employment Resource Page; the Society has partnered with federal initiatives aimed at employers, such as America’s Heroes at Work. And SHRM chapters and state councils have devoted programs to aiding military personnel entering the civilian workforce.

In Texas, where there are more than 1.7 million veterans with an unemployment rate of about 23 percent, according to Cartwright’s SHRM Texas State Council, that group created “The Patriotic Promise.” It is a statewide symposium to share best practices and a toolkit for Texas employers.

“A lot of dollars get spent on some wonderful programs,” Cartwright said during the summit.

“But the bottom line is the fact that if you don’t have an aligned strategy … a lot of dollars get expended that aren’t really applicable to what needs to happen to execute the strategy.”