Veteran employment has grown the last few years, largely because of a national coalition honoring veteran employees. Roughly 200 companies have hired more than 500,000 veterans through the Veteran Jobs Mission.
Though this initiative and others like it are hugely beneficial, they don't address many of the underlying obstacles that keep veterans from successfully reentering and training for civilian work life. As a union leader, you can help veterans find a new sense of direction and training opportunities by tailoring your offerings and recruitment efforts to their needs.
Challenges Veterans Face in the Workforce
Why do some veterans face challenges as they reenter the workforce? Adjusting to a different way of life after service plays a large role. Many feel a sense of loss after leaving the camaraderie the military provided. Career veterans who have never worked in the private sector may be unfamiliar with how to write a resume, interview for a job or communicate the value of skills they learned in the military to a hiring manager.
Once in a private sector position, veterans may worry that they don't have the right skills, be overwhelmed by benefits decisions or feel unsure of how to advance in their current role. Wounded veterans or those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could also struggle with how to perform their new job while managing their condition.
A 2017 report on veteran hiring practices found that 28% of veteran job hunters polled felt unsure of how to sell themselves during a job interview, 41% said they believe hiring managers don't understand their military experience and 59% reported having fewer advancement opportunities than they expected.
5 Ways to Support Veteran Members
As you welcome workers who have served to your membership, consider implementing the following five strategies to prioritize honoring veteran employees.
- Educate your board. Board members are best positioned to support veterans when they're equipped with the right information. Train the board on applicable laws protecting veterans, and tech board members to recognize common signs and symptoms of PTSD — they should know how to respond if they believe a member may be affected. It may also be helpful to organize an educational meeting to help board members understand how military skills transfer over to civilian jobs.
- Promote training. Veterans transitioning to the private sector may need to learn new skills to excel at their job or brush up on old ones they haven't used in years. Offer a series of workshops for veterans to keep their skills sharp, such as professional development seminars or role-playing events that allow veterans to hold mock interviews. Veteran members should also feel confident that they understand their union benefits — including an employee assistance program, if you have one — and on how to sign up.
- Pair veterans with a mentor. Only 2% of veterans working full time in the private sector said that someone at work advocates on their behalf, according to the book, "Mission Critical: Unlocking the Value of Veterans in the Workplace." To compare, 19% of civilian men and 13% of civilian women reported having someone in their corner. Offer a mentorship program with colleagues who understand veterans' unique challenges to help build their professional support network in their new career.
- Create a sense of community. Leaving the military can also mean leaving behind a close-knit community, and veterans who have recently left service will likely need ways to find a new one. Promote union events to current and potential members who have served in the military, even if they're simple gatherings like a union barbecue or bowling night. Foster a culture that celebrates veterans by sponsoring activities around days that honor military service, particularly Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
- Act as a resource. For veterans returning to civilian life, it's often hard to know where to start to find much-needed resources. Compile a thorough list of local military support groups, counseling resources and organizations like the Wilmington, Delaware-based Suiting Warriors, which gives veterans suits for job interviews.
The support you provide touches veteran members' lives beyond just the work they do. When you actively think of how to encourage and promote your veteran members, you're not only honoring them by helping them better compete in the job market — you're easing the challenges of transitioning into civilian life.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday — Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.