By Lorri Freifeld
A combat medic in the Army since 2001, Mike Bradley suffered a traumatic brain injury while deployed to Iraq in 2004. Barry “Pappy” Albert joined the Army in 1982 and was the oldest person in his unit when he deployed to Iraq with the Reserves in 2005; he lost his left leg to a combat injury. Moses Zamora entered the U.S. Marines Corp. at the age of 18 and did tours in Guam, Singapore, Kuwait, and Iraq.
But when they returned home, these war-weary veterans faced yet another battle: the fight for jobs in an ever-tightening market that had little interest in military skills.
Pentagon data reveals that more than 1.6 million military personnel have been deployed to the Middle East since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001. But when they return home, these veterans face an extraordinarily high unemployment rate. For those ages 22 to 24, for example, the unemployment rate can be as high as three times that of non-veterans in the same age group, according to Major General (Ret.) Matt Caufield.
“I was completely lost,” admits Bradley. “I had a great resume and a lot of experience, but I wasn’t getting in touch with the right people. And the jobs I was applying for were things that I would do just so I had work.”
Luckily, for Bradley, Albert, and Zamora, their stories have happy endings. Bradley joined Halfaker and Associates, a strategic consulting and national security service company. Albert landed an asset protection position with a Walgreens distribution center. Zamora is a welder with a mechanical contracting company.
Their return to workforce action resulted from transitional and technical training provided by two nonprofit groups—the Wounded Warrior Project and the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Sprinklerfitters (UA) Veterans In Piping (VIP) Program—and employers that recognized their talent and potential.
There’s no question that veterans face enormous transitional challenges. “Not only are they trying to find a job in a jobless economy, they often find out the job they did in the military doesn’t translate into a civilian job,” says Anne St. Eloi, UA special liaison, who developed and guides the VIP Program. “If they are lucky enough to find a job, they often are underpaid, and their military training undervalued. Plus, in the military, they were taught to think in terms of a team rather than ‘I,’ and now they must change their whole mind-set to survive and thrive in the corporate world.”
Adds Judae Bost’n, Ed.D., a certified trainer who developed and facilitates transitional training for the UA VIP program, “Clearly, there are major differences between military and civilian language, work culture, chain of command, process and procedures, communication, and, in many instances, the right to an opinion and the permission to respond independently. In working with companies that had hired highly qualified veterans, similar stories emerge. If the work situation wasn’t well structured, and clear-cut guidelines and expectations articulated, the veterans weren’t able to ‘move out of their lane’ to get the required tasks done. They were still waiting for direction, rules, structures, guidelines, and permission based on their military auto-pilot conditioning.”
Bost’n says other reintegration challenges occur as veterans adjust to life back with their families, deal with injuries and physical and mental fatigue from constant hyper-vigilance while on duty, figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and locate and utilize all available resources.
In addition to their own issues, veterans often face employer reluctance to hire them, fueled by a lack of understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury, no desire to train them on new skills, and worries about injuries impacting work performance and relationships.
But those companies fail to recognize the extraordinary leadership qualities veterans bring to the workplace, says Jim Gillece, chief people officer at security services company AlliedBarton, where approximately 5 to 10 percent of the 50,000-employee workforce are veterans (see sidebar at left). “World-class leadership training happens in the military process. Those individuals bring a lot to your organization. They are results oriented, come with significant experience, and have a sense of accountability and responsibility.”
Gillece says AlliedBarton has been speaking with the Wounded Warrior Project about the challenges of educating people about veterans’ injuries and finding the right roles for these individuals within the company.
Wounded Warrior Project
Watching the evening news seven years ago, a group of veterans and veteran advocates were moved by the difficult stories of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq. “So we decided to band together to provide tangible support for the severely wounded and help them on the road to healing, both physically and mentally,” says Al Giordano, a founder and deputy executive director, WWP. This evolved into 13 different programs, including three geared to training and career opportunities: TRACK, the Transition Training Academy, and Warriors to Work.
Launched in August 2008, TRACK offers participants a range of college classes and services customized to their needs, helping them build career skills, strive for economic empowerment, and continue recovery toward a more independent life. The program is not meant for those veterans who already have a college degree. “TRACK came about because we got feedback from veterans that they were having trouble transitioning back to college and weren’t connecting with other students,” explains Jennifer Silva, TRACK director. “TRACK offers a cohesive, supportive environment for mind, body, and spirit, including physical rehabilitation. It’s an opportunity for wounded warriors to get financially fit, educationally fit, and physically fit.”
