How to On-Board Transitioning Vets

While the nation continues to navigate an anemic economic recovery that has cast an especially grim picture on employment, the employment rate for recently returned military veterans is at least improving.

The job numbers for June — the most recent data available before this article went to press — showed the unemployment rate for veterans of the post-Sept. 11-era dropped to 9.5 percent, an encouraging trend considering the mark was at more than 13 percent a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As veterans continue to fill the corporate ranks, organizations should aim to tailor on-boarding initiatives and cultural awareness efforts to ensure a seamless transition, both for the newly hired veteran employees and their non-veteran co-workers.

Recent trends show they could use some confidence in transitioning and fitting into the workplace. Just 29 percent of job-seeker veterans reported feeling confident about finding work that suits them, according to a May Monster Government Solutions Veterans Talent Index, a survey designed to give a snapshot of the veteran hiring landscape. That’s down from 44 percent from the November 2011 index by Monster.

The finding serves as evidence that veterans could use a boost when it comes to acclimating themselves into a corporate environment — an area completely foreign to many ex-military employees, given they likely entered the military following high school, said Susan Fallon, vice president of strategic business development for Monster Government Solutions.

The approach an organization might take in on-boarding a returning veteran depends largely on its size and orientation, said Emily King, vice president of military transitions at specialized recruiting firm The Buller Group. A company that hires two retired officers a year, for instance, is going to have a different approach than a company like General Electric Co., which is known to hire droves of veterans each year, King said.

The bigger the company, the broader the program, King said. If a firm is already accustomed to hiring large numbers of ex-military talent, affinity networks and other informal groups may suffice. But a smaller or mid-sized firm — those that may not have many veterans in their ranks — might have to be more purposeful in their programs. To some, this might mean creating customized on-boarding or cultural awareness programs.

The trick, however, in gearing customized programs to transitioning veterans is not to make them feel too different from other employees. “While these veterans are seeking employment, they don’t want to be perceived as a charity case,” Monster’s Fallon said. “[Coming from the military] isn’t a stigma … this is like many Americans who are looking for new jobs and new careers, and that’s something employers need to be sensitive to,” she said.

Some organizations might even extend transition efforts beyond those inside the building.

Communications company Comcast Corp. is one such firm that extends its efforts into the community. Through the firm’s Hire a Veteran On-Demand program, the company goes as far as to help external veterans with interviewing and presentation skills. It also films many on camera, providing vets with sort of an on-demand video resume, said William Baas, senior director of talent acquisition for Philadelphia-based Comcast.

For internal vets, Bass said the company leverages its affinity networks to help them assimilate into its culture. Comcast hires veterans in large numbers, including those who still actively serve. Bass, a U.S. Navy Reservist, said Comcast has hired nearly 500 veterans since August.

But Kirk Imhof, group director of staffing for Ryder System Inc., a truck rental and leasing company, warned that in some instances customized on-boarding programs for veterans might be “overkill.” He said Ryder hasn’t instituted formalized veteran-centric on-boarding programs as others have suggested; instead, he said it arms managers with fact sheets so they know what to look out for when hiring and on-boarding veterans.

Imhof, also a veteran, said roughly 8 percent of Ryder’s workforce of 26,000 is veterans and several hundred are still in the National Guard and Army Reserve. “I think one of the things a diversity executive can do is educate themselves and get connected with the resources that already exist,” he said. “We’re not trying to re-create the wheel.”

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@diversity-executive.com.