Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Employers May Not Be Hiring Veterans

Do you know a veteran? Do you know a veteran who can't get a job? Then, this column I did for Gannett/USAToday may be a real eye-opener for you. If you're an employer, I hope it hits home for you and the next action you take is picking up the phone to find a vet to hire....

With a national unemployment rate of 9.6%, finding a job is challenging for many Americans.

But for veterans trying to re-enter the work force — despite having a variety of skills — landing a position can be even tougher.

Part of the reason is because it's often difficult for former military personnel to explain how their skills can translate into the civilian world. But another reason is often not discussed openly among employers.

Specifically, many companies fear that veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder and would be a problem at work.

Movies or television shows that depict veterans "going postal" upon hearing a car backfire are the kinds of images that can keep civilians from understanding that PTSD is not just a military problem, but one that many people confront if they've had a traumatic experience such as a car accident or physical assault.

While some veterans do suffer from severe PTSD and need medication and counseling, others are able to cope with minimal assistance, experts say.

According to a Society of Human Resources survey, 46% of surveyed employers said they believed PTSD and other mental issues would be a problem in hiring veterans. But only 13% said they had real problems with veterans in the work force who had PTSD.

With some estimates of 294,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning home with PTSD, the odds of finding employment if companies turn away from those with PTSD is daunting.

Kurt Ronn, president of HRworks, which specializes in military recruitment, says the key to hiring "wounded warriors" is moving beyond the photo opportunities and lip service from many company executives who say they want to hire veterans.

"I've been at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) and seen these senior executives with our wounded warriors and they thank (the veterans) for their service, take some photos with them, shake their hand — and then the veterans never hear from them again," Ronn says. "If you're going to make the commitment to these people, then it has got to come down to an actionable program."

Ronn says the key is making sure that a hiring manager, who he calls a "champion," will follow through and hire a veteran. Interested hiring managers can find help in hiring veterans through the Wounded Warrior Program.

Linda Sykes, a retired Marine and project manager of military recruitment for HRworks, says that any employer hiring former military will find them to be workers who are educated team players with leadership abilities.

"Of course they've been trained to carry a gun, but they're not equipped to only work in security," she says. "They have a wide variety of skills and have taken on a lot of different responsibilities."

There are nearly a half million people on LinkedIn who list the military as part of their profile for the professional social network.

LinkedIn Corp. says after mining its data, the most popular industries that attract vets include information technology, telecommunications, financial services, law, computer software, government, higher education, health care, retail and management consulting.

While under the law no one is required to disclose in their interviews that they have PTSD, many veterans often want to be honest with employers and so reveal their condition. The problem is, they often end up losing a job because of it, she says.

"We had one man who told the employer he had PTSD, but he only needed to go once a month to the VA (Veterans Administration) and see a counselor for one hour a month," she says. "But he didn't explain that, and the employer didn't call him back for a job."

Sykes and Ronn agree that for some employers, accepting a soldier into a company who has perhaps lost an arm or leg may be easier that hiring one who has PTSD — or one they may suffer from it.

In other words, employers may be more comfortable dealing with a disability they can see — such as an amputated limb — rather than something that may not be easily visible, such as symptoms of PTSD. In addition, many employers may not understand the stress disorder, which can include a wide variety of issues — in varying degrees — such as insomnia, anger and depression.

Ronn expresses frustration when talking about employer unwillingness to hire vets because of PTSD or other concerns.

"You know what? These employers need to just suck it up and deal with it. If we all wait for the perfect program (to hire vets), we've taken an enormously complex situation and thrown up a roadblock. If these employers want to help these people, then they need to take action and find a way to make it work. If they don't, well, that's the real crime," he says.

Sykes says that at a time when companies desperately need workers who are focused on helping them be more competitive and boosting the bottom line, vets offer the right solution.

"The military is mission driven. Their training is going to kick in when they've been given an assignment, and they're going to focus on what they have to do to make things happen," she says. "If that means they stay until 9 p.m. when everyone else is packing up at 5 p.m., then that's what they're going to do."



Anita said...

Thanks for that link...we can all do more to spread the word.

Anonymous said...

Employers discriminating against anyone is awful, but discriminating against Vets? Who fought to preserve our freedom? That should be punishable by law. Job search at doesn't discriminate against anyone. Just sayin.

John Papers said...

This is amazing list like the previous one..
Can you write more about "Why Employers May Not Be Hiring Veterans"..? I am making a list of the "Why Employers May Not Be Hiring Veterans"..

Anonymous said...

When you separate from the military, be prepared to take a $20K a year pay cut. No matter how well you "civilianize" your resume and no matter how well you explain how your skills can translate to the position in question, some HR people are too dense to understand. So many veterans have to settle for jobs that are WAAAAY below their skillset and credentials. For instance, my husband had a very high ASVAB score and was chosen for a very prestigious electronics job. He had leadership experience due to his rank which translates to management experience and the ability to work very well under pressure since he spent 18 months in Iraq but many civilian employers will still scoff at that very valuable transferable skills since they're too ignorant to understand. Since he got out, he is reduced to a non-managerial position moving boxes and unloading trucks while making $20K less per year than he did in the military (he now makes $13K per year). Yeah, that's a good match for his skills (sarcasm). THAT'S what causes veterans to go postal!!! It is a shame. Sure, many bases have "transitional assistance" programs but they seldom work. Those programs tell you to how to translate your job duties but they do not give examples on how to do it.