June 11, 2012

Employers: Hiring vets has advantages, risks

Many private-sector employers are eager to hire today’s veterans, citing attributes like leadership skills, character and good discipline, according to a recent study.

But businesses are also reluctant to hire veterans for several reasons, including a fear of mental health problems or the risk that the veteran could be called up for future deployments, according to an extensive survey of businesses conducted by the Center for a New American Security.

The study highlights the complex challenges that young veterans face when making the transition into the civilian workplace.

Government data shows that young veterans ages 22 to 24 have, on average, an unemployment rate 3 percentage points higher than their civilian counterparts; in 2009, the rate for that group soared above 20 percent, the study said.

The CNAS research team interviewed people from 69 companies about their perceptions of veteran job applicants. More than 70 percent said they wanted to hire veterans because they have good leadership and teamwork skills. About 50 percent cited character as a good reason to hire a veteran.

Nearly 30 percent said hiring veterans is the “right thing” to do, and more than 10 percent said hiring veterans garners good publicity for their firm.

However, the majority of those employers also cited a range of reason for not hiring veterans. The problem that employers cited most often was “skill translation,” where employers who do not know much about the military — its force structure, career fields and acronyms — have trouble understanding exactly what kinds of experience veterans have.

More than 50 percent of employers said former troops may struggle against a “negative stereotype” that includes potential post-traumatic stress disorder, the study said.

More than 30 percent of employers cited potential future deployments, especially among troops who continue to serve in the reserve components, as a reason for potentially rejecting veteran job applicants.

Employer’s perceptions can vary depending on the type of company. For example, structure and discipline can be a valued attribute for some companies, but not for others.

“If you look at a company that emphasizes compliance of process, or has issues of physical safety in their workplace, they love veterans because veterans follow step-by-step procedures very precisely,” said Margaret Harrell, a senior fellow at CNAS and one of the authors of the report. “The flip side of that is the perception that veterans are too rigid and might lack creativity.”