Communication and the Veteran Employment Problem

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Research fellowship conducted by Sunset Belinsky, graduate student at Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication, in 2013. Findings outline challenges and best practices in addressing the veteran unemployment issue from the perspectives of four key stakeholder groups: veterans, employers, the government, and veterans service organizations (VSOs).

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Communication and the Veteran Employment Problem

  1. 1. Communication and The Veteran Employment Problem By Sunset Belinsky Research Fellow Center for Social Impact Communication Georgetown University
  2. 2. TABLE OF CONTENTS About the Author ..................................................................................................... 2 Acknowledgements ................................................................................................. 3 Introduction ............................................................................................................. 4 Methodology ........................................................................................................... 5 Summary of Challenges & Recommended Communications Approach ................ 6 Employers ................................................................................................... 6 Veterans Service Organizations .................................................................. 11 Government ................................................................................................ 15 Veterans ...................................................................................................... 20 Conclusion ............................................................................................................ 23 Reference .............................................................................................................. 24 1
  3. 3. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sunset Belinsky is a Research Fellow with Georgetown’s Center for Social Impact Communication and a student in the Masters of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. She is also an Army Public Affairs Officer. Sunset is the granddaughter, daughter, and wife of soldiers. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or Department of the Army. 2
  4. 4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Julie Dixon (for support beyond what I could have ever expected), Denise Keyes, and Maria Hoover (Georgetown and CSIC); Jim Cowen, Amanda Candy, Carrie Dooher, Trish Taylor, and Marie Manning (Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide); Mark, Sachsen, and Samarra Belinsky (for giving up family time) In addition, many thanks to the following interview subjects for their time and willingness to share their perspectives: - Andrew Borene, Director of Corporate Business Development & Government Relations, ReconRobotics, Inc. - Phillip Carter, Senior Fellow, Counsel and Director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at Center for a New American Security - Maureen Casey, Executive Director for Military and Veterans Affairs, JP Morgan Chase - Meg Garlinghouse, Head of LInkedIn for Good - Robert C. Hart, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service, Department of Veterans Affairs. - Chris Manglicmot, former National Programs Director, Soldier for Life, Office of the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. - Dennis May, Deputy Director, Veteran Employment Services Office, Department of Veterans Affairs - Kim Morton & Bryan Goettel, Media Relations Coordinator & Communications Director, Hiring Our Heroes - Brian Nichols, Manager, Warriors to Work at Wounded Warrior Project. - Kevin Preston, Director of Veterans Initiatives, The Walt Disney Company 3
  5. 5. INTRODUCTION Two years ago, if you were to ask an American adult what the most pressing issue facing the country was, the answer you would hear most frequently is unemployment (Newport, 2013). That figure has declined in the public consciousness since its peak in 2011—but the relatively rosier outlook for employment in general masks the fact that employment prospects have not improved for one key segment of the population: veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from the Department of Labor, veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be more likely than their civilian peers to be unemployed. In February 2013, 9.4 percent of post-9/11 veterans were unemployed, compared to 7.7 percent of the civilian population. The figures are even worse for the youngest veterans. According to the BLS report on Veteran Employment for 2012, male veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 were unemployed at the staggering rate of 20 percent (Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013). This statistic presents a grim outlook for the more than one million service members who expected to transition from the service to civilian life between now and 2016 (GAO, 2012). And this translates to tremendous missed opportunities. Veterans have skills and attributes valuable to any business’s bottom line, honed through their experiences operating in challenging environments with diverse cultures and varying degrees of resources. Employed veterans contribute to the tax “IF YOU FIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY, YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO FIGHT FOR A JOB WHEN YOU COME HOME.” base, and reduce the amount of money (currently estimated at $1 billion a year) the Department of Defense spends on unemployment (Lubold, - President Barack Obama 2013; Carter, 2013). To address the issue, prominent leaders across sectors, from the White House to the Pentagon to America’s boardrooms, have created programs in attempts to get veterans back to work. Employers sign up by the hundreds to participate in programs that help veterans find jobs. Veterans service organizations (VSOs) and government agencies have dedicated billions of dollars to websites with skills translators, resume workshops, job fairs and outreach. