Military Skills Translator Tools- Do They Work?

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Increasingly, I am receiving inquiries from employers asking my opinion about whether they should invest in a military skills translator tool for their military recruiting career page.  These applications are a significant expenditure for companies, and they want a level of assurance that they do actually work.

If you are unfamiliar with military skills translators, the majority of them are derived from the military-to-civilian crosswalk feature of O*Net Online.   As marketed, all the service member needs to do is simply input their military occupational code (MOC) into the translator tool and the application quickly compares the various skills and attributes of that MOC to open positions at a company.  The veteran is then presented with a list of open jobs at that organization to which it would be appropriate for them to apply.

Example of a Military Skills Translator Tool

Example of a Military Skills Translator Tool

While I am generally very supportive of any tool that assists recruiters and service members to better communicate, I continue to be disappointed with the results of the tests I conduct on these skills translators.  I am also frustrated that some employers are viewing these tools as a “silver bullet” that will magically make it easier for the veteran to apply to the right positions, thereby eliminating the need to have an actual conversation with the service member to tease out what the translator did not reveal.

Real Test Results:

  1.  I used the military skills translator of a major retailer and input my MOC: 25A (Signal Communications Officer).  The results indicated that I should apply for positions such as a Master Plumbing Specialist or Cashier.  I bet you I’d make a better Department Manager or Store Manager than a cashier or plumber.
  2. Through an energy company website I tried 14T (PATRIOT Launching Station Enhanced Operator/Maintainer).  14T’s have a lot of experience with troubleshooting and maintaining electronics systems (a skill set definitely in demand in the energy industry).  Unfortunately, the skills translator tool said “No jobs found that match your profile”

If the service member goes to your career page, inputs his/her MOC into the military skills translator tool, and the result is “No jobs found that match your profile” – what message did you just send to the veteran?  That may be his/her first and last attempt to find a career with your company.  They may not take the extra minute to try keyword searching, which in example #2, would have yielded better results.

While vendors continue to improve their translator tools, I recommend you add a statement very prominently on the skills translator that says something to the effect of:

“If you received a message stating ‘No jobs found that match your profile’ – do not be discouraged!  Try searching by keywords and see if you receive better results.  You may also *click here* to request a conversation with one of our Military Recruiting Program team members who has experience in translating your military background.”

{cue the sound of a thousand recruiters sucking in their breath}

Yeah, you read that correctly.  I want you to offer to have a conversation with the veteran about their military background.  What recruiters need to understand is that there is so much more nuance to the veteran’s military experience than just the MOC they held.  Depending on how the skills translator has been programmed, it may be inadvertently mis-translating certain skills.  The translators don’t always consider the inherent transferrable skills a veteran has, such as operations experience, problem solving, initiative, etc., either.  That is something the human mind can do better than an algorithm – continue to ask relevant questions and assess potential.

ERE recently had an article on why using performance based interviewing techniques is helpful to determine what skills the service member has.

Successful military recruiting requires patience, military cultural awareness, a willingness to dig for information and a “high touch” (versus “high tech”) approach.  Embrace the work, for the result is worth it.

I’d love to hear from recruiters who have experience with these translator tools – do you find that the tool helps military veterans connect with appropriate jobs at your company?

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Can I ask a Veteran About the Type of Military Discharge He Received?

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Every now and then I get a question about whether and when it is OK for an employer to ask a veteran about his/her military service and the type of discharge he/she received.  This blog will focus on EMPLOYING a veteran (as opposed to re-employing a National Guard or Reserve member after a period of military leave; the standards are slightly different.)

In a nutshell:

  1. You CAN ask someone whether they have served in the US military
  2. You CAN ask for the dates of their employment in the military
  3. You CAN ask if  they are willing to self-identify as one of several protected classes of veteran
  4. You CAN ask about the type of discharge received HOWEVER you had better have a good business reason for doing so, otherwise it is advisable NOT to ask for type of discharge.

(See this SHRM article about the types of questions that should not be asked on the employment application )

State and Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws do not prohibit you from asking about the type of discharge.  However, asking a veteran to reveal the nature (“characterization of service” in military parlance) of their discharge is considered private information, similar to asking someone “what kind of a disability do you have?”

So, in terms of hiring a veteran, in what instances would it be appropriate to ask about the characterization of service?

One example:  if the position requires the employee to obtain a security clearance.

Another example:  There are a number of companies making significant commitments to hire veterans.  As this is essentially creating a “veteran preference” (similar to what government agencies offer), the employer can set the criteria for this preference within legal limitations.  The employer has a justified business reason for offering this preference to a specific demographic (in this case, veterans) as this demographic has documented challenges with finding employment.   So, the employer can set the criteria for this veteran preference as an honorable discharge or a favorable discharge.

What are the types of discharges?  Here is a table to help you see the differences:

Types of Military Discharges
Administrative
Discharge   Name Considered Notes
Honorable Favorable The gold standard is the honorable   discharge, which the majority of veterans will receive.   It   means they have met or exceeded the standards for professional and personal   conduct in the military.
General Under Honorable Conditions Favorable This discharge means the veteran did not meet all of the   administrative criteria for exemplary service.  The military has different standards of   conduct that do not apply in the civilian world.   For example, in the military a person can be let go because he/she:

  • Is overweight
  • Has had an extra-marital affair
  • Has fraternized (i.e., an officer and an enlisted member “hooking up”)
  •  Can’t manage personal finances
  • And, prior  to 2011’s full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, if they were determined to be gay or lesbian

Any of the above situations (and others) would be/could have been considered not fully meeting the military’s standards of personal conduct, but would not prevent a civilian from obtaining employment.

