Grateful for Veterans? Put Them to Work
Former military remain an untapped reservoir of talent many employers don't think about — but should, all year long
I am truly grateful to the men and women who wear the uniform of our country and commit their lives and all their effort to serve and protect it. The old saying is true, that veterans are those “who once wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America,’ for an amount up to and including their lives.”
For that, a grateful nation honors and salutes them, on Veterans Day and all year long.
But does that grateful nation want to give a veteran a job?
There are many industries that recruit heavily from among the ranks of returning veterans: law enforcement, security, government contracting. But veterans remain a huge untapped reservoir of talent that many employers don’t even think about. And when they do, they are unable to understand how to compare a veteran’s background with a civilian resume.
Consider a small business owner looking to hire new staff — a heating and air conditioning contractor, for example. Among the applicants are a civilian who has worked in that industry before, and a veteran who has deployed twice to Iraq and Afghanistan. How does the veteran help that owner understand how the skills he has will help the business thrive?
He can start with discipline: No matter what experience a civilian has, it is unlikely that someone of the same age will have developed the discipline necessary to thrive in a military setting. He can add to that the education he received as part of advancement, and explain that the U.S. military requires educational achievement in order to advance through the ranks. He also can explain the devotion to team building and unit cohesion, and of courtesy and respect, that drive the American military.
Those are all life habits that cannot be taught on the job, but that are critical to extraordinary performance of any task. The tasks themselves can be taught, and in fact the veteran will also have hands-on experience that correlates to the job, that may be evident only on closer inspection.
The same principles apply to veterans who apply for corporate positions. Few civilians are likely to match the leadership experience of a first sergeant, a first lieutenant, or a major at an equivalent point in their careers. They just haven’t had the opportunity. Junior executives hired out of college who climb the corporate ladder rarely supervise more than a handful of people until they are in their 40s; furthermore, their training and reward systems have been focused on financial performance and technical specifications.
Military officers and noncommissioned officers, by contrast, are supervising dozens and hundreds of people while still in their 20s, and quickly learn that morale, unit cohesion, and personal motivation are the keys to meeting any other performance objective. Again, all the technical aspects of the job can be learned from a book, but the essence of leadership is learned only through experience.
Imagine the economic growth our country would experience if all employers would follow this pattern: Hire a vet, and ask him or her to go out and find more vets to hire.
Some corporations understand this. The jobs site Monster.com maintains a list of the top-10 large companies that hire veterans. Among them are many defense contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin; that is to be expected. The number-one company on the list is ManTech International, a technology company that works in the IT, telecommunications, environmental and defense industries. They earned their top slot the honest way — they recruit actively among veterans. They hire veterans as their recruiters, and ask them to go out and find more employees like them. Forty-five percent of their employees are veterans. Other companies ought to look at ManTech and follow their example, because in the past five years, the share price of ManTech’s stock has more than doubled.
Imagine the economic growth our country would experience if all employers would follow this pattern: Hire a vet, and ask him or her to go out and find more vets to hire. They have a proven record of learning quickly, of management by leadership, of focusing on accomplishing the assigned mission. Duty, honor, and sacrifice define our nation’s military members. Bringing that ethic into a company can only help the bottom line.
Please go ahead and thank veterans for their service — yes, it embarrasses them and some of them feel awkward hearing it, but do it anyway, because you feel it. But when you’re done thanking them, offer them a job. It will help you more than you help them.
Bart Marcois is a senior OpsLens contributor and was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department. He is a director at the Richard Richards Foundation. This piece originally appeared in OpsLens.