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of resources available to help post-9/11 veterans transitioning from service to find employment in these tough economic times. But despite these programs, and the progress they have helped make, veteran employment is still a problem. 4
  6. 6. Employers still face difficulty finding qualified veterans to fill their vacancies in ways that support business needs. Some face retention issues with veterans they do hire. At the same time, the solutions government agencies and VSOs have developed are, on average, fragmented, uncoordinated, and do not fully address veterans’ needs. A common thread among the perceived challenges and barriers to addressing the veteran employment problem in a holistic way is the need for better targeted, more strategic communication. Much of the crucial information presented in this crowded space is difficult to find and navigate. Overwhelmingly absent are clear, consistent METHODOLOGY This study was informed by a combination of primary and secondary research. One-on-one interviews were conducted with a cross-section of experts from corporations, government and VSOs, accompanied by an extensive review of communications strategies and tactics employed by governmental and non-governmental agencies with regard to veteran employment. Additional secondary research included a review of publicly available literature on veteran employment issues and existing legislation, including Public Law 112-56, VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Audits of online and social media channels for select VSOs and government agencies informed the recommendations. messages in easy-to-access formats that are available on channels where the audience can actually be found. When tools do exist and are readily available, there is often a lack of awareness on the part of audiences who need the tools most. This research explores the respective communications challenges of each of the key veteran employment stakeholders, and offers recommendations on ways in which they can work—both on their own and collectively—to overcome these challenges. 5
  7. 7. SUMMARY OF CHALLENGES & RECOMMENDED COMMUNICATIONS APPROACHES EMPLOYERS addressed, in part, by more targeted and platform dedicated to professional The veteran employment problem can be strategic communication efforts on the part of each of the four key stakeholder groups that emerged in the primary and secondary research: employers, veterans service organizations, government and veterans. From better internal communication and coordination among similar efforts at the government level, to empowering veterans to be ambassadors for employer initiatives, to helping veterans themselves to refine and convey their personal brands, the following tips and best practices—taken together—can improve the current employment environment for post-9/11 veterans. When Meg Garlinghouse, head of Social Impact at LinkedIn, informally polled her colleagues as they developed a veterans landing page for the social networking networking, few reported that they knew veterans (Garlinghouse, 2012). “Maybe 10 to 20 percent of the room rais[ed] their hand,” Garlinghouse says. “The whole problem is that those two worlds don’t interact, and the whole idea of networking and finding a job is interaction and networking. So if we can get veterans on LinkedIn, the potential for them finding a job increases substantially.” Garlinghouse’s experience at LinkedIn is consistent across employers and industries. In a 2010 report by the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM), more than 70 percent of the HR professionals surveyed “THE WHOLE PROBLEM IS THAT THESE TWO WORLDS DON’T INTERACT, AND THE WHOLE IDEA OF NETWORKING AND FINDING A JOB IS INTERACTION AND NETWORKING.” - Meg Garlinghouse, Head of LinkedIn for Good needed help identifying and reaching qualified veterans (Society for Human Resource Management, 2010). As an increasingly smaller percentage of Americans elects to serve in our armed forces, the degrees of separation make it difficult, even for employers who want to target veterans to hire, to know where to start looking for qualified veteran candidates. Fine-tuning and more effectively using existing communications resources can help 6
