America’s newest veterans continue to have a tough time on the job market. With both job growth and overall growth in the economy still sluggish, the 10.1 % unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans is still well above the national average. This trend is disturbing, particularly for the population of young Americans who put their lives, education, and careers on hold to serve in our nation’s armed forces.
Much attention has been focused recently on encouraging private employers to hire new veterans, especially those returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s preeminent business and trade group, has sponsored an ambitious new campaign called Hiring Our Heroes to encourage and facilitate the hiring of veterans and military spouses within its network of three million businesses. To date, the program has held more than 500 career fairs focused on the military community and helped tens of thousands of veterans get hired.
First Lady Michelle Obama has also made veterans and military families a top priority through her signature Joining Forces initiative, which has included a prominent focus on hiring veterans. Similarly, the West Wing has begun highlighting veteran employment issues too. A recent White House Forum on Military Licensing and Credentialing focused on enhancing the transferability of military skills to the civilian job market. And of course the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor have ongoing veteran employment and training programs that have become core parts of their respective missions.
Even Congress, which many criticize for not being able to agree on nearly anything, passed a sweeping veteran jobs bill called the VOW to Hire Heroes Act in 2011, and continues to enact and encourage other legislative and policy initiatives to require professional licensing reciprocity for military families, provide businesses with tax credits for hiring veterans, and pilot the expansion of civilian credentialing programs within the military’s training and education system.
The common denominator among all of these campaigns, programs, and initiatives is typically a focus on skills and experience, and the applicability of those skills and that experience to equivalent civilian industries or other jurisdictions.
Surely the Army Combat Medic or Navy Corpsman who has spent years triaging and treating battlefield trauma in chaotic conditions on multiple deployments is more than qualified to work as an Emergency Medical Technician in Chicago or Charlotte or Shreveport. And of course a military officer who was responsible for securing or transporting or procuring billions of dollars worth of advanced machinery and equipment has more than the requisite experience and competence to manage most private sector logistics operations.
But what can’t be translated or communicated so easily to civilian employers and hiring officials are the non-quantifiable and non-obvious traits that veterans – especially those who are just leaving the service – tend to possess.
A heightened sense of responsibility, accountability, and integrity are more than just abstract concepts in the military workplace. They are demonstrable values that all troops are expected to take seriously and by which they are expected to live and operate 24/7. But such character assets may not be evident on a resume and may be overlooked by employers or potential employers who are not familiar with military culture.
With veterans, employers are guaranteed a pool of job candidates who have gone through one of the most rigorous training programs in professionalism allowable by law – literally.
During each service branch’s initial entry training, new military recruits are forced to learn discipline, professional etiquette and courtesies, and excruciating attention to detail, in addition to basic combat, self defense, medical, and other necessary military skills. Their training is rough, unforgiving, and at times can even be perceived as abusive to the mind and body. But it works, turning typical youth into atypical, disciplined, accountable, responsible, respectable, and respectful adults capable of carrying the weight of a nation on their shoulders.
It is the emphasis on instilling and reinforcing the importance of integrity and personal responsibility of which private sector employers should take note. What other prior employer so thoroughly integrates meaningful values into its training and ongoing operations?
From the seven Army values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage) to the three traditional Navy and Marine Corps values (honor, courage, and commitment) to the Air Force’s three core values (integrity, service, and excellence) to the Coast Guard’s similar trio of values (honor, respect, and devotion to duty), variations of these timeless mores are guaranteed to have been deeply ingrained into the personal and professional development of a veteran job applicant for at least the length of his or her military career.
This sort of solid character doesn’t come standard in job applicants anymore, but it is still widespread among service members and veterans. While you can teach the specific skills required for most jobs to eager learners, employers cannot put new hires through their own values boot camp to build character. Veterans, however, come pre-equipped with this esoteric benefit.
Over the years, I have had the distinct honor and pleasure of getting to know thousands of troops and veterans. From my short time in the military as a very young man to the six years I spent fighting for the civil rights of members of the military with a service members’ advocacy organization to my current billet with the first and largest organization for new veterans, I have seen the level of integrity and type of character that these squared away men and women posses en mass.
I can say, without reservation, that I would be proud to recommend a new veteran for employment any day of the week.