Companies launch hiring programs aimed at veterans

Employers: Some veterans have maturity, skills; college degree a plus

By Sarah Katherine Dolezal

New hiring initiatives are cropping up to tap into veterans’ military skills and discipline.

Take USAA’s VetFIT program, started in 2013 by Brian Parks, the strategic hiring manager. VetFIT is focused on making veterans 30 percent of all new hires a year. USAA is a financial services company for military families.

Those hired into the VetFIT program complete a 22-week computer software training session, said Parks; veterans are expected to stay at USAA after the program ends.

“Veterans are accustomed to having an immediate paycheck,” Parks said. “My program offers veterans an opportunity for immediate employment while learning computer software skills.”

Other companies are likewise reaching out.

First Data, a Atlanta-based payment processing company, in 2014 created a team to focus on hiring of veterans and spouses, said Michelle Recame-Osborne, First Data Military programs analyst in Chesapeake, Virginia. In 2014, about two percent of the employees were linked to the military. Today, that number is 12 percent.

“First Data believes veterans are dedicated employees and that their work ethic and leadership skills can make the company better,” said Bianca Martinez-Oberhelman, First Data’s director of military recruiting, in an email.

Maturity is also a key factor for recruiting veterans, employers said. “The experience veterans bring to our company could include handling billions of dollars worth of equipment and leading teams on a daily basis,”  she said.

Yet employers agree there also are challenges. Some veterans have a hard time adjusting to the office environment or knowing how to communicate military jargon into everyday skills. Companies such as USAA provide veterans with resume-writing programs to help eliminate those weaknesses.

Some veterans still underestimate the value of attending social events to land jobs and meet contacts, said Will Hubbard, vice president for Student Veterans of America.

Parks agrees, “Veterans need to work on their networking skills.”

The problem isn’t just about resume writing, said Hubbard, “but it’s about matching a veteran’s skill with the right company.”

Air conditioning and coffee

For working vets, however, military experience was also a plus. Vets say they know how to navigate challenges and are more practical about solving problems.

Mark McKenna, communications liaison for the Student Veterans of America, said the military taught him leadership and discipline. After serving in Afghanistan, he knew what he wanted next.

“All I could think about was an air-conditioned room and a cup of coffee,” McKenna said.

The Student Veterans of America is a non-profit organization which connects veterans with potential employers through networking and training. The group also teaches vets job-hunting and communication skills. McKenna is the first to say not all skills are transferrable.

McKenna, who graduated with a Middle East and North African studies degree from the University of Arizona, said that a skill such as holding and shooting a machine gun might not be translatable to the workplace. Still, his military background “instilled my ability to overcome adversity,” he said.

These days, a college education is playing a greater role in the hiring, too.

A younger veteran’s chance for immediate employment after military service has increased because more veterans have college degrees than before, said Hubbard.

In the past, companies favored military officers over lower-ranked veterans for jobs because a military officer is required to have a college degree, he said. But now education neutralizes ranks.

Hubbard said that some of what is said about vets is a bad rap. He said vets usually see a “solution to every problem,” rather than a barrier to success.

“Veterans typically do not have the mental problems that most people might think,” Hubbard said. “They are creative, diverse thinkers who solve problems.”

University hiring

Universities are also turning to the military-hiring pool. “American University is trying to hire more veterans,” said Cindy Lindstrom from AU’s Human Resource Department. Currently, 68 American University employees identify as veterans, out of about 9,000 employees on campus, she said; the number is an estimate due to self identification.

Alec Rossin, who works at AU’s Department of Public Safety, graduated from Wake Forest University before moving overseas for his military service in Afghanistan.

Rossin, 26, said that he worked for AU for a year and six months as an operating specialist at the library, before starting his public safety position six months ago.

He heard about his AU job from his sister a month after his military service in Afghanistan. He later ran into someone from his unit on campus who suggested to him to apply for a job at the campus’ Department of Public Safety.

Rossin, whose ROTC scholarship funded his four-year history degree, said he has recently applied to the school’s master’s program for terrorism and homeland security. He hopes to work for the State Department or for Homeland Security one day.