  8. 8. employers fill vacancies with the experience University Institute for Veterans and Military and quality that comes with veterans. Families, 2013; Curtis, 2012). Still, employers Interviews with individuals at companies interested in hiring veterans may not realize currently succeeding in hiring veterans the need to invest in education programs for revealed several suggested best practices, hiring managers and supervisors, to provide the context necessary to understand “I TRY TO EXPLAIN A LOT OF THINGS ABOUT THEIR [VETERANS’] BACKGROUND SO WHEN THEY COME IN IF THEY BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY, THE RECRUITER HAS A FRAME OF REFERENCE.” - Kevin Preston, Director of Veterans Initiatives at The Walt Disney Company veterans’ backgrounds and experiences and to assuage any concerns about deployment-related disabilities. The Walt Disney Company has trained all of its recruiters, under the auspices of their Heroes Work Here program, using a curriculum on the history of the services, core competencies, roles of Guard and Reserve, and the interplay Including educating internal HR managers between. This helps to address why veterans and providing context via existing resources; have difficulties in resumes and interviews, hiring veterans to work within the HR and provides a frame of reference for functions; using social media channels to recruiters to indicate why veterans may better understand and engage prospective behave a certain way. veteran employees; and sharing best practices among existing business networks. “I try to explain a lot of things about their [veterans’] background so when they come EDUCATE INTERNALLY TO PROVIDE in if they behave differently, the recruiter has CONTEXT a frame of reference,” says Kevin Preston, Secondary research revealed a growing director of veterans initiatives at The Walt number of existing resources aimed at Disney Company. “I talk about the military equipping employers to navigate the as one of the most immersive cultures in our recruitment and hiring of veterans. Online country. It seems to work pretty well to help toolkits, such as those made available from a veteran who comes in to talk to someone the Society for Human Resource Management who has not served in the military.” Disney (SHRM), the Department of Veterans Affairs or has also provided training for supervisors on the Syracuse University Institute for what to expect from veterans, and have a Veterans and Military Families, help answer veteran as the program director as a resource frequently asked questions and provide and a reference if supervisors have questions further resources for businesses (Syracuse (Preston, 2013). 7
  9. 9. Other companies might consider a similar service, overwhelming majorities are approach to educate HR managers and strengthened by their service. Employers supervisors. Training information can be can also seek information about treatment shared internally using Wikis, blogs, YouTube, veterans receive at no cost to employers. In or slide-share spaces such as SlideShare.net. addition, employers may be eligible for tax Disney has used in-person workshops to incentives from the Veterans Opportunity to accomplish the training, and has an extensive Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act when hiring team including recruiters, hiring managers, veterans (Whiting, 2012; Warrior Transition and staff from the marketing, Command, 2012; U.S. Department of communications, philanthropy and events Veterans Affairs, 2012; Nichols, 2012; May, functions working on the program. Videos of 2012). the training have been made available within the company. Resources to help educate employers are free and available on many online forums—if UTILIZE AVAILABLE RESOURCES TO employers know where to look. Unfortunately, ALLEVIATE HEALTH-RELATED CONCERNS many of the organizations that provide these Relatively widespread employer concerns key resources make it somewhat difficult to about deployment-related disabilities is find information. For example, SHRM guides reflected in data that indicates post-9/11 require several layers of clicking on its veterans with mental health issues have more website to reach them. The WTC resources difficult securing and maintaining employment are relatively easy to locate, taking only two (GAO, 2012; Humensky, Jordan, Stroupe, & clicks from the main page of its website. Hynes, 2012). However, secondary research indicates that a number of resources, many of them free, are available to address these concerns. Employers can consult organizations including SHRM, the Army’s Warrior Transition Command (WTC), and the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project. These organizations have communications initiatives aimed at addressing employer concerns about service-related disabilities. The message across these organizations is simple and LOOK FOR VETERANS TO HIRE VETERANS In addition to educating recruiters and hiring managers to better understand the needs of the veteran employment pool, businesses could actively seek to hire veterans with HR backgrounds to serve as those recruiters and hiring mangers. Disney’s Kevin Preston, for example, spent more than twenty years in the Army. clear: although some veterans do suffer from visible and invisible injuries as a result of their 8
