Full disclosure, I’m a veteran. When I retired from a career in the Air Force, I wasn’t looking for a second career. I planned to spend time with my family before the girls left home for college, do a little fishing, and maybe raise some cattle. Then, a mutual friend let me know that ILSA was looking for help to re-tool their data management system. It was supposed to be a short-term gig. Eighteen years later, I’m still here – and General Manager. (How did THAT happen?)
Still, my experience isn’t typical. Many men and women transitioning from military to civilian life face an uphill battle – no pun intended. This is especially true for younger veterans, those who enlisted for only one or two tours of duty. Many of them have young families to support and are moving into what should be their prime earning years. They want and need jobs in the corporate world. But business owners and hiring managers are often reluctant to employ them.
Why, and what can we do to overcome the obstacles they face?
Overcoming the (Skills) Language Barrier
While listening to a recent Spot On Insurance podcast with Marine veteran Matt Sapaula, he described his own difficulty in translating the skills he acquired during his military service. Veterans who simply recount their MOS (military occupational specialty, for you civvies) on their resumes are likely to be met with blank stares or even looks of alarm from hiring managers. It also doesn’t help that veterans may be less comfortable with the interview process.
That doesn’t mean that military experience isn’t valuable, however. Veterans – and recruiters willing to invest time to dig deeper – need to focus on the skills behind the skills. As Ted Taveras pointed out in that same interview, while Matt’s ability to disassemble and reassemble a 50-caliber machine gun while hanging upside down blindfolded may not directly translated to the boardroom, the ability to remain on task and block out distractions is a skill employers are desperate for. Many military specialties instill some of the most sought-after soft skills: leadership, collaboration, adaptability, self-discipline, work ethic, time management, focus, etc. Also, veterans with technology skills – especially in the areas of cybersecurity – may be ideally positioned to take leadership roles in a sector taking an increasingly militarized approach to security.
Another common concern for employers is the perceived healthcare costs for veterans, especially for those who experienced physical or emotional trauma. The widespread use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the various conflicts in the Middle East do sometimes result in terrible injuries that leave our veterans dealing with a “new normal.” But want to guess what the most common service-connected disability is? Ringing in the ears! According to the Veteran Benefits Administration Report for Fiscal Year 2018, tinnitus was the most prevalent service-connected disability for new compensation recipients, with 157,152 claims. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was No. 8 on the list, with 46,931 claims.
Don’t forget, too, that the medical costs associated with service personnel’s disabling injuries fall under the Veteran’s Administration system. While the VA healthcare system has had its share of scandals in the past, things are turning around. One solution involves allowing veterans easier access to private healthcare providers. The bills go the VA, though, not to any private insurance plan the veteran may have.
Corporate Culture Fit
No doubt about it, the corporate environment is a LOT more relaxed now than it was even a decade ago. Business suits and executive washrooms have made way for business casual and open plan offices. Team managers sometimes doubt that by-the-book, spit-and-polish military types will blend easily into that laid back environment. Some managers also believe that folks used to following orders won’t be self-starters.
Ironically, those same managers talk about needing people who can work effectively as a team. Teamwork is fundamental to military life. Soldiers (and airmen, sailors and marines) live, work and play together – especially during deployments. Every branch of the service has its own version of the “No one left behind” ethos. These are the team players and leaders you’re looking for!
Additionally, the armed forces draw individuals from every part of the country and every economic and cultural background. It’s a microcosm of our America culture. That’s why the military provides extensive diversity and inclusion training for service personnel at every stage of their careers.
It doesn’t help that a smaller percentage of Americans than ever (fewer than 1%) actually serve in the military. People don’t have a lot of experience with active duty personnel or veterans. That divide is a breeding ground for misunderstandings. Of course, veterans do face a certain adjustment period — beyond just having to decide what to wear. But often, a change of culture is just what veterans want. They’re ready for a less-structured, more collaborative approach to their professional lives.
Another Kind of Diversity and Inclusion
The insurance industry is changing, FAST. Agility and adaptability have never been more essential. Businesses need diverse and inclusive work forces to be agile and adaptable. That doesn’t mean just checking off ethnicity or gender identification boxes. It means welcoming a broad range of life experiences, learning and communication styles and problem-solving approaches. Our veterans are ideally suited to help employers achieve this goal. Give them a chance. You’ll get back so much more!