Other than honorable (also known as OTH) Typically unfavorable, but depends on your employment criteria The veteran may have been dismissed for infractions such as   fighting/physical altercations, DUI, drug use or possession (not a   comprehensive list, but some of the most common reasons)A person with an OTH discharge will not be able to obtain a security clearance.
Uncharacterized N/A This is an entry level separation generally given when the   person has spent less than 180 days in the military.  Disability may or may not be a factor.
Punitive
Discharge   Name Considered Notes
Bad conduct (also known as BCD) Unfavorable For either of these, the discharge comes as a result of a   court-martial and often after a period of confinement.  The veteran would have been part of a case involving   desertion, security violations, embezzlement, use of violence, murder, sexual   assault, etc.A person with a BDC or dishonorable discharge will not be able to obtain a security clearance.
Dishonorable Unfavorable

My advice:  if you are going to set criteria for a veteran preference, consider making it a “favorable” discharge (which encompasses both honorable and general under honorable conditions) rather than only honorable. 

If you are thinking, “Well, I won’t ask the question directly, but I will, as part of background screening, verify the type of discharge”, know that you do have to obtain the veteran’s permission to verify the nature of the discharge.  This is not something you would do indiscriminately, just as you would not conduct extensive financial background checks on someone who is not being considered for a job that has significant financial responsibilities.  A veteran’s military service record is not considered public information, so you must have a valid reason to ask for it and you must have the veteran’s permission to obtain information from it.

If you are going to ask about the characterization of service, I would indicate on whatever form (electronic or paper) you are currently using to ask for permission to conduct background screening that one of the screening elements will be whether the applicant has an honorable discharge (or favorable discharge) from the US Military.

If your company uses a 3rd party vendor to conduct its employee background screening, confirm that they offer military service record verification.  Many screening companies will confirm whether someone has served in the military, but verifying the characterization of service is a different process, which involves asking to see a veteran’s DD-214 (“Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty”).  Presuming your vendor does offer this type of verification, what you want them to confirm is “does this applicant have an ‘honorable/favorable’ discharge” (depending on the criteria you set)?  This should be a YES or NO answer – the less you know about the specific type of discharge, the better.

If you conduct your background screening in house, your screeners need to know how to read a DD-214.  I have written a paper that describes HOW to read a DD-214, what to look for, what to ignore and which copy of the DD-214 to ask for to obtain the info you seek.  Click here to request a copy of “How to Read a DD-214”.  Know that neither an employer nor a background screening company can obtain a copy of the veteran’s DD-214 without the veteran’s written permission.

Walmart Sets a Goal Of Hiring Up To 100,000 Veterans by 2018 – How Will They Do That?

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The world of veteran recruitment was in a tizzy last week when Walmart announced that it would “Hire Any Veteran Who Wants a Job”.   At our Veteran Recruiting Conference last week (#VetRec13) the consensus was fairly even between those who thought “good for them – if anyone can do it, Wal-Mart can” and those who had the same concerns that have been voiced in the media (i.e., these are low wage jobs, not commensurate with veterans skills, discriminating against those who have been out of service for more than 12 months, they’re just in it for the tax credit etc.)  And, more than a few attendees were anticipating that their companies would now feel pressure to also make a public commitment to hire veterans.

I hope Walmart takes this commitment two steps further and:

I don’t think the real question is whether Walmart will be able to meet its hiring goal.  Walmart is a huge organization with more than 4,000 stores nationwide and another 5,600+ internationally.  I’ve seen one statistic that says 90% of the US population lives within 15 minutes of a Walmart (I believe it, as I live within 15 minutes of two Walmarts and every city I have lived in when I was on active military duty had a Walmart).  It has over 2.2 million employees (1.3 million in the US alone) and, with a reported annual turnover rate of 37%, hires approximately over 480,000 people every year.  So, straight-line math says Walmart needs to hire an average of 20,000 veterans each year (4.2% of all hires) to meet their goal – which certainly sounds do-able.

Walmart jobs run the gamut from cashier to store manager to distribution center manger to purchasing agents, truck drivers, to real estate and e-commerce professionals.  So, the jobs in question are not necessarily low wage / low skill jobs with no benefits and could very easily leverage the skills that veterans have learned in the military.  The sheer number of locations could accommodate service members where ever they are or to where they are willing to relocate.

The real issue people should focus their brain cells on is how Wal-Mart plans to execute this ambitious recruiting plan.  I.e., what is their strategy and how are they preparing their recruiters and hiring managers for such a massive commitment?  What plans do they have to leverage the military’s relocation benefit and the Department of Labor’s job training programs?  How are they preparing to accommodate and/or create customized opportunities for veterans with disabilities?

For any company that is considering making a commitment to hire veterans, it is important to set goals in order to accomplish results. A goal is not the same thing as a quota.  A goal is a desired result.  A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. In other words, SMART goals require a lot more thought and detail, and are more likely to be accomplished than goals that are vague.  It is one thing to say “we want to improve our recruitment and retention of military veterans” (a vague goal) and quite another to put SMART goals in place for how that desired outcome will be achieved.

So, what are some SMART goals that your company could set in place for 2013? Let’s create a scenario where your desired outcome (goal) is to hire 50 veterans by the end of 2013, a number which represents 5% of all hires you plan to make in 2013. Here is a planning process I have used to help me focus on setting SMART goals.