  10. 10. “I was very heavily involved in working in human resources in the military, which correlates with what I do now,” Preston says. “The military and ESPN [a Disney company] use pretty similar processes but use different language for the same things.” When spearheading veterans hiring initiatives, veterans themselves prove to be invaluable in navigating the confusing array of existing job boards, hiring fairs, and networks, from the DoL, DoD, and VA to a wide variety of nonprofits in a crowded and difficult to navigate landscape (GAO, 2012; Monster, 2012). ENGAGE - ONLINE AND OFF Employers can increasingly look to social media as a means of finding and engaging potential veteran employment candidates, as a number of thriving communities exist across the myriad platforms. In assessing and developing their approach to online engagement, companies can begin by listening to veteran-specific communities on each social media channel. LinkedIn, Google+, and even Twitter can provide insights into the veteran audience as well as indicators for how to attract and retain this valuable talent pool. Businesses that have veteran employees inculcated can be encouraged to establish mentor or affinity groups to ease transition and improve retention. These groups can be either in person or virtual, and can use some of the LinkedIn groups, including the US Military Veterans Network with around 30,000 members, U.S. Veteran, also with around 30,000 members, and The Value of a Veteran, with just shy of 10,000 members, offer good listening and engagement opportunities. Google’s VetNet and IVMF’s Google+ group offer opportunities to reach groups numbering over 100,000. On Twitter, Forbes (@forbes) frequently tweets tips for hiring veterans. In addition, hashtags including #veteran and #jobs can lead to insight. same tools that veterans can use to help prepare for the job hunting process, incluing Google Chat, Skype, Facetime, and Wikis. Google has conducted in-person resume and interview workshops aimed at helping veterans. LinkedIn started a mentor group, initially intending to pair civilian mentors with veteran mentees. “We started to do a mentor program at LinkedIn, but it ended up with vets mentoring vets,” says LinkedIn’s Garlinghouse. A shared understanding about the transition from military life to civilian seems to be effective. Employers can also consider adopting a community-based template, in which members of the community provide mentorship outside of the company structure. 9
  11. 11. An example of this can be found in resulting in more than 64,000 veterans hired Minneapolis-St. Paul, where business by 102 partner companies. The companies leaders have signed up for a veterans have each signed a commitment to hire mentorship program in which they give a veterans, and agreed to adhere to a certain veteran one hour of one-on-one time each measure of accountability not by setting a month. The relationships have resulted in quota, but by sharing reports quarterly on improved understanding on both sides of the numbers of veterans hired. They also share veteran-civilian cultural divide (Borene, 2013). notes on successful and unsuccessful practices in a data-driven, brand-neutral COLLECTIVELY SHARE SUCCESSES & environment (Casey, 2013). CHALLENGES Businesses interested in hiring veterans can “JP Morgan Chase is working hard to keep tap into B2B peer groups to gain insights on the mission brand-neutral but we’ve taken our veterans’ issues. Whether under the own internal practices and we’re able to come auspices of programs like the JP Morgan back and inform the larger debate,” says Chase 100,000 Jobs Mission or the First and Maureen Casey, JP Morgan Chase’s Second Lady’s Joining Forces initiatives, Executive Director for Military and Veterans employers have worked with peers and Affairs. competitors to create virtual collaboration spaces that offer, along with other services, a In addition to the formation of coalitions place to connect employers with veteran job among the business community, the larger seekers. debate on business involvement in solving the veteran employment issue has garnered a The 100,000 Jobs Mission, spearheaded by JP Morgan Chase, has resulted in more than 64,000 veterans being hired by 102 different partner companies since 2011. White House entreaty for support. In August 2011, President Obama challenged American businesses and services to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2013. This challenge was a key JP Morgan Chase, along with 11 partner component of the Joining Forces initiative, companies, launched the 100,000 Jobs headed by the First and Second Ladies. Mission in March 2011. The goal was to hire According to the Joining Forces website, 112 100,000 transitioning service members and companies have made official commitments veterans by 2020. As of March 2013, the to hiring veterans. In August 2012, the First program has exceeded initial goals, Lady announced more than 125,000 10
  12. 12. veterans and military spouses had been hired or trained. (Joining Forces, 2012) “While the characteristics of your companies may vary, the character of your commitment to veterans doesn’t have to. Whether you’re in finance or technology, or the food industry, every single one of you can ask that same question, ‘what more can we do?’ And if you do that, I know that we can build on the 125,000 folks we’ve hired or trained,” First Lady Michelle Obama said at the Business Roundtable Quarterly meeting in March 2013. A grassroots corporate effort, like JP Morgan Chase’s, can provide a blueprint to publically share best practices in sourcing, hiring, and retaining veterans on blogs, websites, Google, LinkedIn, and other spaces. It’s an opportunity to figure out and share what’s working well, what’s not working so well, and what areas could be improved with more information. In addition, the Joining Forces initiative has provided several free tools for committed businesses to use in finding and hiring veterans. Virtual communities of practice can and should lead to improvements. VETERANS SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) often serve as a bridge between veterans and government, as well as veterans and employers. They range quite considerably in terms of age, size, and methods of delivering services, from community-centered brick-and-mortars that are congressionally chartered and have been around for a century, to online affinity groups that are less than a decade old. Older organizations are struggling to develop and maintain connections with the post-9/11 veteran community. The American Legion, for example, required congressional approval to accept online membership applications and renewals. This level of bureaucratic inflexibility reinforces the s tereotype that older VSOs are not a good source of help for veterans. VSOs have an opportunity to both reframe their communications, and engage using the social media and mobile technologies the newest generation is comfortable with. REFRAME THE CONVERSATION Veterans Service Organizations have traditionally advocated for legislation to “I DON’T NEED CHARITY, I NEED AN OPPORTUNITY.” -Veteran and Current Employee, The Walt Disney Company protect service members’ benefits, success, and wellbeing. Secondary research revealed that a trend of presenting employment as a right, instead of an opportunity earned by the best candidate, has emerged in the language used by VSOs including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). A prime 11
  13. 13. committed, team members.’ One veteran, an the website in a way that shows the power of employee of Disney, described the nuance. “Don’t ask me what you can do for contrast this way: “I don’t need charity, I need me…let me tell you what I can do for you,” he an opportunity.” says. The organization has been successful in awarding more than 600 fellowships through A more effective approach is employed by January 2013; 86 percent of Fellows have The Walt Disney Company, which uses reported transferring their military skills into ‘Employ Excellence, Hire Veterans’ as a tag civilian employment (The Mission Continues, line for its Heroes Work Here program. Iraq 2013). and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) uses ‘technology to empower’ veterans in their job search, implying that though they will have to work for it, tools are available to help. Another, more recent campaign that has taken the “opportunity” approach is the iHeartRadio’s Show Your Stripes Veteran Employment campaign. It’s tagline is ‘Hire Smart. Hire Vets.’ VSOs can perhaps follow the examples set by corporate initiatives and review and reframe communications from offering entitlements to offering opportunity. One successful VSO example of using opportunity-focused language is The Mission Continues, which uses the tagline of ‘It’s Not A Charity. It’s A Challenge.’ The Mission Continues’ framework is built around the precept that veterans are civic assets and should be challenged to continue to serve after service by improving their communities. The organization awards six-month fellowships to veterans, which combine volunteering at community organizations with leadership development. One Mission Continues Fellow, Josh Eckhoff, is quoted on 12
  14. 14. LIKE, TWEET, LINK: EMBRACE, THEN organizations like these have been able to MANAGE, YOUR COMMUNITY rally support is through targeted social media Older organizations such as the VFW and engagement. On Facebook, for example, the American Legion are grappling with the WWP has more than one million likes and expectation that in order to reach out and upwards of 50,000 engaged in commenting maintain relevance with younger veterans, on, Liking or sharing content. The WWP posts they must expand their social media content that is relevant to its target audience presence—with varying degrees of success. A and re-engages throughout the conversation, key element that pre-9/11 organizations seem making it effective in building support and to miss in their social media awareness. For example, on April 9, 2013, strategies is community management. WWP posted an article about PTSD Community management in social media can misconceptions and employment. It received be likened to relationship management, where 78 comments and responded to seven when relationships are fostered by ensuring the the organization had some helpful information interests of the community members are met. to offer. The WWP also has a Twitter following Social media platforms can be best utilized of more than 58,000. As with their Facebook if content is created with the community in presence, they post content consistently and mind. The organization should also invest time nurture their community with thoughtful in engaging community members, for re-engagement. example, posing questions, asking for input, and then responding throughout the In terms of solving the veteran employment conversation, instead of using the platform for issue, VSOs may see improved success one-way message delivery only. through using existing social media channels and forums to connect community Several new organizations specifically aimed leaders and potential employers with at advancing the cause of post-9/11 veterans. “TweetUps,” which are real-time veterans, including IAVA and the Wounded twitter conversations, Google Hangouts, Warrior Project (WWP), have gained national Facebook chats, and Facetime all have prominence by successfully lobbying for potential for connecting VSOs, veterans, and initiatives such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and employers. license and certification portability, which will allow service members and their spouses to improve employment options by transferring service-connected certifications more easily. One of the ways newer 13
