The latest unemployment report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 156,000 in August 2017, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 4.4 percent. In that same time the veterans unemployment rate was reported to be 3.7 percent the lowest it has ever been since 2007 and a far cry from the 2011 veterans’ peak unemployment of 12.1 percent.
While this is great news it is far from the win it appears to be and I will explain why. First some more numbers: At the beginning of 2017, just nine months ago the unemployment rate for young vets was 6.3 percent, the fourth month in a row where it had risen instead of falling. A separate report compiled by Hire Heroes USA points to two consistent trends: A. A mismatch between businesses and vets that takes place at the hiring process stage and B. Persistent underemployment in vets who find themselves in a job that barely stretches their skills.
The result of these two trends is that businesses miss out on tapping into a skilled labor force that’s disciplined, motivated, highly trained and capable of self-organization and showing initiative and vets frequently find themselves in jobs that become demoralizing shackles that slowly erode their self-confidence and leave them fundamentally unhappy and struggling to cope with civilian life.
The blame lies in three very specific areas:
- The Myth of the ‘Damaged’ Soldier – sure vets have, maybe, more than their share of physical and mental baggage. Many have returned from active duty in some of the world’s worst hot spots and with it they carry physical and psychological scars that are hard to shake. But that doesn’t make them unemployable. Arguably many civilian hires carry as much potential to go wrong as hiring a vet but if things do go south the civilian hire mismatch is attributed to exceptional bad luck or unusual circumstances while a similar mismatch involving a vet will be attributed to the fact that it was a vet that was hired, perpetuating the myth. This is classic confirmation bias territory.
- An Outdated Hiring Process – markets and business has changed. Markets have become fast-moving, volatile places where perceived value changes quickly and trust in a brand is given slowly. Consumers are now connected, mobile and voluble. They share experiences, opinions and recommendations bypassing or undermining traditional marketing and advertising channels. Marketing and businesses however have been slow to adapt to all this change. This is reflected in a hiring process that looks for prior experience, letters of recommendation and traditional qualifications (i.e. MBA, marketing degrees, etc) while what it really needs are the soft skills of focus, discipline, loyalty, innovation and ability to work hard while under pressure (skills the military drills into every recruit) which it does not yet screen for.
- A Two-way Communication Gap – businesses are bad at communicating their needs. Managers and even HR professionals struggle to articulate the need for flexibility, initiative, creative thinking and responsibility that modern jobs require by default. Ex-military personnel struggle to communicate too. They find it difficult to translate the organizational and planning skills they have acquired while serving and fail to successfully sell their particular set of abilities.
Luckily not everyone is as slow to adapt to change.
JP Morgan Chase and its partners committed to hiring ex-military personnel and benefiting from their particular mindset. Soldiers appear to make excellent business leaders with some companies considering them to be naturally-born for the CEO’s seat. Starbucks’ military hiring program has delivered huge benefits to the company.
With so many companies hiring we now have a body of evidence from research carried out by Kellogg Insights associates that suggests “Chief executives with military experience perform better under pressure and are much less likely to commit corporate fraud.”
Businesses badly need ethical, focused, dedicated personnel. They need people with creativity, the ability to handle pressure and stay calm under pressure. To date they have failed to adequately invest in personnel training to achieve this. Vets come already trained. They bring with them a way of thinking that is disciplined, structured and analytical.
Success in tomorrow’s market place depends upon the ability to bring businesses and vets together.