How to Assist an Underemployed Veteran Employee


It happens to every employer: You hire someone into a role and then find they are not fulfilling their potential and have more to offer. With a veteran employee, this can be a struggle because often the veteran is usually not prepared to tell you where his or her skills translate to the ideal job in your company. As reported in one study, 43 percent of all workers reported being underemployed and underemployment among veterans is reported higher. Navy veterans reported being underemployed 19 percent more often, and Air Force veterans reported being underemployed 26 percent more often compared to all U.S. workers. 

Why is Underemployment an Issue for Veterans?

Today, underemployment is a key reason many veterans leave their civilian jobs. In a 2015 report by IAVA, underemployment was defined as, “…members of the workforce who are underutilized in their current jobs. This can mean having a higher education level than is required for their current position, having more experience than is required, or seeking full-time work, but only working part-time.”

For many transitioning service members, the ability to clearly identify an ideal job which utilizes their skills, experience and passion is challenging. Skill translators can help, but they are limited to the skills and needs as explained by the employers. In some cases, private sector employers have not identified the skills needed for the jobs in the most robust way, thereby misaligning military skills with civilian jobs.

How to Assist an Underemployed Veteran

When an employer recognizes they might have an underemployed veteran on their team, there are several ways to remedy the situation and elevate the value this employee can offer:

Discuss their desired career path. Sit down with your veteran employee and ask them where they want their career to go in the next five or 10 years. Ask clarifying and probing questions to help them see a path, not just a series of jobs. Remind yourself that the military career path is very different from the civilian path, and the concept of growing a career across different companies, jobs and even industries is foreign to someone who had many jobs, but always one employer.

During this conversation, listen for new ways you can utilize this employee to their fullest potential. Are they ready for a management role? Can they offer additional skills to the team? 

Collaborate with your peers in other departments. Does your counterpart in another department have an open position which would better utilize the skills of your employee? What coaching could you and your colleagues offer your employee about moving within the company, so you retain their talent, but don’t keep them underemployed. 

Enlist them as a mentor/leader. Veterans are natural leaders. For a veteran employee who feels underutilized, serving others through mentoring and leading can be fulfilling and rewarding.

Train your hiring managers. As veterans are hired into your organization, train your recruiting and hiring teams to recognize a candidate who offers to do “any job.” This can present risk that the hire is placed in a role below their capability, where they might become bored, frustrated or impatient. In the military, service members are taught to be resilient and solve problems. No job is off limits. Therefore, a veteran candidate might indicate they are willing to do any job in a civilian company, when their skills enable them to perform at a higher level.

Help them transition out. If you and the employee decide there is no opportunity to fully utilize the skills, talents and expertise of the veteran employee, help them transition to a company where they will be a better fit. Leverage your network and referral base to help them transition. Offer coaching and advice so they can be successful. This is a small – yet meaningful – gesture that will pay dividends in the veteran’s career!

Underemployment is not only a challenge for the employee. When companies miss align hiring and employee development goals with the needs of their employees, key talent leaves the company, which is very expensive. 

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