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Returning Vets Trade One Battleground for Another

By Kim Shepherd, CEO, Decision Toolbox

Things are more like they are now than they ever were before.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

We are all keenly aware of the devastating affect the recession has had on the employment landscape over the last several years and, unfortunately, as our troops return from Afghanistan and Iraq in increasing numbers, chaos will continue to rain down on our battered employment marketplace.

The existing candidate glut primarily created by the recession will soon be further flooded by up to 1 million vets with the greater troop pull-down, and a pull-back of involvement in further U.S. military actions around the globe.  For younger troops, aged 18-24 years old, the unemployment rate is currently 13.1% for males and 21.6% for females –  nearly double and triple the unemployment numbers respectively for non-veterans.  Adding to the list of challenges felt by young vets is their apparent lack of “job experience”, career direction, and low confidence in their ability to thrive in the civilian workforce.  They are not sure what to do, how they fit in, or how their skills may be valuable or marketable outside of the military.

Though many companies may be theoretically committed to hiring vets, they are not sure how to find them, how their skills are transferable to available opportunities, or how to integrate and support them once hired. For jobs requiring lower skill levels such as truck drivers, assembly workers, and welders, the military is a natural source to pull from due to key skills required to be a successful infantry soldier – discipline, reliability, ability to follow directions and complete tasks, and loyalty, to name a few. With a typical turnover rate of 100-200% in these types of positions, the chances of retaining vets in these roles is extremely high, and thus, return on investment (ROI) can be extremely favorable.

For officers, returning to the employment marketplace is equally daunting.  I recently had the honor of speaking with 100 colonels and generals at Camp Pendleton in California about their impending return to the civilian workforce.  They, too, are not sure how they fit in, and tend to think they need to take a step down to managerial jobs upon their return. However, the truth of the matter is, these are not managers, these are leaders. They have the unique ability to strategize, and to mentor and motivate others in the most challenging and uncertain circumstances – this is not management, this is leadership.  Hiring organizations must realize the transferable nature of these skills to the business world and the incredible value these vets can bring to their leadership teams.

Stay tuned for follow-up entries on this evolving topic and how these changes and challenges will continue to have a profound effect on the status of human capital over the next several years.

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