The warriors attend college classes as a group for one year (24 credit hours) in Jacksonville, FL; another location is scheduled to open in San Antonio, TX. Typically 15 to 20 students attend the program per semester. Two classes on student success and computers are held off campus the first semester for warriors only. The second semester, warriors can schedule their own classes on campus at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) and also take an online class. Credit can be applied toward a bachelor’s or associate degree, or vocational certificate. Silva says 77 percent continue their education at a full-time school.
Each TRACK student receives a scholarship, which provides all class fees, books, materials, and a laptop, as well as relocation, individual housing, and living expenses paid for through Veteran Affairs’ VR&E benefits. TRACK students receive a student grant from WWP the entire 12-month period. Each TRACK student is required to save a portion of his or her pay, returned to the student at the successful completion of the program.
The second phase of TRACK consists of an employment externship with local employers in Jacksonville. “Participating companies have to provide the warrior with a mentor and workplace trainer,” Silva says. “This gives them experience in the workplace while still receiving HR support.” Externships are provided by companies such as CSX, Blue Cross, and funeral homes—they cross all industries, Silva says. “We listen to our warriors and try to place them based on their interests, skills, and passion.”
IT at the TTA
Established three years ago, the Transition Training Academy (TTA) is a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, Cisco, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), and the Wounded Warrior Project (which administers the program). It offers computer skills training at four TTA sites: Naval Medical Center, San Diego (NMCSD); Brooke Army Medical Center Hospital (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX; Camp Pendleton, CA; and Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, NC.
Through instructor-led, classroom-based training, the TTA focuses on IT skills such as: troubleshooting, small office/home office network design, device management, data collection and management, and online education systems.
TTA also provides students with Web-based exercises and online training; six-month enrollment in Aries Institute of Technology; assistance with enrollment in certification and other IT training programs; and additional training to improve job search, resume writing, and career planning skills. Participants get a TTA certificate at the end of the program and can go on to take the CompTIA A-plus certification exam.
Approximately, 850 to 1,000 servicepeople went through the eight-week program this year, according to Giordano. “Often, they are outpatients who are still on active duty. Even if they decide to stay in the military but change jobs because of their injury, they will have these new skills.”
Warriors to Work
The Warriors to Work program helps individuals recovering from severe injuries received in the line of duty connect with the support and resources they need to build a career in the civilian workforce, Giordano says. Participating companies go through training—held during a Warriors to Work meeting or information-based session—about the challenges such warriors face. The program helps veterans create resumes and get workplace training. “We hold weekend events where we bring in an employer that wants to hire veterans. There’s a high-touch aspect, and we get to know veterans’ abilities and goals,” Giordano says.
Companies go to the Website and can post jobs there. “There are approximately 100 warriors in the pipeline,” Giordano says, “and we tell them about available jobs. So far, we’ve done more than 100 placements.” Employment is countrywide, and Warriors to Work screens the jobs for validity.
“Five years ago, there were only four of us in Roanoke, VA, and New York,” Giordano notes. “As we get more locations, we’re meeting more entities that want to participate.”
The UA VIP program not only provides veterans with technical and transitional training, it guarantees employment. The United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Sprinklerfitters partnered with the U.S. military to create the UA Veterans In Piping Program in August 2008. UA Local #26 in Lacey, WA, was the first UA Local to kick off the program, working with the Washington National Guard and Washington State Veterans Affairs. Now also offered at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, the 720-hour VIP program provides veterans with two weeks of transitional training to help them adjust to civilian life, followed by 16 weeks of accelerated technical training in areas such as welding, piping, heating/ventilation and a four-year apprenticeship.
No previous welding experience is required, and a living wage is paid during the training and apprenticeship phase. Upon certification and successful completion of the four-year apprenticeship, says UA Special Liaison St. Eloi, veterans are guaranteed employment, with an expected wage of more than $40 per hour, including benefits. St. Eloi says the program tries to place veterans in cities and states where there will be work for them after their apprenticeship.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the construction field will need to attract 240,000 workers each year to replace those retiring from the workforce, and 450,000 welders will be needed nationwide by 2014. That said, right now, the recession is bad, and it continues to be hard for local unions, St. Eloi admits. “Two to three applicants are lined up for these jobs. And some employers just don’t realize how good military training is, particularly since veterans don’t always come with a good resume and give a good interview as they often aren’t as confident when they come home.”
That’s why St. Eloi and her team work with veterans to create stellar resumes. “We’re placing them in Atlanta, New Orleans, etc., so we can’t send them for interviews. Instead, we have to sell them through their resumes to the local unions and contractors.”
