Companies Can Succeed by Making a Workplace More Veteran Friendly

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Tech. Sgt. Seth Jones, left, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Leblanc visit one of the information booths during the 50th Anniversary Air Force Sergeants Association Forum in San Antonio. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Rey Ramon)

During any given year -- even the turbulent ones -- around 200,000 military members will separate and enter the civilian workforce, many for the first time.

But that lack of experience is only in civilian jobs -- it's not a lack of experience in doing any job at all. A company can help veterans settle in and grow the mindset needed for success.

At Navy Federal Credit Union, Tracy Andrews, a vice president who makes regular hiring decisions, says they actively work to hire veterans because of what they can bring to the job. And she thinks other companies can benefit by doing the same.

"Not only are veterans able to relate more with the company's customer base, veterans bring a level of skill and experience that others entering the workforce may not have," she said.

Tracy Andrews is the Vice-President for Employee Services at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Andrews recommends that other companies try to see what Navy Federal sees. It has made the company stronger and more dedicated to its membership, she explained.

"We believe veterans bring unmatched experience when entering the workforce," she said. "The first thing companies need to do is understand how veteran hiring can enhance their workforce to meet their hiring needs."

Andrews said that one of the most difficult adjustments for newly separated vets and civilian employers lies in language. The military is notorious for its jargon and acronyms. Civilian companies speak a different way. But firms can help veterans overcome that with a little teaching.

"They don't know our jargon, and we don't know their jargon," she said. "We also have a different hierarchy here -- no ranks, just a different structure. It just takes time to learn."

On top of training programs, Navy Federal has social communities for both military veterans and military spouses to support one another. It recommends that other companies set up these communities as a support mechanism. The investment in time and effort is worth it, Andrews said.

Military veterans have different skills on different levels that can be very useful to civilian companies, she said. These range from so-called "soft" skills to advanced technical training.

"The nature of their experience gives them the ability to handle challenging factors in constructive ways because they've had these experiences that civilians may not have had," Andrews said. "Most military jobs require a high degree of technological understanding, along with the education and skills that surround that technology. So, veterans have had to adopt and adapt to the newest technology. And, for companies, that can create a real competitive advantage."

She said this is why veterans should be the first group of people any business owner of any size should be open to hiring. With that comes the need to help newly separated veterans adjust to a civilian work environment.

Andrews said that is easily accomplished and reaps major benefits for the employer and other employees -- especially among fellow veteran employees.

"There is a synergistic effect, and we try really hard to help our veterans help other veterans," she said. "This is what other companies can do as well. They can set up mentorship programs; they can support each other through social communities. Veterans crave opportunities for personal growth and development outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. So when we hook them up with these mentorship and development programs, they also get the community of veterans within those programs."

Veterans can find these kinds of workplaces. Companies like Navy Federal recruit from areas surrounding bigger military bases. If a recruiter isn't available, finding that job will be more difficult, but it's still attainable. It might actually be more difficult for employers to find veterans looking for work in some areas.

Andrews has advice for those employers as well.

"Tap into what you need. Do the research and recognize all the different types of jobs being done in the military, and see if you can match those skills to your business." she said. "Or go to outreach programs for folks transitioning out. They can help small businesses understand and find what to look for."

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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