Why Are Companies Reluctant to Hire Military Veterans?

Lowering the high unemployment rate for recent veterans requires special commitments by employers.

In this photo taken Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010, U.S. Army soldiers from 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment stand in formation during the casing ceremony for 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the last American combat brigade to serve in Iraq, at Camp Virginia, Kuwait. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has fallen below 50,000 for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline mandated by President Barack Obama, the American military said in a statement Tuesday. The number is a watershed _ American forces will no longer conduct combat operations in the country but are instead to train Iraqi troops and help with counter terrorism operations, if asked for by the Iraqis. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
National Journal
Sophie Quinton
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Sophie Quinton
Sept. 11, 2013, 4:31 a.m.

The U.S. mil­it­ary is the most trus­ted in­sti­tu­tion in Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Gal­lup sur­veys. Hon­or­ing ser­vice mem­bers is a no-brain­er for busi­nesses look­ing to please con­sumers. Even people who op­pose cur­rent mil­it­ary en­gage­ments want to sup­port the troops. Yet des­pite all this good­will, many re­cent vet­er­ans find it hard to trans­ition in­to the ci­vil­ian labor force. In 2012, nearly 10 per­cent of vet­er­ans of Ir­aq or Afgh­anistan were un­em­ployed, com­pared with 7.9 per­cent of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to fed­er­al stat­ist­ics.

The typ­ic­al vet­er­an of re­cent con­flicts is un­der age 35, a demo­graph­ic group that has a high­er-than-av­er­age un­em­ploy­ment rate. While some of the 2.6 mil­lion re­cent vet­er­ans suf­fer from health prob­lems that af­fect their abil­ity to work, most have a much less ob­vi­ous prob­lem: They don’t have résumés that hir­ing man­agers un­der­stand. A 25-year-old Ir­aq war vet­er­an may have sig­ni­fic­ant lead­er­ship and tech­nic­al ex­per­i­ence, but he may not have a two- or four-year col­lege de­gree, two or more years of non­mil­it­ary work ex­per­i­ence, or ref­er­ences from past em­ploy­ers. It’s not im­me­di­ately clear how his ex­per­i­ence pre­pares him to work in, say, a bank branch.

In 2011, Pres­id­ent Obama chal­lenged the private sec­tor to hire and train 100,000 vet­er­ans and mil­it­ary spouses by the end of 2013. Since that time, dozens of em­ploy­ers have made vo­cal com­mit­ments to do so, and last Au­gust, first lady Michelle Obama an­nounced that these ef­forts had already led to 125,000 hires. At the same time, cor­por­ate com­mit­ments to hir­ing vet­er­ans and re­in­teg­rat­ing them in­to the ci­vil­ian work­force have forced many com­pan­ies to take a hard look at their hir­ing prac­tices. 

Former ser­vice mem­bers have be­come a minor­ity pop­u­la­tion little un­der­stood by many ci­vil­ians. Less than 1 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion has served on act­ive duty in the past dec­ade. On the private-sec­tor side, “there’s a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the breadth of oc­cu­pa­tions and jobs that people hold in the mil­it­ary,” says James Schmel­ing, man­aging dir­ect­or and cofounder of the In­sti­tute for Vet­er­ans and Mil­it­ary Fam­il­ies at Syra­cuse Uni­versity. Many mil­it­ary jobs in­volve re­spons­ib­il­it­ies that aren’t re­flec­ted in their of­fi­cial title, like lo­gist­ics or pro­ject man­age­ment.

The dis­con­nect cuts both ways: 58 per­cent of post-2001-con­flict vet­er­an job seekers worry about how to trans­late their mil­it­ary skills in­to a busi­ness en­vir­on­ment, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 re­port by Pruden­tial Fin­an­cial and Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica.

