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SHRM says its time to start thinking about the many National Guard and Reserve veterans who will be returning to the workforce, especially if draw-downs in Iraq and Afghanistan go as planned

We’ve heard a lot of talk about President Obama’s plans to reduce the number of troops currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there hasn’t been much discussion of how that withdrawal will impact employers. National Guard and Reserve veterans will be transitioning from the military to civilian life and will need to be assimilated back into the workforce. Lon O’Neil, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) says that the media doesn’t seem to yet be paying attention to this issue, which he says will grow even more important as the military begins planned draw-downs in Iraq and Afghanistan against a backdrop of 9-10 percent unemployment.

SHRM has released a survey identifying the benefits and challenges of hiring military veterans, and outlining resources for employers in recruiting and hiring veterans. The results are intended to assist employers in better supporting the military.

SHRM began by asking employers what challenges they have faced as a result of employees being mobilized to serve on active duty either as a reservist or as a member of the National Guard. Twenty two percent of participants pointed to finding a “comparable” job for returning employees, and 13 percent pointed to the overall transitioning of returning employees back into the workforce. In addition, responses include:

  • Uncertainty about how long employees will be away from jobs (74 percent);
  • Burden on remaining employees to cover for open positions (51 percent);
  • Finding temporary workers to fill open positions (44 percent);
  • Loss of productivity due to open positions (35 percent);
  • Continuation costs for employees mobilized to active duty service (e.g., salary, benefits, etc.) (22 percent); and
  • Cost of temporary workers to fill open positions (20 percent).

Planning ahead. When asked what their organization is doing or planning to do beyond what is required by law to help employees who are returning to work after being mobilized to serve on active duty, 66 percent of participants say they are providing employee assistance programs (EAP) to help with transitioning back to work. In addition, 58 percent are providing catch-up skills training to help with transitioning back to work, 48 percent are providing flexible work arrangements during the transition, and 44 percent are providing recognition by management.

Familiarize yourself with legal aspects. As part of your preparations for assimilating veterans back into your workforce, understanding the federal laws governing their re-employment will be essential. According to survey results, only 9 percent of participants are “extremely familiar” with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), though 52 percent claim to be “somewhat familiar.” Of potential concern are the results suggesting unfamiliarity with the law: 10 percent identify themselves as being “extremely unfamiliar;” 23 percent are “somewhat unfamiliar;” and 6 percent are “neither familiar nor unfamiliar.”

Identify available resources to ensure legal compliance. One resource available to employers is Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense (DOD) organization developed to encourage employer support of the military service their employees have provided. ESGR serves as an advocate for employees returning to the workforce following National Guard or Reserve deployment. Among the goals of the ESGR is to increase employer awareness of applicable laws, and facilitate the transition back into employment.

When asked how familiar they are with ESGR, only 4 percent of survey respondents said they are “extremely familiar,” and 24 percent said “somewhat familiar.” Twenty percent of respondents said they are “extremely unfamiliar” with the ESGR, while 33 percent said “somewhat unfamiliar,” and 18 percent said “neither familiar nor unfamiliar.”

Recruiting and hiring Veterans. For purposes of SHRM’s research regarding the recruiting and hiring of veterans, “veterans” were defined as individuals who have been honorably discharged or retired from the military either as career military personnel, reservists or members of the National Guard. According to survey results, within the past 36 months, 53 percent of organizations have hired veterans (new hires, not existing employees) as full-time, part-time or temporary workers. Of those organizations, half (50 percent) made a specific effort to recruit or hire veterans. And, of the 47 percent of organizations that have not hired veterans in the past three years, 11 percent made a specific effort to.