Most of the VIP training is instructor-led, says St. Eloi. “The way we train is not too different from how the military trains in that we provide continuous guidance. We encourage our students to keep in touch even after the transitional training, which is called Training for Tomorrow, Today!”
It costs approximately $18,000 to $24,000 per year per student for the 18 weeks of VIP training, St. Eloi says. UA members contribute 10 cents per hour to fund programs such as the Veterans In Piping program. Currently, there are 340,000 UA members in the U.S. and Canada in 308 union locals. According to General President William Hite, the UA has made an annual commitment of more than $200 million to training, with a goal of 50,000 apprentices in training this year, creating an infrastructure of mobile training facilities, online studies, accelerated training, and other educational options.
Bost’n says one evaluation she’s repeatedly heard about the VIP transitional training program is “…I had no idea I possessed so many highly marketable skills, strengths, talents, and abilities; without this training, I would have miserably settled for a job way below my capability rather than having a career I love.”
Moses Zamora is a testament to that sentiment. The 22-year-old veteran always wanted to be a welder; in fact, he joined the military because he thought it could lead to welding, but that didn’t happen. So it wasn’t until he participated in the UA VIP Program that Zamora got a chance to live his dream. Today, he’s busily working on pipes for air-conditioning systems in Texas. After this summer’s record heat waves across the country, he should continue to be busy for quite a while.
Case Study: AlliedBarton
“AlliedBarton wants YOU!” could be the security services firm’s slogan when it comes to hiring veterans. That’s because many of AlliedBarton’s critical cultural characteristics reflect those learned in the military, including being results oriented and proactive, and demonstrating leadership and a can-do attitude, says Chief People Officer Jim Gillece. “In thinking about our employee population, we look at individual strengths and how they can best help our clients.”
As new employees, veterans and civilians alike are assigned a mentor and go through the same onboarding process at AlliedBarton. Veterans are not required to let the firm know they were in the service, so Gillece can only estimate that 5 to 10 percent of the firm’s 50,000 employees are veterans. But he says he sees that percentage increasing, particularly as one of AlliedBarton’s talent management goals is to become even more military friendly.
AlliedBarton’s Internet portal features information about the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act (USERRA) and the standards around re-employment of veterans and management of employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve. Gillece says plans are in the works to launch new modules specific to managers.
The firm also forged several new partnerships, with organizations such as the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, and the Wounded Warrior Project. AlliedBarton posts available jobs on these organizations’ Websites and has a site called www.greatsecurityjobs.com that organizations can send veterans to. Gillece says the firm also has utilized social media platforms such as www.hireveterans.com and Facebook to get the word out about AlliedBarton’s career opportunities and message (“that we’re a company with opportunity, that dares you to be great, and promotes from within”).
Part of the challenge is matching people with the right position that will challenge them, Gillece notes. “They might have been a platoon leader in charge of 30 people and $30 million of equipment, making life-and-death decisions every day. It’s difficult to go from that to a civilian job where there probably isn’t the same sense of urgency they felt at war.”
That’s why, Gillece says, AlliedBarton stresses that it takes its mission of protecting clients and their families seriously and is attracted to military personnel who know how to handle or de-escalate stressful situations. “Veterans bring their own personal brand of leadership and unique experiences to our firm,” says Gillece. “They also can teach others in our Security Academy In Leadership (SAIL), helping to make our civilian employee population even stronger.”
Call to Action
Interested in hiring veterans? Some quick tips:
• Partner with organizations such as the United Association Veterans in Piping Program (www.uavip.org), the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org), and America’s Heroes at Work (www. AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov) to let them know about available job opportunities.
• Offer a good product and opportunity for growth and make sure your employee and corporate brand is strong, says AlliedBarton Chief People Officer Jim Gillece. “Educate veterans about your sector and your story; make sure it’s easy to get a sense of your culture through your Website. Utilize social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook to become known as a good place for veterans to work.”
• Educate employees and managers about the challenges returning veterans face and injuries such as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury.
• Provide a mentor program, stresses TRACK Director Jennifer Silva. “Veterans need mentors who will listen to them and give them a wider view of the workplace. They also need to know they are in a place where they will be listened to both as a person and part of a team.”
• Don’t discount veterans because they lack experience in the corporate world. “They might not have years of call center experience, for example,” Silva says, “but they bring dedication and a first-class work ethic—and that often is of far greater value than work experience.”
• Don’t undervalue veterans’ skills. “They do know how to follow orders,” says Anne St. Eloi, UA special liaison, “but they also have high-level skills and will get the job done.”