For a number of reasons, military veterans often find that landing a job outside the military can be very difficult. Additionally, they often get placed in jobs that don’t utilize their military training, leading to poor retention and general dissatisfaction. In a recent interview, I discussed the situation, how employers can help, and the unique opportunity the pandemic has offered.
I spoke with Ed Barrientos of Brazen, a facilitator of virtual job fairs and online hiring events, and Eric Eversole, President of Hiring Our Heroes, a grassroots initiative to help veterans, transitioning servicemembers, and military spouses find meaningful employment in communities across America.
Former Challenges for Veterans and Spouses
Before the pandemic, Eversole put veteran unemployment at 3% and military spouse unemployment at 23%. Those numbers, especially for spouses, have deteriorated significantly since the pandemic began. But before we get into those details, let’s look at what was holding employment of veterans and spouses back before the pandemic hit.
If you have been in a military family or have friends who are, you know they tend to move around a lot. As Eversole puts it, “In the military process, they’re rotating out on an almost constant basis. So that geography and timing issue makes us a much more complicated space than what you face in other segments of the recruiting population.” That certainly isn’t true of all military personnel, but the stereotype can lead employers and hiring managers to view military veterans as geographically unsound, especially reservists, who need full-time jobs but might get deployed at any time.
Military spouses also go where their husbands and wives are needed and therefore have the same challenges finding work due to geographic location and relocation.
Another geographical concern for military veterans and spouses involves restrictions on locations. While there are many military bases across the country, not all are conveniently located near civilian jobs. The job for which a veteran or spouse might be qualified may not be anywhere near his or her base. That heavily restricts the person’s ability to get the work he or she needs.
Depending on which branch of the military a candidate serves, a tour of duty can be anywhere from a year to 4 years, with breaks in between. A veteran might become a reservist during the gaps in between and might seek employment outside the military. Few hiring managers are willing to hire someone who may leave in a year.
For military spouses, the situation can be just as challenging. While they are not being deployed, they might have a strong shift in duties when their loved ones are at home or abroad. They also might have to temporarily or permanently change locations as their spouses reenlist.
According to Eversole, before the pandemic, “The unemployment numbers for veterans were really, really good. They were hovering around 3%. All time record lows as we were hearing from our good friends at the Department of Labor.” That sounds fantastic, but there are other issues besides the simple metric of “employed” or “unemployed.” Eversole continues, “But to me, that was masking some of the longer-term issues that many veterans were facing. Whether they were finding it very good, they were finding jobs, but they weren’t necessarily finding the right jobs. And if you peel off some of the deeper data on this, like retention and underemployment, it starts to paint a much different picture. And especially for many transitioning service members.” In other words, poor placement was common for veterans.
As an HR professional, you know what happens when there is poor placement. High turnover rates, low engagement, and poor performance are just a few of the downsides. Eversole suggested that the primary reason for poor placement involved a fundamental misunderstanding of what a military career looks like and how military skills can translate into civilian skills.
Pandemic Changes the Veteran and Military Spouse Hiring Landscape
Many things have changed since the pandemic hit, which should give any HR professional or hiring manager pause to reconsider the barriers to hiring veterans and military spouses. In many ways, this pool of talent has become more attractive since the beginning of 2020.
As we have seen, primary concerns around hiring vets and military spouses include geographic locations and military families moving so often. The paradigm shift toward remote-friendly organizations during the pandemic has essentially eliminated that concern for employers, making vets and spouses more viable than ever for placement.
Military veterans who might have to move but don’t deploy to active duty can still do their remote job from their new location without a large disruption. The same goes for military spouses, who can have that remote workplace continuity regardless of where their spouse gets reassigned.
The nature of those jobs that have accelerated during the pandemic also makes veterans a particular good hire these days. Barrientos says, “I think COVID has really accelerated and magnified the opportunities that exist in the workforce in the future. Because many of those jobs whether it’s IT, Tech, or Logistics, will be really important for the next generation of the economy. We’ve put a total magnifying lens on those opportunities and there’s been an acceleration to those opportunities as a result of COVID in my view.”
Indeed, as technology companies and support for non-technology-based companies thrive during the pandemic, many relatable skills from military veterans apply. Often, all that is needed is an opportunity and perhaps a bit of creative thinking on the part of hiring managers about how certain military skills can transfer to civilian work.
The focus on hiring for diversity has never been more present than in 2020, and military vets and spouses can fit the bill and help round out a need for a diverse team. The strategies and experiences of this group won’t be found elsewhere and can lend value in the form of diversity of thought. Barrientos says, “Thinking about different ways of really reaching different talent pools. It’s military folks and spouses that fit in that category of unique talent pools that are oftentimes overlooked.”
If you are looking for highly skilled, disciplined, and tenacious talent, consider military veterans and their spouses. These people have dedicated their lives to protecting this country, and they could very well be lending their skills and passion to your organization.