Help Put Our Veterans to Work

    Jan 24, 2019

    By Sander A. Flaum

    There’s a popular series of commercials running on TV. You’ve probably seen them. A couple of people are side by side. One says something like, “Did you know that we treat military veterans like garbage?” The other person replies, without batting an eye, “Everybody knows that.” Then the first person says, “Well, did you know that YOU can do something about it?”

    Sadly, that’s the type of reaction you’ll get if you bring up the plight of our vets. Try it. Ask friends if they are aware that we treat our vets shamefully. I’ll bet a dollar that you hear, “Everybody knows that”—or some variation. We treat our vets shabbily, and we all know it.

    Far too many vets, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are out of work. Unemployment among recent vets is 10%, higher than for nonvets in the same demographic group. And get this: 40% of vets are on food stamps!

    So why can’t our returning heroes get jobs? For many, injuries, disabilities or conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder are acute, ongoing issues. Everyone, from President Obama to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to members of Congress and Pentagon officials, needs to accelerate the speed with which returning vets receive the help they need. So write letters, sign petitions—whatever.

    However, complaining to higher ups isn’t good enough. There are issues that we, as businesspeople, can impact. According to a report by the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors, two of the key reasons vets have such a hard time returning to civilian life are the:
    1. Lack of civilian (as opposed to military) work experience
    2. Inability to negotiate the cultural transition from “desert to desk.”

    Let’s look at these issues separately. Lack of civilian work experience? Spare me! The discipline and leadership skills I gained in the Army were better career preparation for the world of business than 90% of my college classes (sorry OSU). Knowing the principles of ATD—Attention to Detail—is just as important when launching a new product as it is when going on patrol. It involves breaking down any assignment into its critical components: What’s the mission? What do I need to know about it? What’s my deadline?

    The next time a vet’s résumé lands on your desk or desktop, please don’t dismiss it simply because his or her experience seems too “light.” Look a little deeper. Do the vet, your company and your country a favor.

    The second issue, transitioning from military to civilian culture, is something else altogether. For many returning vets, it’s devastating. They optimistically enter college on the G.I. Bill, but quickly find themselves adrift in today’s fluid and nonregimented world. Many drop out, and those who do graduate are often clueless about finding jobs.

    Here’s one idea. Several years ago, a number of business associates, headed by Tom Murphy, formed a group called Edge4Vets. Their mission is to help veterans attending college on the G.I. Bill not only succeed in their classes, but also find work after graduation. They hold mentoring workshops every other month to discuss vital job hunting skills, including how to create a compelling résumé, seek leads, and prepare for interviews. The goal is to help veterans capitalize on the ATD skills they acquired in the military and “reengineer” these tools for success in civilian life.

    They also focus on health and personal issues. Many vets are unsure how to dress or behave during an interview. They may fail to understand that some people feel threatened by tattoos or piercings. They may not realize that in some regions smoking is virtually taboo and that some employers will not hire smokers. And, although this may seem unfair, obesity can be an obstacle to finding work. Edge4Vets offers help by providing access to smoking cessation clinics and Weight Watchers.

    Since its introduction at Fordham University, Edge4Vets has been adopted whole or adapted in part by several private companies, including Covidien and Pfizer. Granted, the impact of each program is necessarily limited. Because the strategy is to provide one-on-one mentoring and personalized interactions, only a handful of vets can be helped at a time.

    But what if all of us—working at hundreds of different companies—pitched in? What if we stopped shrugging our shoulders at how vets are treated and resolved to do something to improve the situation?

    Try it. Talk to your HR people about Edge4Vets and recruiting our heroes. If just a few people reading this column take action, we could make a terrible wrong a little bit right.

    Learn more about this topic in this AMA seminar: 
    Recruiting, Interviewing and Selecting Employees 

    About the Author(s)

    Sander A. Flaum is Principal, Flaum Navigators, and Chairman, Fordham Leadership Forum, Fordham University Graduate School of Business Administration. Contact him at [email protected]