  15. 15. MAP CHANNELS TO AUDIENCES In addition to being in the social media space Similar to Employers, as outlined where veterans live, and using the face-to- previously, VSOs can perhaps benefit from face methods of providing assistance after better-researched communications efforts, awareness, VSOs need to increasingly using tools ranging from social media to consider mobile as a critical communication in-person conversations, to improve veteran outlet—in particular when it comes to awareness of support networks available. For providing information to career-seeking example, the American Legion offers help for veterans. According to Pew 2013 surveys, veterans seeking to start small businesses. roughly one third of American adults own a But the organization has only recently begun tablet computer, 91 percent of the adult to conduct a two-way discussion on its social population owns some kind of cell phone, and media sites and has no focus on small 56 percent are now smartphone adopters. businesses. They still publish paper newsletters, but seem to be broadly The 2013 Mobile Recruiting Statistics from reaching no one. There are at least three SnapHop revealed that 70 percent of job “official” American Legion Facebook pages, seekers found employment information on offering information seekers confusion as to mobile platforms, while 72 percent of those which one is real. The WWP, as discussed, polled want to receive employment effectively uses Facebook and Twitter. information on mobile (SnapHop, 2013). However, they also place value on face-to- Employers are not keeping up by providing face contact with veterans they are serving. mobile-enabled job searching content; thus, “We don’t have a road map that says here’s there is an opportunity in this gap for VSOs to where everybody starts and everybody do what they do best—help veterans (Staffing finishes, it’s not one-size fits all. We adjust for Talk, 2013). If VSOs begin focusing on individuals,” says Brian Nichols of the WWP’s optimized content that veterans can access Warriors to Work program. from any device or tablet, information about the employment services they provide would be more widely shared. 70% OF JOB SEEKERS FOUND EMPLOYMENT INFORMATION ON MOBILE PLATFORMS; 72% WANT TO RECEIVE EMPLOYMENT INFORMATION VIA MOBILE. (2013 SnapHop survey) 14
  16. 16. GOVERNMENT from social media and mobile platforms. They tremendous role to play in addressing the information sharing and community-building The federal government clearly has a veteran unemployment issue, but challenges surrounding internal coordination and the effectiveness of internal and external communication appear to hinder their efforts. In November 2011, President Obama signed the Veterans Opportunity to Work act, VOW to Hire Heroes. Under this legislation, government agencies including the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Department of Veteran’s Affairs were given the mandate to work together on solving the veteran employment problem. However, the programs are cumbersome to change, lack broad awareness among both the populations they service and other organizations, and lack emphasis on execution and follow-through. Government agencies must learn to effectively pool the sum total of their resources to streamline the employment transition process and to ensure they communicate with internal and external could also consider capitalizing on credible in order to enable non-official influencers to share timely and accurate information. Engaging and following up with posted content can result in an increased sense of belonging from community members. INCREASE INTERNAL ALIGNMENT Six federally funded veteran employment and training programs, five administered by the Department of Labor and one by the Department of Veterans Affairs, offer similar services targeted at different veteran groups (GAO, 2012). According to the 2012 GAO Veterans’ Employment and Training report, some of the programs paid ‘to prepare participants for jobs that do not exist in their local area’ (GAO, 2012). The Department of Defense operates programs such as the Yellow Ribbon Program and Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR) to help Guard and Reserve members who may not meet eligibility requirements for DoL and VA stakeholders effectively. programs with civilian employment. There are Bureaucracies can be slow to evolve. requiring agencies to coordinate on the However, with the exponential permeation of American society by social media on tablet and mobile devices, U.S. government agencies may need to invest in a two-way conversation, and relinquish some control of no formal agreements or mandates programs, and informal coordination may be leading to reduced resources available to veterans and confusion amongst employers as to which agency is responsible for which initiative (GAO, 2012). the message. Agencies should be encouraged to embrace and resource the conversation 15
