Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Case for Hiring Veterans

The national interest in hiring veterans, which became a federal initiative in 2011 as part of Joining Forces’ mission, continues to spread as companies ranging from the Fortune 100 to Main Street USA recognize the value of hiring a veteran. According the Monster’s 2012 Veteran Hiring Index, 69% of the 750 employers surveyed had hired a veteran in the past year. 99.9% said that they were doing as well or better than their nonveteran peers. And nearly all would recommend hiring a veteran to another company.

With new articles, interviews, and initiatives offering fresh perspectives on the topic constantly, the discourse touches every industry and career field.  From Finance to Construction, and everything in between, veterans are being recruited and are utilizing their unique skill set to stand out and make a difference in their new career.

Recently, Bill Murphy, Jr., a journalist and entrepreneur in Washington, DC, published a series of article articles on Inc. com exploring what exactly it is about veterans that make them such great assets to their company. His article, 5 ‘Military Secrets’ Behind Steve Blank's Entrepreneurial Success” is the second in the series and focuses on the military traits that entrepreneur Steve Blank feels made him so successful. The traits he lists include Technical Training, Creative Problem-Solving, Recognizing Opportunity, Responsibility, and Perspective.

Over the course of the last 22 years that Orion has worked to match veterans with civilian careers, we have seen each of these traits translate into success for our candidates. Specifically, here are examples of how some of these traits have directly influenced how veterans perform on the job.

Trisha Katula
Technical Training goes beyond the direct translation of a Navy Nuke to a civilian SRO position and implies an inherent ability to put their technical skills to use in a variety of environments while adapting to new technology. Take Trisha Katula, a former Navy Electronics Technician, now employed by SuddenLink Communications.My military training gave me an overview of all the different parts of the telecommunication world. Some older techs in this field are not accustomed to the change. A lot of things in this field are going from RF to IP, and people who have been dealing with RF all of their careers are having issues with this change,” explains Katula. But not Katula. Her military training continues to give her a leg up.

Creative Problem-Solving may be one of the most important traits, in that it can be applied to any industry in any position. For instance, Chris Pieczonka’s (a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer) experience came into play during one of his first assignments in the Sales and Marketing Development Program for Siemens Energy. The Chief Marketing Officer wanted him to provide projections on the need for renewable power generation, per state, in 2015, based on renewable portfolio standards set by each state and gave very little guidance beyond that. “I was extremely comfortable taking on a project that had very little direction as to how to accomplish the final goal,” describes Pieczonka.

Will Simmons also describes a specific example of when his experience as a former Air Force Captain helped him resolve a sticky situation at work. Simmons works in a union environment that had some issues with disconnects in communication between the
Will Simmons
operator and management level. “Just as I did when assuming a new command or new reports in the military, I sat down with them as a group and went over my expectations, but then took the time to meet with each one of them to go over where they felt their strengths were, what weaknesses (in both themselves and the organization) they saw, and where there was room for improvement,” explains Simmons, “I gathered all this information and then met with them again as a group to go over (with no attribution) some of the information that was brought to my attention. As a group, we went over the information that had been presented.”

And while this may sound like common sense, this approach truly made the difference for Simmons and his team. One year after he started with Actavis, Simmons was promoted from low-man-on-the-totem-pole to the Senior MRF Supervisor. “According to my immediate boss and the director, this promotion was based on my attention to detail, ability to execute under stress, and my ability to connect with the personnel that worked for (and with) me, thus producing excellent results,” says Simmons.

Another trait that we see repeatedly in our successful candidates is Responsibility. Veterans own their work environment and take responsibility, even when others do not know what to do. This take-charge attitude that is inherent in the military came in handy one night for Jim Green, a former Army Master Sergeant, when a fork truck caught fire at work at EJ Gallo Winery. “I grabbed a nearby extinguisher and doused the fire; and, when the flames had subsided, I removed the external fuel tank eliminating any possible danger to the people standing around. (I was recognized by the company for this.) I do believe the experiences I had in an unsafe environment enabled me to keep a cool head and take charge,” recalls Green.

And this trait leads us to one that Murphy did not cover: Safety. It is estimated that businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses. Military professionals like Artur Landa, a former Navy Engineman, are trained to work efficiently while physically overexerted and with quick, precise reactions. "My
Artur Landa
military experience helps me even today in this industry, because it taught me to always work safely and to pay attention to details," explains Landa. 

Landa's focus on safety is an important one. "Safely working on engines was a huge part of my military career and was the most important part of the job. If safety was not followed there was possibility of getting hurt or losing a finger or even worse," states Landa.  Safety is paramount in the military, and veterans bring this focus with them to the civilian workforce.

These traits help create a stellar employee who often moves up quickly through the ranks, like we saw with Simmons. Robb Adams, who transitioned about 10 years ago and served both in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman and the Army as a Field Artillery Captain, best illustrates this upward mobility: “In the past 10 years I have worked for two companies and have been promoted three times, served in leadership roles, and have seen my salary increase by 163%! I attribute all of these successes to the leadership and discipline that I learned while serving my country. In hindsight, I would not change a thing about my decision to serve as both an Army Officer and Navy Corpsman.”

And as these veterans climb the corporate ladder, a study out of Boston University by found that companies run by veteran CEOs perform much better under harsh economic conditions relative to the companies’ performance in good times. This has been interrupted by Ray Fisman in his article “Captains of Industry” as illustrating another trait from Blank, Perspective. “Once you’ve spent time managing a platoon (possibly under enemy fire), the stress of managing a company in a downturn is modest by comparison,” he writes.

As we near 30,000 veterans who have successfully found their civilian careers through Orion, we are happy to see so many companies appreciating what we have known since our inception in 1991!  And we hope these examples provide a tangible description of how these intangible skills are demonstrated on a daily basis by former service members. Hiring a veteran is not just a patriotic act; it’s a smart, business move that can only boost a company’s bottom line while helping veterans find the gainful civilian employment they deserve.  

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