If I want to hire 50 veterans, I am going to have to interview 250 qualified veterans. In order to find 250 qualified veterans to interview, I am going to have to get my opportunities in front of at least 2,500 veterans (NOTE: your own planning ratios may vary, based on your level of experience with finding and interviewing military members and the kinds of roles you are trying to fill). What steps do I need to take to achieve those numbers?

  1. The first step is to get very clear on the military skill set you seek:
    1. Are you looking for specific occupations (such as engineers or truck drivers) or transferable/soft skills (such as organizational skills, project management, or supervisory experience)?
    2. Are those skill sets found in the enlisted grades, warrant officer grades or officer grades?
    3. What grade range (i.e., E-5 through E-7) should you target to find military members who have the right experience, qualifications and salary expectations for the role you are proposing?
    4. Once you have defined the skill set for the roles, the next step is to determine where to look to find military members with that skill set:
      1. Do certain military transition centers organically have larger quantities of the skill sets you seek?
      2. If looking for veterans with the soft skills (which can be found in many places), how can you cast the widest net? Would a combination of physical military career fairs and virtual military career fairs be a good        option? Can you leverage sites like LinkedIn?
      3. Next, decide how you are going to market your opportunities to attract military members. Having a designated info page for them, either through your career site or a separate micro-site dedicated to your military recruiting effort or a Facebook recruiting page will provide them the info they need in order to apply. Here are a few suggestions of what to include:
        1. A clear explanation of the military profile you seek
        2. An opportunity for the military member to connect with your team to         ask questions
        3. A schedule of physical or virtual “open house” events veterans can         attend to meet with recruiters and hiring managers to ask questions         and/or interview

So, once you have gone through the process above, you can set some SMART goals in order to reach 2,500 military members in order to ultimately find 50 to hire. Here are a few examples:

In 2013 we are going to:

  1. Conduct 4 physical open house events in 4 cities and 6 virtual open house events. We will use all available free local resources to help us market these events to veterans. We will provide the free resources with a clear description of the roles and the military profile we seek to fill those roles so they can assist us with finding appropriate people to attend our events. Our goal is to attract a total of 100 veterans to each event and make at least 3 hires from each event. (1,000 veterans reached to obtain 30 veterans hired)
  2. Attend 4 physical military career fairs and 2 virtual military career fairs. The vendors of those fairs will market the event to a broad military audience. In order to encourage more of the types of veterans we seek to hire to participate in these events, beginning 3 weeks in advance of an event we will use our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter resources to broadcast our attendance at these events and provide a link to our customized military information page so that the military person can see the profiles we seek for our open roles. Our goal is to attract a total of 50 veterans to our booth and make at least 2 hires from each event. (300      veterans reached to obtain 12 veterans hired)
  3. We will provide a phone number (or general email address) on our designated information page that veterans can use to contact our recruiting team with questions. Each recruiter involved in this effort will have a designated day (or block of hours, or whatever time frame makes sense for the size of the recruiting team) that he/she will check for messages and respond to inquiries. Our goal is to ideally have a 10 minute conversation with the veteran to answer questions and guide them to appropriate roles. If a phone call is not possible, then we will provide a      detailed email reply within 5 business days. (Note: get interns or co-op students to assist you with this effort – find some student veterans to assist you since they already “speak military”!) Our goal is to have interaction (phone call or email exchange) with 5 veterans a day, 50 weeks a year, and make at least 8 hires from this effort. (1,250 veterans reached to obtain 8 veterans hired)

You’ll notice these goals and approaches are very “high touch” – it’s because the high touch approach works very well when recruiting military. If you think those ideas sound too complicated or time intensive to do, have you calculated the time and money you’ve spent attending random career fairs and making job postings into the ether and the number of military hires you have to show for it? You have to be much more strategic in your efforts if you want to succeed at hiring military.

If you have questions on any of the ideas I suggest above, I invite you to bring your questions to one of my “Ask the Military Recruiting Expert” sessions that I conduct twice a month. These sessions are completely free and are a great way to “pick the brain” of someone who has developed military recruiting programs and advised or trained others on how to build their own military recruiting programs.

An OFCCP Spring? The Much Anticipated Revision to Veteran’s Regulation Coming in April 2013?

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I hardly ever have time to blog twice in one week, but this one just can’t wait!  Buried deep on page 106 of a 111 page Regulatory Agenda (thank God for CTL F), the Department of Labor has actually put a written mark on the wall as to when its Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs (OFCCP) plans to publish its much anticipated revision to the affirmative action provisions of the Vietnam Era Veteran’s Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. The notice of proposed rulemaking can be found in a document entitled “Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations of Contractors and Subcontractors Regarding Protected Veterans”.  Federal contractors have been waiting and grinding their teeth since July of 2011 when the public comment period on the proposed changes ended.  If you are new to recruiting veterans, you can get caught up as to what the proposed changes are by reading some earlier blogs posted here.  Just click on the tag for “OFCCP”.

The last 18 months or so have been no picnic for the OFCCP field agents who have been constantly harangued by contractors in public forums where veteran recruiting topics are discussed.

So, now we all know – according to DOL’s published timetable, a date to be named later in April 2013 is when we can expect the revisions to be published.  April 2013 is also the time they anticipate releasing the other drama-filled revised rules on “Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations of Contractors and Subcontractors Regarding Individuals With Disabilities

So, let’s take a poll:

Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC) for Hiring Veterans Extended Through December 31, 2013!