  17. 17. These gaps in communication amongst Stakeholders, including DoD, DoL, and the government agencies could be best solved if VA could work to ensure tight collaboration they are viewed through the lens of an internal between DoD and DoL as transition programs communications problem. Lead agencies can are redesigned. They can use feedback loops consider conducting an internal government from recently separated veterans, their stakeholder analysis, and then an audit of the employers, and VSOs to ensure a worthwhile communication channels available to reach program. These loops could be implemented them. Two-way information flow about in the form of surveys distributed to TAP programs related to veteran employment can alumni and employers at key intervals after and should be improved through existing leaving active duty and getting hired. The channels. results of the survey should be distributed using all available channels, including social UTILIZE FEEDBACK LOOPS media and in meetings, to affect required Although there is a partnership in the changes and communicate to stakeholders Transition Assistance Program (TAP) among that their feedback is valued and acted upon. the Departments of Labor (which has lead and mandate on the program), Defense, INVEST WISELY IN AWARENESS Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs to Stakeholder agencies should consider assist in the transition from active duty to focusing on awareness efforts for available civilian life, and this program is available to benefits. As Dennis May and Robert Hart of armed forces members within one year of the VA both indicated, awareness of available separation or two years of retirement, many support for both employers and veterans is an service members report that they get little out ongoing issue. If money is being dedicated to of the program. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act awareness campaigns and the veteran of 2011 mandated changes in the population still does not know about benefits, composition of the program with effort it’s time to review the targeted required from all partners. Included in the communications portion of the awareness changes are a requirement for DoL and VA campaign. In short, figure out who you are to track participant outcomes from various trying to reach and where they go for programs. A more comprehensive transition information, and design communications program was announced in July 2012, and is using social media, mobile, and person-to- expected to be in place across the services person awareness efforts. Start by reading by the end of 2013 (Daniel, 2012). military blogs, reading comments on Facebook and Twitter Veteran-specific groups, and reading what the VSOs are 16
  18. 18. saying, and then invite conversation from The DoL is struggling with coordinating owned platforms and “borrowed” social efforts across the government, and with state media spaces. Talk to veterans at Hiring Our government efforts. DoL has partnered with Heroes job fairs, or at TAP classes, or on a organizations including the Chamber of Com- VetNet Google Hangout. Find out how their merce and the American Legion to sponsor concerns are evolving and gauge their level of hiring events in communities across the awareness. Include call-to-action country. The Hiring Our Heroes employment messages with links to important information, initiative, which provides basic job skills but streamline the number of clicks or swipes assistance, has resulted in 300 job fairs with it takes to reach information. Consider 14,100 confirmed hires between its start in seeding partner stakeholder messages with 2011 and February 2013 (Morton & Goettel, “did you know?” content. 2013). ACT AS A VETERAN BRAND EVANGELIST DoL hosted Twitter Townhalls in May and Government agencies can seek dialog with June 2013, using the hashtag #vetsjobschat. business leaders through existing forums, DoL worked with their Hiring Our Heroes including Business Executives for National partners, the Chamber of Commerce and Security (BENS), American Corporate American Legion, as well as American Partners, the Joining Forces Initiative and the Veterans, the Military Officers Association of 100,000 Jobs Mission to spread awareness America, Student Veterans of American, and of the value of a veteran beyond the federal the VFW to engage real-time. Though the government. volume of questions was not high, the act of using social media to provide information In addition to the Yellow Ribbon Program and indicates a step in the right direction. ESGR, initiatives at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Department of the Army Government agencies should review attempt to take on the problem of social media and mobile policies. The policies post-service employment by espousing the should encourage transparent engagement on business value of hiring veterans as a a variety of social platforms. Negative component of larger community connection comments and spirited disagreement should initiatives (Copeland, 2010; Manglicmot, be fostered as opportunities for positive Kennedy, & Sutherland, 2011). These information sharing. programs have varying levels of awareness with key stakeholders and measurements of their impact are not yet fully established. 17