Last month, when Hilton World­wide an­nounced its com­mit­ment to hir­ing 10,000 vet­er­ans in five years, it also launched a job-ap­plic­a­tion sys­tem that matches mil­it­ary ex­per­i­ence with em­ploy­ment op­por­tun­it­ies. The hos­pit­al­ity com­pany hires some 20,000 em­ploy­ees each year in the U.S. alone, and it re­lies on an on­line sys­tem that — typ­ic­al for ma­jor com­pan­ies — weeds out ap­plic­a­tions that don’t fit hir­ing re­quire­ments. “If you don’t have two years of ex­per­i­ence in a par­tic­u­lar area, you may nev­er get a job in­ter­view,” says Rod­ney Moses, vice pres­id­ent of glob­al re­cruit­ment.

That was a big prob­lem for vet­er­an ap­plic­ants with little or no private-sec­tor ex­per­i­ence. The new web­site re­cog­nizes mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion codes as rel­ev­ant ex­per­i­ence, and job seekers can use their mil­it­ary codes to find avail­able po­s­i­tions that fit their skill set. Hilton is also work­ing to get the word out that they wel­come vet­er­ans. “If you think about the size and scope of some of our ho­tels, they’re like some of these large ships that are in the Navy,” Moses says.

At JP­Mor­gan Chase, a com­mit­ment to hir­ing vet­er­ans led the com­pany to es­tab­lish a whole new cor­por­ate team: the Of­fice of Mil­it­ary and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. In 2011, the con­sumer and in­vest­ment bank joined 10 oth­er com­pan­ies in com­mit­ting to hire 100,000 vet­er­ans by 2020. To help meet that goal, JP­Mor­gan es­tab­lished a train­ing pro­gram called “Mil­it­ary 101” to teach hir­ing man­agers and re­cruit­ers about the mil­it­ary, cre­ated a pro­gram to edu­cate vet­er­an hires about the bank’s cor­por­ate cul­ture, and hired 15 re­cruit­ers whose sole pur­pose is to find vet­er­ans. Every vet­er­an job ap­plic­ant gets a call­back with­in five busi­ness days, says Shan­non O’Re­illy, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or in com­mu­nic­a­tions for mil­it­ary and vet­er­an af­fairs.

The ef­fort JP­Mor­gan joined, called the 100,000 Jobs Mis­sion, now in­volves 113 private-sec­tor com­pan­ies that are shar­ing best prac­tices on how to re­cruit, re­tain, and sup­port vet­er­ans. Al­though reach­ing out to vet­er­ans can in­volve ex­tra ef­fort, many com­pan­ies have con­cluded that it helps their bot­tom line. By hir­ing vet­er­ans, com­pan­ies gain mo­tiv­ated em­ploy­ees, pub­lic ac­col­ades for sup­port­ing the troops, and fed­er­al tax cred­its of up to $9,600 for each vet­er­an they hire, noted a 2012 McKin­sey re­port.

Cor­por­ate com­mit­ments provide a bridge from the mil­it­ary to the ci­vil­ian labor mar­ket. But they can’t ad­dress labor mar­ket chal­lenges that all job seekers face. “We know that it is a ma­jor bar­ri­er to entry, es­pe­cially in this eco­nomy, to not have the edu­ca­tion­al ex­per­i­ence that a com­pany is look­ing for,” says Bri­an Hawthorne, an Ir­aq war vet­er­an and a board mem­ber for Stu­dent Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica. Vet­er­ans with ad­vanced de­grees are much more likely to find em­ploy­ment — and to find fam­ily-sup­port­ing jobs — than those with just a high-school dip­loma. Like­wise, those who go home to poor or rur­al areas where jobs are scarce struggle to find work just like their neigh­bors do.

Hawthorne wor­ries that the pub­lic fo­cus on posttrau­mat­ic stress and sui­cide rates among vet­er­ans may lead em­ploy­ers to dis­miss young vet­er­ans as risky hires. “I know vets who don’t in­clude their mil­it­ary ser­vice on résumés. To me that’s a real shame, not only for the ser­vice mem­ber but for the or­gan­iz­a­tion,” he says. If a com­pany re­jec­ted him based on a neg­at­ive ste­reo­type, Hawthorne says, he wouldn’t want to work there any­way.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle in­cor­rectly named the vice pres­id­ent of glob­al re­cruit­ment at Hilton World­wide. His name is Rod­ney Moses.

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