The View from Someone Else’s Boots: "Overcoming the 'Intimidation Factor' towards Transitioning from the Military to Navigating the Commercial Workplace.”

The Commercial Workplace

In 2015, many military veterans are continuing to return home from the longest wars in US history.  For some, lengthy multiple deployments and the daily rigors of extreme combat exposure, can make the readjustment process to the civilian workplace a very difficult and complex experience. Employers are now realizing that more can be done to help these veterans overcome their unfamiliarity with various corporate protocols, along with implementing other strategic diversity methodologies that may increase employment, improve overall cultural competency and help ease the transition process.

Making the dramatic cultural transition from serving in the military (particularly during an era of conflict) to obtaining a civilian job and successfully integrating into the commercial sector, can initially appear arduous, daunting and extremely intimidating for many military veterans. However, in an effort to improve military veteran recruiting and reduce expensive employee turnover, some employer's are now implementing additional measures that can help identify employment seeking individuals, bridge the cultural gap and enhance diversity sensitivity towards issues like flexibility for ongoing physical rehabilitation. These efforts can make a huge difference for some returning veterans and may significantly help individuals successfully obtain employment, better understand various civilian protocols, overcome certain language barriers and create a more smooth cultural reintegration into various factors of civilian society and the corporate workplace.

From the typical perspectives of many transitioning military veterans, there are certain basic parallels between accustomed military regimens and the civilian workplace, but the more obvious cultural contrast between the two, are often be perceived as very dramatic.

"Everything is very strange at first and one can easily feel like they are migrating to a different planet," says former Staff Sergeant, Lamont Petersen, an Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Marine vet, that had recently discharged from the military and (after some time) acquired his first civilian job with a federal contractor in the Quantico, Virginia area. Petersen continues, "Unfortunately, my employment resume was only a one paragraph long summary, and I had a very vague understanding of any relevance between my military combat experiences and what was expected for a corporate job. I remember feeling somewhat lost, unsure and very insecure about myself. Thankfully, I had some help from some veteran support organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project.

I also had a great employment recruiter that was very patient with me, flexible and could easily relate to my military experience. He thoroughly understood all of my specific transition related challenges. After our interviews, he suggested that the organization actually create a job that would match my specific skill-set. He also made an arrangement for my wife to secure a career with the organization. All of this had a huge impact on my transition process."  

Petersen is not alone, as many male and female returning veterans are commonly feeling less than secure and not totally prepared when making the full cultural transition from the military to civilian employment. For many of these veterans, some extra efforts on the part of employers are really making a difference.

Generally speaking, there are various transition enhancement programs available for returning veterans such as the 2011 President's Executive Order 13518, "Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force." This measure is specifically designed to bolster recruitment and employment by providing various tax credits and other incentives to employers that hire deserving returning veterans. There is also the Department of Defense's "Transition Assistance Program" (TAP), that trains separating veterans on crossing the cultural bridge to the civilian world.  Both programs are considered effective in helping veterans to better obtain employment and better understand certain elements of civilian employment and the cultural transition process. However, there is still much to do and many employers have questions regarding best practices.

What can employers do to help enhance recruiting and ease the transition process for veterans?

Employers can enhance employment and ease the cultural transition by implementing some of the following measures.

  1. Join an employer's consortium that actively promotes and provides employment to returning veterans. Organizations such as the 100,000 Jobs Mission. This particular consortium consist of a coalition of 180 private sector employers, all with a focused commitment to hire US military veterans and their spouses.
  2. Implement diversity training programs with a specific focus on veterans and people with disabilities. Training is key for managers, supervisors and recruiters to better  understanding and better relate to the specific needs of veteran employees. Enhancing sensitivity towards these issues can result in creating a more military friendly workplace environment where everyone feels valued, appreciated and incentivized to perform at their best. Training also helps managers observe ADA and EEO compliance regulations for flexibility, accommodations and emphasizes respect towards diversity in the workplace.
  3. Enhance the organization's onboarding process for veterans and implement internal programs for new employees that includes training for transitional skill-building, corporate protocols and overcoming communication barriers.
  4. Emphasize internal resource groups and other support programs. Employer Assistance Groups (EAPs) can allow people of certain demographics within an organization to communicate their feelings as a group and help sensitize an organization to certain issues. These programs also provide direction and help for employee financial challenges, family problems and substance abuse issues.
  5. Provide mentors and career-pathing strategies for employees. Mentors can communicate that veterans are not alone in the workplace and illustrate that success after the military is attainable. They can answer specific 'military-centric' questions and help give clarity and direction to new employees. Career-pathing can demonstrate a road-map to different levels of achievement within an organization for all new employees.
  6. Incorporate a 'disability friendly' and 'military-centric' message in all forms the organization's social media. This helps to communicate a welcoming message to a potential employees, as well as attract more new and diverse customers.
  7. Actively recruit military spouses. Employing military veterans and their spouses help to create very positive 'word-of-mouth' advertising to other potential candidates and consumers. This also increases the likelihood of retention, motivation and employer loyalty.
  8. Highlight and showcase employee and organizational success stories. Showcase individuals that have started as military veterans and have achieved corporate and organizational excellence. These stories inspire others to believe in themselves and aspire to greatness. Also highlight all organizational community support and altruistic measures. This helps to illustrate the organization's mission in the community beyond just achieving profit.
  9. Actively participate in nation-wide veteran career fairs and related activity. Having a presence at these events attracts veterans in various communities and helps to secure diverse talent.
  10. Hire, train and educate veterans to become organization HR recruiters. In many cases, veterans prefer to interact with people that share their experiences, speak the language and better understand both perspectives. This helps the veteran feel more comfortable and can help distinguish one prospective employer from another hiring organization.

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Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.