Michelle Obama Says to Hire a U.S. Veteran

Laleh Hassibi, PayScale

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama urged companies to hire more veterans last week. The unemployment rate of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is nearly two points higher than the national average, at 9.4 percent. While it’s admirable to hire veterans for emotional reasons, there’s another really good reason to hire a veteran — their skills.

Dr. Harry Croft, co-author of Always Sit With My Back to The Wall and a former Army psychiatrist who has been working with veterans since 1973, argues that the best reason to hire veterans is for their skills.

Hiring returning veterans can appeal to HR professionals for a variety of reasons. It might stir feelings of patriotism and provides a nice tax break. Companies can pick up some good PR by touting the number of veterans they hire each year. Dr. Croft believes these reasons are short sighted and do a disservice to both veterans and to business. "Veterans don't want charity, they want to perform a job," says Dr. Croft.

Skills, Skills and More Skills
Many of the skills essential to the armed forces translate to valuable business skills. Skills such as loyalty, being easy to train, goal-oriented thinking, and being a team player all work great in business. Finding ways to take advantage of these and more specific job skills will end up benefiting the business much more in the long run.

A Few Challenges May Exist
Integrating veterans into a private sector enterprise does hold challenges. 

  • Unlike their civilian counterparts, former service members aren’t used to translating their prior career experiences into general job skills. Dr. Croft asks HR professionals working with veteran recruits to provide more guidance than usual in the qualification process. The need for extra attention doesn't end at hiring.   
  • Culture represents a more persistent challenge. Civilian and military workplace culture can differ significantly, for example in the interpretation of time. Adherence to schedule is strict in the military, but can be more relaxed in civilian work places. Former service members can interpret lateness as disrespect leading to a breakdown in work relations. Educating both existing employees and entering employees about these differences will help ease this challenge.
  • Another potential workplace challenge is PTSD. We hear of the big stories around Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but even on a smaller scale it can be a real problem for many veterans. At the same time, you can’t invade confidentiality by asking directly about it. You can, however, do some things to prepare for PTSD in the workplace.
    • First, educate yourself about PTSD. Be aware of the signs and develop plans to mitigate potential impacts. 
    • Second, think about establishing a mentor program for incoming veterans. Some sufferers will prefer talking with someone with whom they can better relate. If you have former military personnel on your staff, you might recruit them to serve as mentors for newer employees. For those companies for which this is not an option, consider online communities like "Make the Connection."

The Joining Forces campaign of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden has encouraged U.S. business to hire or train more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses since it began 2 years ago. This is great progress, but with more men and women coming home, we’ve still got a way to go.

Do you hire veterans in your business? Has PTSD been an issue?

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