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There has been much doom and gloom hovering over Washington as the deadline for the “fiscal cliff” neared and our leaders fought over tax revenue and deductions.  One thing that Congress was able to accomplish with the tax extender bill passed on Jan 1st is that the work opportunity tax credits (WOTC) for hiring veterans were provisioned to be extended an additional year (through December 31, 2013).  President Obama has said he will sign this measure.  This is good news for employers who have a focus on recruiting military veterans.

Sometimes I get an employer who says “Oh, we aren’t hiring the veteran just to get the tax credit, so I am not interested in this info.”  One the one hand:  good – you shouldn’t hire someone just because you get a tax credit.  You hire them because they have skills you need and they will improve your company through their work effort.  However, if Human Resources truly wants to be seen as business partner to the organization, it should not ignore the opportunity to show how strategic hiring efforts can improve the company’s bottom line by saving it money while still bringing in great talent.

I have clients who make a real effort to hire from the various WOTC categories, and they can demonstrate that they have saved their company $1,000,000 in taxes over the course of a year.  Using straight line math and the minimum credit of $2,400, that is just 417 WOTC-qualified hires in a year.  You could save the organization the same amount with just 105 hires if they all happened to be veterans with disabilities who have been unemployed for at least 6 months ($9,600 WOTC credit).  I guarantee your CFO will sit up and pay attention if you start throwing out tax savings like that.  And, you can use your plan for tax credit savings to justify your military recruiting efforts and budgets!  Tell your leadership “I saved the company $1,000,000 in taxes last year through my strategic efforts to recruit talented veterans, many of whom qualify for the WOTC.  So, this year I am requesting a military recruiting budget of $XXX,XXX and a staff of XX to help me grow this program.”

Do I have your attention now?  Good!  So, if you are new to using WOTC to hire veterans, let’s recap:

When the President signed the Vow to Hire Heroes Act back in November 2011 there were two new veteran categories added to the WOTC.  Essentially, if an employer hired a veteran who had been unemployed for at least 4 weeks there was a new tax credit for hiring him/her.  Plus, if the veteran had a disability AND had been unemployed for at least 6 months, the tax credit for hiring him/her doubled.

Click on the link below to see a simple chart that breaks down all the work opportunity tax credits for hiring veterans

Tax Credit slide

These new veteran categories of WOTC had additional unique features that had not been available previously:

  • There is no time limit associated to when the veteran left the service. Previous versions of veteran-related WOTC’s stipulated that the veteran had to have been separated/retired from the service within the last 5 years in order to qualify. This is not a stipulation for this latest version, so if you are considering hiring a veteran who left the service 10+ years ago and who has recently been unemployed more than 4 weeks, you can receive a tax credit for the hire.
  • Qualified tax exempt (i.e., 501 ( c ) ) organizations may now claim a WOTC by hiring veterans. This eligibility does not apply to hires made from the other WOTC categories, only the veteran categories. So, qualified tax-exempt organizations – STEP UP! Take advantage of this while you can.  Instructions on how to do this are included at the end of the blog.

There is no limit to the number of qualified veterans you can hire and claim the credit. So, hire 1, 10 or 100! The IRS allows a for-profit company to carry the credit back 1 year or forward 20 years, so this could be a particularly attractive option for businesses who may want to time the use of these tax credits to periods of unusually high revenue.  For qualified tax-exempt organizations the credit is limited to the amount of employer social security tax owed on wages paid to all employees for the period in which the credit is claimed.

So what is the process to claim the tax credit? Depending on how you found the veteran applicant there are a total of two forms that require completion in order to attain certification.

If you found the veteran through your state workforce agency (SWA), you will need to complete the employer’s portion of the:

  1. Conditional Certification, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, ETA Form 9062, and the
  2. Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Form 8850

If you found the veteran on a commercial job board or at a military job fair, or if he or she applied directly to your company, you will need to complete the employer’s portion of the:

  1. Individual Characteristics Form (ICF) Work Opportunity Tax Credit Form 9061, and the
  2. Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Form 8850

If you found the veteran through your SWA, his or her veterans’ status may already be conditionally certified by the SWA. Either the SWA or the applicant should provide you with a copy of the Conditional Certification, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, ETA Form 9062. All you need to do is complete the employer portion of the form, which asks for:

  • Your company name,
  • The position/job title the applicant is being hired to fill,
  • The employment start date, and
  • The starting wage.

Both the Form 9062 and the Form 8850 must be sent back to the SWA no later than 28 days after the applicant starts work. If all information can be verified, you will receive a WOTC Employer Certification Form for that veteran.

If you found the veteran on a commercial job board or at a military job fair, or if he or she applied directly to your company, you can still request certification of his or her status by completing the Individual Characteristics Form (ICF) Work Opportunity Tax Credit Form 9061, collecting a copy of the required documentation (listed on the form) from the veteran, and providing it and the Form 8850 to your SWA for verification.

With the Form 9061, you must first determine if the applicant is willing to provide the required information. Prospective employees are not required to provide information of this sort to an employer – their participation must be voluntary. A simple way to do this is to make this a routine document that is presented to all applicants.

  • If your company accepts paper applications, attach a cover sheet with an invitation to self identify and state that status disclosure is completely voluntary and does not adversely affect hiring decisions.
  • If all of your applications go through an online Applicant Tracking System (ATS), depending on your ATS vendor, you have easy flexibility to add check boxes that ask for this information as part of the application process.

If you are concerned that you cannot ask this information of someone until an offer of employment is made, know that the Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has proposed that employers ask applicants to self-identify as a veteran and/or a person with a disability upon applying for a job.

