Every year, more than 200,000 veterans leave military service with the work ethic, smarts and experience industry needs.
Thirty-five years ago I was one of those veterans. Over my career I’ve seen and experienced the disconnection that can happen when two very different cultures come together. If we want to attract and retain veterans in the workforce, we must be cognizant of this chasm and the ways to bridge it.
Navigating a Different Culture
Some of the characteristics that make the military a great training ground can create issues for veterans when they start their civilian jobs.
A few issues that can cause frustration for veterans (and their new industry colleagues):
1. How things get done. Veterans follow the chain of command to get things done efficiently and effectively. In business, teams brainstorm solutions and reach consensus, seek feedback from leaders at all levels, and disagree across these boundaries.
2. Structure versus flexibility. Military days are structured to complete the mission. Days end when the mission is complete. In business, flexible work schedules meet the needs of individuals and it can feel out of place for veterans to leave before the work is ‘done.’
3. Sense of purpose. Service women and men work through intense situations at a young age. In business, something considered serious might not spark a reaction from a veteran. Missing this sense of purpose and seeing casual attitudes in our civilian counterparts can create isolation.
Recruiting people with military experience can produce monumental results. They possess leadership and teamwork skills, and strong initiative, self-discipline and work ethic.
To realize success, hiring and people managers must recognize what veterans expect but might not verbalize:
- Immediate feedback. Recruits entering the military at 18 can be in the equivalent of a management role by the age of 20. Young officers and enlisted men and women assume great responsibility at an early age and are given direct and immediate feedback when they make an error. In business, managers often hold feedback until a later time – during an employee review, for example. Military personnel soon realize that in the civilian world responsibility is granted on a longer time horizon and feedback often is less candid and frequent.
- Speak the language. Every industry, company and job has its shortcuts. Managers can’t assume veterans understand the company or industry lingo any more than a civilian might understand what was happening at mission control.
- Time to adjust to the basics. Some veterans may need to learn essentials formerly provided by the military (doctor, dentist or housing, for example). We need to offer connections, referrals and resources.
- Choices are not always a positive. Veterans are accustomed to limited choices (you eat at this time in this place, in these clothes, with this equipment). The vast array of choices in the civilian world can be overwhelming.
Veterans and their new managers can do a few things to ease the transition and pave a path that enables career success, job satisfaction, and business results:
Veterans: Help employers see the connection between your strengths and their needs. You might speak a different language but you can find commonality. Explain how your military experience relates to what you are capable of doing.
Managers: Seek to understand what functions the veteran was performing and not just the job title. Ask about leadership, problem solving, following direction, managing conflict, overcoming obstacles, etc. Consider a candidate’s skills and ability to adapt to change. Keep an open mind, and look for connections between military service and industry aptitude.
With The Right Fit, Veterans Stay
Since the launch of the Academy for Advanced Manufacturing (AAM), I’ve spent time with a few of the classes talking about how to adapt to the civilian workforce, understand how to communicate your skills, what’s expected and what companies are like.
While this 12-week training program offers veterans the skills they’ll need for highly sought-after high-tech fields, an equally important aspect is the life skills they need for success. Discussing the supply chain for key industries and then connecting that to the technology that’s leveraged to manufacture a product really helps them see the bigger picture and where they fit in.
Veterans will play a pivotal role in powering the next generation of advanced digital manufacturing, providing much-needed talent for rapidly transforming high-tech roles.
If you or someone you know is ready to join this community, you can learn more here.