Supporting Employers Who Support Vets: Heroes Work Here Conference

Easter Seals Veteran Assistance

Easter Seals is partnering with Disney's Veterans Institute for a special conference in Chicago on Nov. 3, geared toward helping employers build and implement an effective veteran and military-spouse hiring program: Heroes Work Here. The free one-day workshop is an opportunity for human resources professionals, recruiters and senior-level representatives to listen, learn and network with national thought leaders from various employers, government agencies and veteran support organizations. For more details on the conference and to attend, see this site.

We had an opportunity to talk to Easter Seals President and CEO Randy Rutta about the event. Can you talk about your organization's efforts to support veterans in general?

Randy Rutta: "Our commitment to reaching out to the military community goes back to World War II. In response to the millions of young veterans returning from recent wars, we pledged to make supporting our veterans, military families and caregivers an organization-wide priority. Now, we are poised with a nationwide network of 74 affiliates to support veterans as they navigate the often difficult journey of transitioning to civilian life.

"Under the leadership of Col. David Sutherland, U.S. Army (retired), we established [the] Easter Seals Dixon Center for military and veterans community services. [The] Easter Seals Dixon Center builds on Easter Seals' expertise in community-based programming. Together, we're transforming how our nation supports veterans and military families on the home front -- reconnecting with potential employers, loved ones, neighbors, higher education, health/wellness and more." How did the Heroes Work Here conference come about, and what do you hope to achieve with the event?

RR: "The Walt Disney Company's Veterans Institute launched the first Heroes Work Here conference in March of 2012 as a way to provide career opportunities for veterans by inspiring employers to expand their veteran hiring initiatives.

"Our missions are aligned. The Easter Seals and Disney partnership is based around the belief that our veterans are among our nation's best and brightest best job candidates. We share a commitment to giving veterans, their spouses and military caregivers the best opportunities to find meaningful employment and civilian careers.

"More than half of separating post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment, with Illinois facing higher veteran unemployment rates than the national average. That's why together, we're bringing the Heroes Work Here initiative to our hometown of Chicago on Nov. 3. We want to give companies looking to build or expand veteran hiring initiatives the tools and resources necessary to develop a successful program. The Honorable Robert A. McDonald, United States secretary of Veteran Affairs, will headline an elite group of conference speakers." What will an employer or human resources professional gain from this event in terms of relating to and hiring veterans?

RR: "Throughout the day, we want to reinforce the positive qualities and unique strengths veterans bring to the workforce. Business leaders and HR professionals from Midwest-based companies of all sizes will learn how to build or expand their own veteran and military family hiring programs. Employers leading the force for innovative veteran hiring, like USAA and Sears, will share their expertise in the field.

“Attendees will also hear from prominent and area veteran reintegration experts, who will share their personal stories about transitioning from armed service to civilian employment.

“Speakers who will share their inspirational stories of courage include Travis Mills, one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries, who shares his story in his new book, "Tough as They Come"; J.R. Martinez, actor, author and wounded U.S. Army veteran; and many more.

“Attendees will leave this event with a better understanding of the importance of hiring veterans and the necessary skills to:

  • Expand or create a veterans hiring program
  • Recruit and retain veterans
  • Translate military experience to business needs
  • Apply tax incentives and legislative policies to benefit your organization; and so much more.” What are some of the common misperceptions you see from employers about hiring veterans?

RR: "Our goal is to challenge the public's perception of returning veterans. There is a strong awareness among employers about the challenges that some service members face when they come home after experiencing war trauma. All too often, by focusing on challenges, employers lose sight of the positive attributes veterans bring to the workforce, like their discipline and unique skill set built through service.

"Employers mistakenly believe that veterans are too rigid to think creatively after years of following orders, but veterans are incredibly adept at adapting to change, are trained to think on their feet and are accustomed to coming up with creative solutions to problems. Many employers also lack the ability to translate rank or military job responsibilities to job listings in the civilian world.

"Veterans have a capacity for greatness; sometimes they just need a little assistance during their transition to soar. Easter Seals' goal is to reinforce the simple steps employers can take to hire, employ, train and retain a transitioning veteran, military spouse or caregiver." If you had one high-level piece of advice to give to companies who are interested in hiring veterans, what would it be?

RR: "Veterans want careers. Employers want the best candidates possible. That's why you hire veterans.

“At Easter Seals, we believe veterans are among the best of our country and can thrive in our communities, if given the opportunity. Sometimes, they need just a little help to get there.

"They already have the skill set in place to succeed. Veterans are mission-driven, flexible and team builders. Employers should take advantage of this training and drive. From our conference, we want hiring managers, business leaders and HR leads to come away with learning from best practices when it comes to recruiting, training and retaining veterans -- and strengthen their teams and companies because of it."

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