If the veteran self identified at the point of application, and you are now prepared to offer the job, add a step to your hiring process that requires the veteran to complete blocks 6-8 and 12-19 of Form 9061. As with the earlier situation, both the Form 9061 and the Form 8850 must be sent back to the SWA no later than 28 days after the applicant starts work.

If all information can be verified, you will receive a WOTC Employer Certification Form for each veteran hired. Those certification forms serve as documented proof that will back up the claim you make on the IRS Form 5884 when your company files its taxes.

There are some military placement companies and military job boards already collecting this information as a service to the employer. If you are considering using a placement company and/or a job board as part of your military hiring strategy you should inquire if it collects this information for you.

There are also 3rd party vendors who will handle all of this paperwork (for all WOTC categories, not just the veteran ones) on your behalf in exchange for a percentage of the credit as a fee-for-service. This can be a helpful option, particularly for large, nation-wide employers.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR QUALIFIED TAX-EXEMPT ORGANIZATIONS:

The IRS updated its website in August 2012 to include information on how for-profits and qualified tax-exempt organizations claim the credit.  Bottom line:  the process to obtain the Conditional Certification, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, ETA Form 9062 is the same whether you are a for-profit company or a qualified tax-exempt organization.  How you claim the credit differs for qualified tax-exempt organizations. After the required certification is secured, tax-exempt employers claim the credit against the employer social security tax by separately filing Form 5884-C , Work Opportunity Credit for Qualified Tax-Exempt Organizations Hiring Qualified Veterans.  This is a new IRS form that was created specifically for qualified tax-exempt orgs to take the credit.

The amount you can claim also differs slightly from the for-profit credits (see chart link above).  The IRS has a great WOTC FAQ section for qualified tax exempt organizations.

So, what do you think?  Will the extended tax credits incentivize you to recruit veterans?  Take the poll below and view the results of other readers:

How to Establish a Baseline Number of Veterans Employed by your Organization

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I recently received an inquiry from someone who was newly charged to develop the military recruiting program for his company.  He wanted to know how he could determine the number of veterans currently employed at his firm.  He had participated in a company diversity meeting where there was much data on the number of female employees employed at the company and that information was used to discuss strategies for increasing the number of women hired and positioned as part of a diversified succession plan.

Because there seemed to be so much data on the number of women employees, the writer assumed the company would have similar data for the number of veterans employed by the company.  He was frustrated to learn that, after much delay and hemming and hawing, the diversity lead stated that the information was protected as it is considered personal information, and therefore it could not be released to him.  Recall that, at this stage, he was just trying to establish a baseline number, not actually collect the names of veterans employed by the company.

My response was that I suspect the reluctance to provide the information had more to do with the fact that his company had not been tracking veteran status well prior to this point. Plus, the diversity lead may not realize that the company keeps some records of military hires for purposes of compliance with the Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

My advice on steps to take to establish a baseline number of military veteran employees is:

  1. Any company that falls under OFCCP has to submit a VETS-100 or 100A form every year detailing the number of “qualified covered” veterans it currently employs and has hired in the last year.  Note that not every former military member hired meets the definition of “qualified covered veteran”, so there are likely more vets in the employee base than would be reflected on the VETS-100 or 100A form.  Veterans that meet “qualified covered” status are:
    1. Disabled
    2. Served during a war or campaign for which a campaign badge was awarded
    3. Recipients of the Armed Forces Service Medal (AFSM)
    4. Recently (within 36 months) separated from active duty

This is not a perfect method, as a hired veteran could qualify under more than one category and be counted in all the categories for which he/she qualifies (example:  if a veteran is recently separated, has an AFSM AND is disabled, he/she could be counted 3 times.

2.  If your company tracks (directly or through a 3rd party vendor) the number of Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC) it has earned for hiring specific categories of veterans (those with disabilities, those unemployed for 6 weeks/6 months or those on food stamps), you may be able to get a report on the number of vets hired that meet those criteria. There may be some overlap with item #1 as one of the WOTC categories is veterans with disabilities.

3.  If your company offers military leave or a pay differential for National Guard or Reserve members who have been called up to active duty, your HR department may be able to report the number of people who have used that military leave or pay differential in the last 10 years (or at least in the the last year). This will get you some data on Guard/Reserve employees, but presume the number is larger as not all will have been called to active duty since 9/11.

4.  Lastly, if your company has a veteran employee resource group (ERG), the leader of that group may have some “home grown” data on the members of the group.

So, yes, it is a pain in the rump to establish the baseline, but it can be done. Going forward, HR should ask applicants to self-identify as military members at the point of application, at the job offer and periodically after they have been hired.  Many HR information systems have a feature where an employee can self-identify as a veteran in their employee profile so it is easier to generate reports in the future.  However, many of those HR systems only provide the categories that are required by the VETS-100/100A form, which does not cover all people who have served or continue to serve in the military (please see my last blog “What is the Definition of a ‘Veteran’?”)

You could ask your HRIS provider to add three categories, which will allow you much more insight into the number of military members (and spouses) you truly have:

  • “Separated / Retired Military – does not meet any of above definitions”
  • “Currently Serving National Guard/Reserve – does not meet any of above definitions”
  • “Military spouse”

What other techniques have you used to baseline the number of military members in your company?  Please share your ideas in the comments below.

What is the Definition of a “Veteran”?

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It would seem to be a fairly straight forward question: Are you a veteran?  A civilian who has never served in the military likely defines veteran as someone who has served in the military.  However, people who have served in the military see many more shades of gray in the answer.

