Military Veterans: Highly Skilled and Ready to Work

The post-war focus on the future of this country’s military veterans has garnered a great deal of press as of late – most of it, sadly, about the ways the government is failing our vets returning from war. One extremely pertinent and lesser-known issue is integrating military veterans into the civilian workforce. This cohort of potential workers is ripe for success, but few outside of the military know what they bring to the table and what kinds of employees they can be.

Unique Candidates

Military veterans are a unique group, no doubt. They have been trained to follow orders within a chain of command, to respond quickly in crisis situations and to coordinate with fellow service members to successfully accomplish a goal. Most would agree that these are all highly valued skills, regardless of the context in which they occur. Few companies, though, understand how these skill sets qualify a military veteran for a civilian career. Numerous initiatives have recently been established in order to bridge that “knowledge gap” and get veterans hired. The result has been incredible – unemployment for all veterans is at 5%, the lowest it’s been since 2009 (June 2014 VetJobs Employment Situation Report).

A Benchmark for New Talent Acquisition

When the revised Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) went into effect, employers dealing with the Federal Government were required to establish an Affirmative Action Program (AAP). A stipulation of that program is that companies have to retain a certain number of protected veterans; this hiring benchmark is “a percentage of the total hires who are protected veterans [emphasis mine] that the contractor seeks to hire the following year” (VERRAA Benchmark Database). There are several ways for contractors to establish a benchmark in order to be compliant, the simplest being to follow the Annual National Benchmark of 7.2% (for the definition of a “protected veterans” and how to set your benchmark, visit

Good Thing, Right?

Yes…with a few caveats.

The current initiatives aimed at getting veterans hired are worthwhile. Veterans have, after all, volunteered to defend our rights and liberties. However, a case could be made that the government is operating more from self-interest than a simple desire to help military vets after they leave service. Each branch of the military pays the unemployment insurance for its service members. They obviously have a vested financial interest in seeing those individuals find and keep jobs. Also, it doesn’t look good for future recruitment if public perception is that it’s really hard to get a job after military service. Regardless of the operating interest of the government, these programs do have the potential to assist veterans transitioning to their next career as well as increase employment options for an often-vulnerable population.

Cautiously Hopeful

If these hiring programs are executed conscientiously and with good intentions, they can be win-win for everyone involved. But, as I see it, there could be an unintended consequence of these blossoming initiatives: More job openings than there are qualified protected vets looking for work. According to the June 2104 VetJobs Veteran Employment Situation Report, very shortly, there will be more companies seeking veteran employees than protected veterans available to hire. If a drive to meet the benchmark overshadows everything else, then companies will be competing with each other for any available protected veteran, instead of looking for individuals who are the right fit for the job and the company.

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