June 12, 2012

Veterans Make Valuable Employees, So Why Aren't More Getting Hired?

One of the country’s top think-tanks has a memo for American employers: Hiring veterans isn’t charity work, nor is it a decision grounded in patriotic duty. Actually, it’s simply smart business.

That’s because American war veterans don’t merely make for good employees. Often, they’re some of the very best. Which makes it difficult to understand why more of  the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan struggle to find employment.

Now, a new report from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) offers insight into how business leaders perceive veterans — and makes a compelling case to employers that hiring a veteran is good for the bottom line.

It’s a timely, and incredibly important, topic: In 2011, the jobless rate among post-2001 veterans averaged 12.1 percent. And that figure is arguably much higher, with one war veterans group recently reporting that 17 percent of their members were unemployed — a full 8 percent higher than the national average. With more soldiers coming home this year, and the Pentagon preparing to thin out the ranks by 2017, the problem threatens to get even worse.

But it need not be a problem at all, according to the CNAS report. Based on interviews with business leaders at 69 different companies, the report concludes that hiring veterans is actually one of the best moves an employer can make — and not because it offers good publicity or federal tax breaks (although, perhaps, those are added perks). Leaders interviewed for the report offered up 11 primary reasons to explain why veterans tend to stand out as ace employees. Many of those reasons are linked directly to a veteran’s experience during military service.

Veterans, according to business leaders interviewed for the report, offer versatility: They’re accustomed to uniform policies and structure, but can adapt to dynamic workplace situations. Vets tend to boast leadership and teamwork skills that outpace those of their civilian counterparts, and they’re often more loyal as well. “Veterans are committed to the organizations they work for,” the report notes, “which can translate into longer tenure.”

Sounds like the makings of an abundant job market for American veterans — and some stellar performance reviews once a veteran snags a gig. So what are the holdups?

A few, according to the report, are fairly obvious: Business leaders worry that veterans won’t be able to translate their skills to the civilian workplace, or — at least where reservists are concerned — that they’ll redeploy and leave their job behind for an extended period of time.

Others are more surprising, and, in some instances, downright troubling. In particular is the concern among business leaders about the mental health of returning soldiers. “I’ve heard about some veterans coming back and going on rampages,” one leader told the report’s authors. “I’ve never had this happen to me personally, but I always wonder if it is a possibility.”

The mental health stigma surrounding job-seeking veterans isn’t a new phenomenon. But given the much-publicized, strikingly high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that afflict this generation of soldiers, it does threaten — quite unfairly — to markedly hamper their employment prospects.

Aside from the myth of the loco, gun-toting veteran, the report’s authors note another surprising problem that’s preventing more veterans from finding work: There are simply too many initiatives, both public and private, trying to link business leaders with veterans looking for a job.

In fact, a full 25 percent of employers surveyed in the report said that they “struggled to find veterans to hire.” Largely, those leaders blamed “too many websites and resources” along with “so many third parties, hiring events [and] consultants” attempting to promote the value of veterans to the civilian workforce.

It’s a valuable point, and one easy to overlook when so many veterans are struggling to find work. The flurry of initiatives to facilitate the process, from Obama’s tax-incentive-based “Vow to Hire Heroes” act to websites like VetJobs.com and HireVets.com, to myriad local job fairs, seem like steps in the right direction. But this tsunami of assistance risks being too much of a good thing.

And, the report adds, a potentially game-changing venture is still missing: A single, streamlined, federally-run database of job-seeking veterans and their qualifications. In other words, a one-stop “ resume bank” for employers interested in filling out their ranks with American veterans.

Seems like a no-brainer. Then again, so does hiring someone who not only volunteered to serve their country, but who boasts unique, unparalleled workplace abilities as a result.