If you are managing a military veteran recruiting initiative, you have many reasons for asking veterans to self-identify.  And, depending on your reasons, there are many ways to define “veteran”:

As part of its Notice For Proposed Rulemaking, one change that the OFCCP has proposed to the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) regulation is that employers ask the veteran to self-identify at the point of application (not only at the time of a job offer).  How you ask for this information can impact your response rate.  If you simply state “Are you a veteran?” veterans may not self-identify for a variety of reasons:

  • If the applicant is in the final stages of transitioning from active military service (on ‘terminal leave” or other service-specific classification that indicates they are using up vacation time, etc.), they may say “no” because, until the military paycheck stops, they are still on active duty even if they are no longer reporting to their military unit on a daily basis.  They can be in that status for several weeks or months and will be actively job hunting, applying and interviewing, but not yet seeing themselves as a veteran because they have not yet received their DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty).
  • If the applicant is someone who is currently serving in the National Guard or Reserves, they may not reply “yes, I am a veteran” because they see themselves as still serving.  To some National Guard and Reserve members, a veteran is someone who has completed their military service and has separated (completed their contract with the military) or retired.  Other National Guard and Reserve members might say “yes” if they had been mobilized (called to active duty) at any time during their Guard/Reserve tenure, but those who have never been mobilized might say “no”.
  • If the applicant is someone whose military service is from the 1970’s, 80’s or even 90’s, there are those who will say “no” because they have a belief that only those military members who have seen combat are the ones who can claim to be veterans.  If they served for a few years and never deployed to a conflict, they may not perceive themselves to be a “veteran”.  There are also those whose service may have been short (2 years) or from long ago (1970-1990) that they don’t see how or why an employer would view their military service as relevant to their current civilian employment or job hunt.

Also, if you ask the question incorrectly or too narrowly, the veteran may not answer the question.  I recently received an email from a veteran who is actively job hunting who stated that in recent weeks he had two different employers ask if he was the recipient of a specific military medal.  He was perplexed as to why he was being asked this question and why the request was so specific.  I explained that the employers in question were likely government contractors who are subject to the OFCCP, and who therefore have to track and report the number of protected veterans they hire.  One of the protected classes is veterans who have been awarded an authorized campaign badge or Armed Forces Service Medal, and there are many badges that qualify.  The veteran stated that he earned several of the badges, but not the specific medal he was asked about.  So, he was frustrated that he may have inadvertently taken himself out of consideration for a job because he honestly answered a question that was incorrectly asked.  “If they had asked if I had earned a ‘an authorized campaign badge or Armed Forces Service Medal’ rather than the specific medal they mentioned, I would have said ‘yes’ even if I did not understand at the time why I was being asked the question.”

So, my recommendation is to first ask the question as broadly as possible:  “Do you currently serve in the military, or have you ever served in the military?”  Asking the question this way paves the way for most people who have served to honestly answer “yes” (if they choose to answer at all).  You will still get the holdouts who, because the answer is optional, will not voluntary reveal their status.  I will write a follow up blog on how to coax those members out of hiding.  One thing I will mention now is that you should follow your question with a statement explaining why you are asking for this information.  Something akin to “Our company is committed to the recruitment and retention of those who have served in the military.  By self-identifying now, we can ensure that your resume will be given fair consideration by members of our team who have been trained to understand military service and culture.”

Once a person self-identifies as having served in the military, then you can ask additional questions later (upon the offer of a job) that will further identify whether this person is considered a protected class of veteran (for OFCCP purposes) or eligible for the WOTC.

What I Mean When I Say “Military Veterans are Trainable”

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I’ve written in previous blogs that employers and HR professionals in the manufacturing and cyber security industries should incorporate transitioning military veterans as part of workforce planning.  Now I am prodding the mechanical and automotive industry to do the same.

USA Today recently published an article entitled “Serious Shortage of Skilled Auto Mechanics Looming” in which it described the dual problem facing this industry:  master mechanics are nearing retirement age and young people are not pursuing training in the automotive trades.

The demand for skilled mechanics is expected to increase 17% between 2010 and 2020.  Today’s technicians need to know more than how to turn a wrench and swap out parts.  With hybrids, electric cars and advanced clean diesel engines growing in popularity and most new cars having complex electronics and computer-controlled systems installed, you have to have an aptitude for technology as well.

Once again, I think drawing from the pool of transitioning military for these types of jobs could be an excellent way to develop a pipeline of talent.  Each military service has all types of mechanics and technicians who have been extensively trained and can troubleshoot and repair vehicles, trucks, tanks, missile systems, complicated electronics, security devices, engines, and marine and aviation equipment.

At a workshop I did recently the mother of an enlisted soldier shared a story about her son’s transition from the military.  He had been a tank system technician, and returned home seeking to find a job as a mechanic.  When he stopped in to his local automotive repair shop to inquire if jobs were available, the owner started laughing when the soldier described his military experience.  He took the young man by the shoulder and pointed to the maintenance bays and staging area.  “Do you see any tanks out there, son?  Well, just as soon as I get one, I’ll give you a call.”

What I really want civilians to understand about the military is that we not only have skills that the military has taught us, but we also have an aptitude to learn quickly.  The reason that young man became a tank mechanic is not because his daddy taught him how to repair tanks under a shade tree in his back yard when he was a young boy.  The Army offered him the opportunity to learn tank repair because the results of his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) revealed that he has a high aptitude for mechanical maintenance and general technical work.  He was likely offered several career options as a repair technician for an array of the Army’s inventory of vehicles, systems and equipment – regardless of what he chose, the military would have trained him to perform the work.

