Skills Translators Just One Piece of the Puzzle When Hiring Veterans

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Most veterans of the U.S. armed forces agree that translating the skills they acquired in the military into skills and experiences private-sector employers understand and desire is one of the toughest challenges they face when entering the civilian job market. And employers say the same thing: They know that veterans have the skills and discipline to get the job done, but they just don’t have a clear notion of how certain military skills apply to private-sector workplaces.

The two-sided conundrum is spurring the development of online military-skills translators and resume generators that can help both groups. But do they work?

“The answer is that some are much better than others, but they all seem to be improving,” said Sherrill Curtis, SPHR, principal and creative director at Curtis Consulting Group LLC in East Rutherford, N.J., in an interview with SHRM Online. “I believe the best places to start are with the translators and online job services sponsored or run by government agencies.”

According to Curtis, the Hero 2 Hired website (also known as H2H) ranks among the best online resources available to veterans and active-duty soldiers who are looking to transition out of the military. H2H is backed by the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Defense Department office whose mission is to promote cooperation and understanding between civilian employers and reservists of the U.S. armed forces and National Guard. The ESGR focuses on providing employment opportunities for reservists who are set to end their active-duty service.

“The challenge that many private-sector HR managers face when trying to hire military personnel is how to fit a square peg into a round hole,” explained Dan Allen, employment initiative director at the ESGR. “The military-skills translator is one tool that can help meet this challenge.”

Using Translators Correctly

According to Allen and other sources, the ESGR translation program works well but has its limitations. For example, Allen said an HR professional from Northern Virginia, who worked in an office not far from a U.S. Army base, told him that her company had received resumes from more than a dozen service members who were looking for private-sector jobs.

“She said they all looked like good candidates, but the problem was, all the resumes were essentially identical,” Allen recalled. “It was obvious that they had used one of the online translation services to generate their resumes, and the listed job skills and experience didn’t differentiate at all.”

Curtis said relying too heavily on translation or resume software is a mistake that inexperienced job seekers tend to make.
“People who have served in the military are self-reliant and believe that they know how to get things done on their own,” she said. “But the reality is, they need help and shouldn’t hesitate to reach out.”

As they prepare to leave active duty, military personnel participate in a weeklong training program on how to find and apply for civilian jobs. The training emphasizes that the skills translators and resume generators are just two tools and good places to start when planning a career move from the military to the civilian job market.

“The training encourages them to seek support and network with others,” said Terry Gerton, deputy assistant secretary of policy for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Services (VETS) at the U.S. Labor Department. “A successful job search cannot be done in a vacuum, and just because someone drove a truck in the military doesn’t mean that they should be driving a truck in the private sector. There are many ways to interpret and present job skills to help you find the job and career you want. The skills-translation program is a step in the process.”

Gerton said the translation programs continually improve as employers and job seekers learn to use them.

“Frankly, the first translation programs weren’t very sophisticated, but that has changed,” she said.

More Resources on the Horizon

In January 2014 upgrades and improvements to the online resource My Next Move for Vets are set to be unveiled. The Employment and Training Administration of the Labor Department sponsors the service, which was developed by the National Center for O*NET Development.

According to Gerton, demand for the resources that employment sites for veterans provide is going to increase and remain strong for the foreseeable future. Statistics from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs show that an average of 300,000 active-duty soldiers will transition from the military to civilian life each year for the next five years.

“That’s more than 1.5 million service members in five years,” she noted. “We want to partner with more employers to ensure that we can find the best jobs possible for these people who have served our nation so well.”

The list of available online services is growing. In March 2013 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the Personal Branding Resume Engine for its Hiring Our Heroes program. The interactive program and skills-translation tool has won praise from employers and job seekers who have used it.

And a new interactive video simulation, “Reinventing Michael Banks,” is set to go live on Nov. 11, 2013. The free simulation is an educational program aimed at helping employers understand how veterans’ skills and qualifications can benefit their business.

Well-known employers are getting into the act, as well. According to the ESGR’s Allen, The Home Depot is developing a skills-translation and resume generator for military personnel that is specifically designed for large retailers.

“The folks at Home Depot are developing this for their own benefit, but they have told me that they want to share it with others because it is so important that employers work together to help our servicemen and women find good jobs,” he said. “They feel it’s the least they can do to repay them for their service to our country.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.