Understanding the benefits and challenges of hiring employees with military experience. Participants that have hired veterans identified the following extensive list of benefits of hiring employees with military experience:

  • Strong sense of responsibility (97 percent);
  • Ability to work under pressure (96 percent);
  • Ability see a task through to completion (92 percent);
  • Strong leadership skills (91 percent);
  • High degree of professionalism (91 percent);
  • Strong problem-solving skills (90 percent);
  • Ability to multitask (89 percent);
  • Ability to adapt to changing situations quickly (88 percent);
  • Ability to give back to U.S. veterans by showing gratitude for their service (88 percent);
  • Positive impact on the image and/or credibility of organization (86 percent);
  • Sense of patriotism at organization (77 percent);
  • Technology/information technology skills and training (77 percent);
  • Strategic planning/foresight (74 percent);
  • Fulfillment of federal and/or state affirmative action requirements (73 percent);
  • Global perspective (61 percent); and
  • Knowledge/expertise of defense issues (60 percent).

While the list of benefits gained from hiring employees with military experience is long, there are also challenges to consider. According to survey respondents, the challenges of hiring employees with military experience include:

  • Translating military skills to civilian job experience (60 percent);
  • Difficulty transitioning from the structure and hierarchy in the military culture ot the civilian workplace culture (48 percent);
  • Post-traumatic stress issues (PTSD) or other mental health issues (46 percent);
  • The amount of time it takes for these employees to adapt to civilian workplace culture (36 percent);
  • Combat-related physical disabilities (22 percent); and
  • These employees tend to be underqualified for the positions they apply for (18 percent).

Resources employers would like to have. When asked to what extent certain resources would help in their efforts to recruit and hire military veterans, organizations repeatedly identified programs to help with various aspects of transition. For example, 36 percent would like programs to help veterans transition their military skills to the civilian workplace, and 31 percent would like programs to help veterans transition from military culture to civilian workplace culture. In addition, the following are programs identified as being those that would “help a lot”:

  • Programs to train veterans with additional skills for the civilian workplace (39 percent);
  • Assistance identifying and reaching out to qualified veterans (32 percent);
  • Information about and support for dealing with potential challenges veterans may face, such as PTSD or other mental health issues (26 percent); and
  • Information about and support for dealing  with potential challenges veterans with physical disabilities may face (24 percent).

What about online resources? Though easily accessible, organizations are not finding national online job boards to be very successful in helping to recruit veterans as potential job candidates. Based on their use within the past 36 months, participants report the following:

  • HireVetsFirst (11 percent very effective vs. 18 percent ineffective);
  • Monster (11 percent very effective vs. 30 percent ineffective);
  • CareerBuilder (10 percent very effective vs. 24 percent ineffective);
  • CareerOneStop (8 percent very effective vs. 30 percent ineffective);
  • MilitaryHire (8 percent very effective vs. 13 percent ineffective);
  • HotJobs (4 percent very effective vs. 31 percent ineffective); and
  • Vault (4 percent very effective vs. 40 percent ineffective).

So where are organizations turning to recruit veterans as potential job candidates? According to survey participants, the following resources have been useful:

  • America’s Job Exchange;
  • Beyond.com;
  • Career Link;
  • Craigslist;
  • Direct recruiters;
  • EDD & VA;
  • Employee referrals;
  • Employflorida.com;
  • External military recruiting firms and job fairs;
  • GovernmentJobs.com;
  • Local Air Force base in city;
  • Indeed.com;
  • JobsinME.com;
  • State/local resources, including veteran-specific job fairs, newspapers, unemployment office, workforce development centers, veterans’ associations, etc.;
  • Niche sites for engineers, IEEE and IT staff – DICE;
  • Vetjobs.com; and
  • VetsCentral.

Department of Labor veterans’ programs. The Department of Labor has established local veterans’ employment representatives (LVER) throughout the country as well as a disabled veterans outreach program (DVOP) (for more information on either resource, visit http://www.dol.gov/vets/). These are resources that are available to employers to assist in their recruiting. However, 68 percent of survey participants report that they are not at all familiar with the LVER program. Only 4 percent report that they are very familiar with the LVER program and use it. Regarding the DVOP program, 70 percent of survey participants are not at familiar with it, while only 2 percent are very familiar with it and use it.

Source: “Employing Military Personnel and Recruiting Veterans –Attitudes and Practices,” released June 23, 2010 by the Society for Human Resources Management; www.shrm.org.