It is the job of the business and education communities to help empower veterans to successfully reenter the civilian workforce, as these employees often bring culture-defining qualities to businesses including loyalty, trainability and leadership.
A panel of veterans’ services directors, workforce agencies and employers collectively presented the case for seeking out veterans and providing multiple paths to employ them during the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s Valley Voices: Veterans at Work event Sept. 22 at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix.
The panel’s overall sentiment was that while veterans face some unique challenges when preparing to enter the civilian workforce – sometimes for the first time – hiring them is quantifiably a smart business decision.
“It is a simple strategic choice to bring veterans into our workforce at APS. It makes sense because of leadership and adaptability,” said event moderator Jeff Guldner, senior vice president of public affairs for APS and a Navy veteran. “Skills they learn in the military are so easy to translate into practice here.”
Guldner says APS uses a system of rotating leadership, where employees are chosen to run different departments based on leadership ability, not specific management experience. He says veterans, which make up 20 percent of APS’ workforce, are a natural fit.
One of the biggest challenges facing veterans is adjusting back to a non-military life and non-military employment. Panelist Steve Borden, director of the ASU Pat Tillman Veterans Center and a retired Navy captain, likens returning from military service to visiting a foreign country.
“The expectations, food, language, dress, social structure and many other things are all different from the military,” Borden said. “What is really disconcerting to veterans is that they are home, but feel like they are in a foreign country.”
Panelist Kimberly Hall, director of community experience for Goodwill of Central Arizona, recalled when her husband, a Navy veteran, was getting out of the service and preparing for job interviews. His resume was chock-full of Navy-related acronyms and descriptions that didn’t easily translate to civilian recruiters. She helped him focus on the skills he offered as an individual.
“His resume was like five pages long,” Hall said. “I helped him refine it and sell himself. We changed all the ‘WEs’ to ‘Is’ for the interview process.”
Hall added that effectively engaging veterans requires an entire community of motivated, collaborative partners. And it would be a challenge to find partners any more dedicated to veterans’ advocacy than APS, ASU Pat Tillman Veterans Center, Goodwill of Central Arizona, Maricopa County Community Colleges District (MCCCD) and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), all of which were represented on the panel.
Panelist Andrea Banks, district veteran services coordinator for MCCCD and an Air Force veteran, supports 10,000 veteran students and is constantly searching for opportunities to connect them with employment.
MCCCD rotates career fairs between its campuses and works with Goodwill, Arizona Department of Economic Security, Arizona at Work and other organizations to find jobs or internships for veterans.
Banks also encourages employers to actively support veterans. She and the other panelists cited the Arizona Coalition for Military Families, which advocates for increasing the state’s capacity to support all service members, veterans and their families, as a great resource. It also provides training to employers on veteran culture and helps them recognize skills hiding in veterans’ resumes.
Another great resource for helping employers hire not only veterans, but also active military members, is Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), which was represented on the panel by Dan Irving, Arizona central area chair.
Under the U.S. Department of Defense, ESGR supports employers, service members and their families through education, advocacy, recognition and mediation, all free of charge to the employer. ESGR’s work is crucial in helping employers navigate successful employment of active service members.
“Employers are a crucial piece to the success of our guard and reserve,” said Irving, an Air Force veteran. “We show employers how the value of a guard or reserve member outweighs the hardship experienced by that employer when they are deployed.”
Irving reiterated that even if employers have to do a bit more to help military members fit in at work, the benefits outweigh the extra effort.
“Latch on to these people because they will change your culture. You’re getting somebody who is a critical thinker, knows how to make decisions and is responsible for them,” Irving said. “But they will leave if they don’t feel like they fit in.”
Borden, of ASU, highlighted the necessity for the entire community to put active, thoughtful effort into crafting a plan to assist veterans with reintegrating into society post-military. He sees it as no less than an issue of national security.
“If we do not paint a pathway for our veterans to go out and serve and come back and transition to be contributing members of society, we put at risk having an all-volunteer force,” he said, recalling the times the United States has used a military draft. “We make it difficult for them to choose to serve because of uncertainty on what will happen when they come back.”
For the employers and educators in attendance, providing employment opportunities to returning soldiers is not just business-savvy, it is patriotic.
“Veterans are a critical piece of our talent pipeline, as often they already have the skills we are looking for and can immediately fill shortages with little or no further training,” said Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Sanders.
“We also owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our veterans who put their lives on the line for us to make sure we can live in the greatest country on Earth.”
– Written by Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.