Military Veterans and Corporate America

November 13, 2011 - Bloomberg Business Week

Dan Beucke -


My post last Friday about the jobless picture for young veterans clearly struck a nerve. The commentary that followed ranges across issues of war, peace, hope, despair, skills training — and, yes, immigration.

Some readers recounted their own experiences coming back from war and their success or failure in finding work. Billy Mo wrote that he “easily” found good-paying work after leaving the Air Force, then got caught in a 2006 downsizing. He has received “zero offers” and wound up “losing my home, car, retirement account and most of my possessions.” He concludes: “No one really seems to care.”

One part of my reporting that was backed up in some of the comments was the suggestion that vets face a cultural barrier coming back to corporate America. “There is (a) great wall against War veterans from corporate America,” writes John A. Mele. But it works both ways, says K. Mark Northrup; he suggests part of the problem is the military style of problem solving:

While some vets will do extremely well outside the military, others, I am afraid to say, will undoubtedly struggle. When facilitating the workshops one of the things I see participants struggle with the most is brainstorming … an inability or reluctance to brainstorm, to ask themselves “what if?” questions, or think “outside the box.” … If one starts out in a particular field in the military based on what their ASVAB scores indicate they can do, but after doing that for several years it is clearly not where the individual’s talents and abilities would be best put to use, it is next to impossible to change direction.

Olga Khazan takes a deeper look at these issues over at the Washington Post’s On Small Business blog. She points to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management that came out of the September veterans job summit I mentioned. It gives a glimpse of the corporate mindset when it comes to hiring and retaining vets.

The survey itself is here. Much of it concerns HR-specific issues; the interesting stuff starts on page 15. HR execs are asked what challenges they face in hiring vets. The first two answers: 60 percent cite “translating military skills to civilian job experience is still the major challenge of hiring veterans,” and 48 percent “difficulty transitioning from the structure and hierarchy in the military culture to the civilian workplace culture.” Only 18 percent point to vets applying to jobs for which they don’t qualify.

Olga says HR execs also seem unsure about the expense and liability they take on with vets who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Emily King, a vets-hiring consultant, tells her the answer may surprise employers:

One of the misconceptions that I hear the most is that some of these accommodations are going to be prohibitively costly,” King said. “But the vast majority of accommodations cost far less than $500.” For example, veterans afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder may prefer to sit facing a door rather than away from it, and those with traumatic brain injury, another common wartime condition, may have problems filtering sounds and would need noise-cancelling headphones.


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