In this case, the military taught him how to perform maintenance on the suspension, steering, hydraulic, auxiliary power, fire extinguisher/suppression and gas particulate systems of a tank.  So, yes, a Toyota Prius is not built the same as a M1 Abrams tank, but with some fast-track classroom and on-the-job training, I guarantee that military member could learn how to troubleshoot and repair a Prius in a shorter amount of time than it would take to train the average civilian off the street.  This is what I mean when I say “military veterans are trainable“.

Money is available to companies that desire to develop on-the-job training programs for veterans.   You can take advantage of your state’s Workforce Investment Act funding for job training, or you can structure the program in such a way that it is approved for the service member to use his/her GI Bill benefit to pay your company to be trained to take a position.

If you have questions on how to find money to create OJT programs, or any question on how to recruit or retain veterans, I encourage you to attend an upcoming “Ask the Military Recruiting Expert” session. It is free and is offered twice a month, via web seminar.

Recruiting Veterans with Disabilities – Part One: PTSD

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(June was PTSD Awareness Month, so it is appropriate to address this as a topic now, and this will be the first in a series on recruiting veterans with disabilities.)

I was recently approached by a film maker who wanted to interview employers that have a strong recruiting program for veterans with disabilities, and she wanted me to introduce her to the program managers for that effort at their respective companies.  When I began with programs such as Northrop Grumman’s “Operation IMPACT” I was quickly cut off with a “no, I don’t want to speak with defense contractors.  I want the other companies.”

I explained that, while there are an increasing number of companies that have a veteran recruiting program, there are fewer of them have a significant focus on recruiting veterans with disabilities.  Conversely, there are companies that have a focus on recruiting people (in general) with disabilities, but their programs don’t generally focus on veterans with disabilities.

That companies don’t typically focus on veterans with disabilities is not because the companies are opposed to the idea; it’s more that they don’t know how to find this population, how to attract it, and how to get hiring managers to understand that there is a wide range of disabilities and that concern regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the workplace should not prevent them from actively seeking out this talent.  There are different tactics that work to find and attract this population, and you have to use the different tactics to increase the number of veterans with disabilities you hire.

What employers think they know about PTSD is how they have seen it portrayed on TV.  The “crazy veteran” is a stereotype.  Post traumatic stress responses, such as avoidance, withdrawal, aggravation or numbness, are perfectly normal responses to experiencing traumatic events.  I’ve spoken with employers who run the gamut of responses from “I’m not hiring any veterans because I don’t want to risk bringing PTSD into the workplace” (treating all veterans as if they have PTSD and assuming PTSD equates to violent outbursts and aggression) to “I want to make sure I don’t provoke their PTSD, so I will put the veterans in a dark room with their backs to the wall and instruct the other employees not to approach them” (treating all veterans as if they have PTSD and are experiencing the exact same stressors).

It is important to remember that PTSD is not just a veteran’s conditionAnyone who has experienced a traumatic event can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms.  And, what you consider to be a traumatic event may not be traumatic to me.  People can experience a range of PTS symptoms, from mild to severe.  Only a doctor can diagnose PTSD, and generally it is a “disorder” once it starts to significantly limit someone’s ability to perform normal daily functions, like getting out of bed, or taking care of your children, or getting yourself to work.  So, you can have symptoms without it being severe enough to be a disorder.

Some symptoms are managed more easily than others, through coping techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises or therapy.  Some symptoms are managed by medication or service animals.  So we cannot treat everyone who has PTS as if there is only one set of symptoms that are addressed in only one way.  What we can do is educate ourselves on PTSD so we can recognize when someone appears to be “off” – not responding to people the way they have in the past, not performing at the capacity they have in the past – and be able to guide them to assistance offered through our company Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or through the VA’s own system.

The National Center for PTSD has an amazing segment of its website called “About Face” which has more than 40 profiles of veterans of every age, gender, and race sharing their stories about living with PTSD.  In short (~2 min) video segments, they each answer questions such as how they knew they had PTSD, how their PTSD affected people around them, and what was the catalyst that made them seek treatment.  I recommend it as professional development for HR professionals, hiring managers and supervisors to view at least a few segments.  These videos take the “scary” and the mystery out of PTSD, and make it something that is very real and that you can see developing in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, not just something veterans are likely to struggle with.

Here are a few resources for you to educate yourself on PTSD:

America’s Heroes at Work – (free resource) information for employers and community services professionals on helping veterans with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) succeed in the workplace

Job Accommodation Network – (free resource) database of accommodations that can be made for a wide variety of disabilities, including PTSD and TBI.  You can also speak/chat with a live counselor to get questions answered.

National Center for PTSD – (free resource) information for both veterans and family members dealing with PTSD, as well as employers, healthcare professionals and other providers who want to understand PTSD and assist the veteran.

For those employers seeking to hire veterans with disabilities (which may include PTSD), some free local and national assistance in finding veterans and veterans with disabilities to hire:

If you have any questions on the recruitment or retention of military veterans and veterans with disabilities, I invite you to attend one of our twice monthly free “Ask the Military Recruiting Expert” sessions.  We spend 20 minutes reviewing the basic building blocks of military recruitment and retention programs and 40 minutes answering questions from the audience.  To register for an upcoming session please go to http://www.thevalueofaveteran.com/ask_military_recruiting_expert.html .

Bachelors Degree vs. Military Experience – Why Do Employers View One as Less Valuable?

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When I speak to employers on developing military recruiting programs, a veteran’s level of education is an area that generates a lot of discussion.  I hear time and again “where can I find the ones who have a degree?” or “we are looking for officers, because we hear they are the ones who have degrees”.

