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Why Isn’t Industry Hiring More Veterans?

Marianne Watson
By Brig. Gen. (ret) Marianne Watson Director of Outreach, Center for America
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Buckner uses a petrogen oxy-gasoline cutting torch system to cut away the mangled metal of a man-made rubble pile in an attempt to extract a mock victim during a natural-disaster training scenario. (US Army National Guard photo)

The skills shortage is real and serious, so how do we turn lemons into lemonade?

One of the largest high-talent, high-potential groups of job seekers is the one million veterans, National Guard members and Reservists currently looking for full-time career jobs. A key point is that there will be an estimated 200,000 service members leaving the military every year for the next five years.

These veterans are among the most mature, highly trained and proven prospective employees any company can hire. They have had highly demanding experiences that push them to learn and improve continually in the most technologically sophisticated military in the world. Their potential as team leaders and future management is very high.

While the largest companies are hiring from this pool of candidates with military experience, a high percentage of small to mid-size businesses are missing out on the benefits of hiring veterans.

Too often military hiring efforts are viewed by companies only through the lens of patriotism or a sense of obligation. It is time to broaden this perception. Civilian hiring of National Guard members, veterans and Reservists should be seen as an opportunity—a big opportunity—for employers to hire men and women with proven track records who have already demonstrated the qualities that companies value most in their employees.

The military invests literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in training service members in hundreds of occupational specialties. In the military, our service members are continuously setting up, managing and then moving small cities and logistics bases to support our presence, not only in foreign countries, but here at home during disaster relief efforts.

They manage everything needed—food service, medical facilities, global communications, aircraft maintenance, vehicle and tank maintenance, supply chain systems, safety protocols and training, personnel management, emergency response teams—the list goes on and on. They are committed to achieving good results.

In working with the 2300 companies participating in the national nonprofit American Jobs for America’s Heroes campaign, Center for America has conducted a “systems review” to identify the specific reasons why key industries are not hiring more veterans and service members in response to the skills shortage. Our mission is to provide free resources to employers to solve these system failures.

Here are a few ways employers can overcome recruiting system breakdowns:

1. Increase your detailed understanding of the training and on-the-job experience of veterans whose skill sets match closely to your industry’s needs. Tens of thousands of veterans, National Guard members and Reservists work with the most sophisticated computer and mechanical systems in the world. They meet deadlines, manage operational logistics, lead and train diverse work teams, and achieve excellent results in adverse circumstances. Familiarity with the military units that train service members in the skills nearest to your industry needs will help you target your recruiting on veterans and service members most ready to succeed in your jobs.

2. Explicitly state your company’s high priority commitment to hiring veterans and service members. In our 2016 CFA national survey, only about 26% of manufacturers have explicitly stated that veteran hiring is a high priority for their companies.

As experienced business leaders know, company staff focus attention on the priorities set by senior leaders. Staff will go the “extra mile” when they know that company leaders will recognize their performance, even if this recognition is simply a sincere “thank you.” Those responsible for hiring become more committed to veteran hiring when the CEO is committed to achieving this goal.

3. Review your recruiting and hiring process from a “systems perspective” to assess whether each step is producing desired results. A simple process map, identifying critical success factors will highlight needed improvements. Is your HR recruiter working with the right free referral sources to connect with qualified military candidates? Are your line managers fully prepped to relate military experience to your job requirements? Are your job postings being distributed directly to the hundreds of military-to-civilian transition counselors?

CFA’s free Employer Guide for Military Hiring provides you with a succinct and practical Best Practices guide to use as a way to review your military hiring process. Download it here:

4. Improve your team’s expertise in understanding, assessing and communicating the skills, knowledge, experiences and potential of military applicants. Many very qualified veterans have told us that they have had more than 20 interviews before being hired. A common complaint is that recruiters or division supervisors only superficially explored the veterans’ actual skills and on-the-job experiences during interviews.

Most recruiters—especially in smaller companies—don’t know how to interpret all the military jargon on resumes. For example, many don’t appreciate how someone who supervised maintenance on multi-million computer systems in mobile armor units is a good candidate—with some gap training—to supervise maintenance on computer systems in manufacturing companies.

Our friend Tom is an example of a veteran whose qualifications were overlooked by many companies before being hired. A 12-year veteran of the US Navy with a handful of Achievement medals and a track record of successful high-responsibility roles ranging from engineering to ship wide maintenance supervision, Tom had more than 20 job interviews before being offered a role as operations manager with a top-shelf manufacturing company. He even received a signing bonus.

Keep in mind that service members do not have job interviews while in the military. Their familiarity with how they should perform in a civilian job interview is usually very limited and they are not accustomed to offering information that is not asked for by supervisors. So, interview questions need to be formulated to bring out the experience of the candidate that is most important in your evaluation of him or her.

Free help for recruiters in reviewing resumes and developing interview questions is readily available from our team at Center for America. You’re welcome to contact my colleague, Steve Nowlan, at

5. Review your relationships with state labor agencies, nonprofit referral sources and military transition teams. Many companies don’t take the time to learn what help they should expect from military, nonprofit and state workforce agencies and subsequently don’t manage these relationships well. These organizations respond best when they are treated as a valuable ally, phone calls and emails are responded to promptly, and truly informative job materials are provided at the outset. Many employers place far too much dependency on these referral sources for achieving their veteran hiring goals and then complain when the goals aren’t met.

You can register at no cost for the American Jobs for America’s Heroes campaign to post your jobs for veterans and service members at There are no fees for employers, associations or applicants.

President Trump’s signal to business that filling millions of open jobs is “our problem” not the federal government’s problem gives us another reason to re-think and re-commit to hiring veterans who have a wealth of experience in keeping the world’s most sophisticated military up and running 24/7 in a troubled world.

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