Granted, a majority of officers come through a college commissioning program, like the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or a service academy.  So, yes, they have a degree and a commission.  But officers only make up about 30% of the total military; the other 70% are enlisted members, whose level of education completed varies.  Some are high school graduates and others have master’s degrees, and everything in between.  Generally, the longer someone serves in the military, the greater the chance they have completed or are very close to completing a 4 year degree.

Still, some employers are not impressed.  “All of our positions require at least a bachelor’s”.  Hiring managers believe that they gain something extra in terms of talent and potential by hiring someone who has completed a 4-year degree.

There was an article in US News & World Report  a few years ago that highlighted this trend of employers requiring a 4 year degree as a minimum qualification for jobs.   The author discovered that the young woman who helped him check out his rental car had a bachelor’s degree.  He thought to himself “What is inherent about inspecting a vehicle for damage, completing some paperwork, and confirming mileage that requires 4 years of advanced education?  Nothing.”  Curious, he contacted the company’s HR department and learned that, other than an exception for military experience, all people hired into this position had to have a minimum of a bachelor’s.

In fairness, there are jobs that actually do require a degree, such as doctors, lawyers, nurses, Certified Public Accountants, engineers, and most teaching positions.  In those cases, the degree is a requirement to be licensed or certified to practice.    But what about the OTHER jobs?

The reality is, in a tight labor market, employers can be choosier when deciding what the minimum criteria are for a given position.  The irony is, despite efforts to be more diversified, many companies still insist on a degree for most positions, which automatically winnows the pool to the approximately 26% of the US population has at least a 4 year degree.  A population that, by and large, had the financial means to obtain a degree, and a support system that prepared them to meet college acceptance criteria and to complete the program of education. In other words: a population that is not as diversified as it could be.

I continue to push employers to consider military experience as at least equal to a 4 year degree.  I’ve collected their responses to the question: “Why do your positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree?”   The top reasons given are listed below, and I have provided my counter-argument as to why military experience is indicative of the same qualities sought by employers:

What employers say a bachelor’s degree demonstrates What Lisa (and every other veteran) says military experience demonstrates
Knowledge–   completing a degree indicates that you have demonstrated basic understanding of   an area of study.A person may have 8-16 weeks of actual experience in that area of study if they had internships. Experience –   completing an enlistment means that you have spent between 2-12 concentrated months   learning how to perform a particular occupation (law enforcement, supply   chain, human resources, etc.) and that you have performed it well enough for the 2-3 years that followed the training to maintain employment.If the person performed that job particularly well there would be evidence of promotions and awards.
Perseverance– Committing   to a goal and succeeding.College is hard.  No one is there to make you get up in the morning and go to class and to nag you to do your homework and turn in your assignments on time.  Ideally, a student will knuckle down and complete the degree in 4 years. Perseverance– Committing   to a goal and succeeding.Basic training (“boot camp”) is hard.  Drill sergeants are in your face every second of every day breaking you down in order to build you back up.  For those that survive boot camp, actual military service runs them ragged, with training, exercises, deployments and long hours.Joining the military is voluntary,  and by enlisting a person signs a contract.  Come hell or high water, most people who join complete their contract because it is their   personal goal to serve their country honorably in whatever capacity they can.  Choosing to serve in the military is choosing a tough lifestyle, and these volunteers could have made other, perhaps easier, choices.
Analytical skills  – many hours are spent in class reading materials and discussing the meaning and the implication of what was read and how it applies to other situations.  When their analysis is correct students get an “A” and when they are incorrect they get an “C” or worse. Analytical skills – many hours are spent on deployments in chaotic situations, gathering information, comparing data, discussing the meaning and implications of what   has been gathered and how it could impact other situations.  When their analysis is correct military members achieve their goals and when they are incorrect people could die.
Communication   skills – course work requires that you write papers explaining your understanding of the material and making well thought out arguments for or against a position.  College work also requires that you present information to an audience (classmates, teacher) either orally or through a presentation. Communication   skills – Staff work in the military requires that you write papers explaining your understanding of complex real-life situations and making well thought out arguments for a course of   action.  Staff work also involves   writing policy papers and synthesizing complex subject matter into charts, graphs or presentations to be briefed to senior leaders.Even the most junior enlisted member has been asked at least once to orally brief a senior leader.  Many of them do it as a matter of routine, given the number of inspections and command visits a unit receives.
An ability to manage   time and to multitask – taking 4 to 6 classes a semester, juggling   assignments and exams, and keeping up with fraternity events or sport teams means you have to be very cognizant of where you need to be on a given day and what you need to have completed in order to be successful An ability to manage   time and to multitask – in addition to doing the requirements of your job in the military, there is no shortage of administrative tasks, “no notice”   taskings, and things that just don’t go the way they were planned to contend with on a daily basis.  The military runs on a “no excuses” mentality, so service members are expected to deal with the situation as presented, figure out how to adapt to and/or overcome road blocks, and achieve the goal.

So, when you break it down like that, can you see how 3-6 years of military experience provides much if not all of the true value (as expressed by the employers themselves) of a 4 year degree?

A final word on online degrees:  While serving in the military, many military members pursue online education, as this allows them to take classes and work toward a degree while on deployment or while juggling multiple exercises and other work commitments.  So, check your personal bias against degrees from online universities, as those educational options are often the only ones available for military members to pursue while still serving.  I think it says a lot about a veteran’s perseverance to choose to take classes on top of all their other commitments while serving.