  19. 19. GOVERNMENT SPOTLIGHT: THE PUZZLE OF THE VA Chief among government agencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is struggling with an overwhelming number of benefits claims and is perhaps being unfairly scapegoated as the source for all negative veteran experiences. While the organization’s widely publicized healthcare backlog has rightly been the subject of criticism, many of the employment assistance programs available for veterans are in fact sponsored not by the VA, but by veterans service organizations, community organizations, and the Department of Labor. Although the VA has a robust information presence, online, in social media, and in conjunction with DoD, it struggles with awareness on the part of both veterans and employers about the benefits it does provide. The VA’s website is packed with useful information to help veterans, employers, and other government agencies wade through the transition process. There is an opportunity, however, for it to create a more user-friendly, intuitive index for where to find the available and applicable information. The problems exist not only on the VA’s primary website, but on its program-specific sites as well. For example, it has an established program to reach its goal of hiring veterans within the VA, VA for Vets, launched in 2011. VAforvets.va.gov has tools from skills assessments to resume builders to resume databases for agencies who want to hire veterans. However, it takes at least three clicks and specific knowledge of the ‘VA for Vets’ program name to get to the tools from the VA main page. For employment outside the VA, it has a website, VetSuccess.gov, which links to many Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes events. VetSuccess.gov has a section for employers, explaining the benefits of hiring events. However, unless the searcher knows to look for “Vet Success,” from the main VA page, it is difficult to find this information. The VA has also established eBenefits, a program that lets service members register for services before they leave active duty. However, as with other, more tailored resources, access from the main VA page requires several clicks and an awareness of the program name.“We have these neat tools and nobody knows about [them],” says Dennis May, the Deputy Director of the VA’s Veteran Employment Services Office. The VA has also made a concerted effort to meet the information needs of the veterans it serves using social media. Its Facebook page has nearly 300,000 likes, with nearly 12,000 people talking about it, but rarely re-engages the community after it posts daily content. Across several Twitter handles, the VA has over 130,000 followers and seems to re-engage and cater to their audience frequently. However, it can be initially confusing to figure out which Twitter handle goes with which VA service. In order to overcome the lack of awareness about the tools available to help veterans and employers, the VA can take a three-pronged approach. First, broad awareness campaigns aimed at veterans could be launched in conjunction with the full-court media press about how the VA is fixing the backlog. The awareness efforts could include mainstream media in regions with large veteran populations, as well as those with major military bases. Second, the VA can take a targeted and community-nurturing approach to its social media presence by consistently engaging in two-way conversations (rather than one-way broadcast messaging) and by working to provide information that veteran brand ambassadors can use. Both approaches are recommended to include a complete and clear description of which social media channels provide what type of information. Finally, periodic reminders of what crucial information is being shared on which Facebook page or Twitter handle can be integrated into the messaging plan (editorial calendar) across all social media and online channels, to ensure that potential engagement oportunities are being routed to the appropriate channels.
  20. 20. VETERANS Service can be a defining experience, but learning how to relay that experience in way employers understand is a skill veterans need to invest in. “Personal branding will go a long way to helping people understand the value of veterans, have confidence in me and my potential, and help me earn an opportunity to continue greatness,” says Chris Manglicmot, former National Programs director for the Army’s Soldier For Life program. Establishing “PERSONAL BRANDING WILL GO A LONG WAY TO HELPING PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF VETERANS, HAVE CONFIDENCE IN ME AND MY POTENTIAL, AND HELP ME EARN AN OPPORTUNITY TO CONTINUE GREATNESS.” -Chris Manglicmot, former National Programs Director for the Army’s Soldier For Life Program a strong personal brand is a multi-step process; a suggested approach tailored TRANSLATE SKILLS specifically to veterans is outlined below. Once they’ve studied the culture they will STUDY CULTURE soon live in, veterans should take a look at themselves through the potential employer’s Veterans should approach preparation for lens. The road to employability starts in how finding and getting a job like they would the veterans are packaged. According to the prepare for encountering a foreign culture— Armed Forces & Society study on post-9/11 i.e., by studying the “culture” of the industry veteran employment, veterans whose military or employer they’d like to work for. They must job skills translate easily into the civilian job learn the language, just like they had to learn market may have a better chance of being the alphabet soup that is military speak. Learn employed than a veteran whose skills do the shop talk. Figure out how the company not translate as easily (Humensky, Jordan, interacts, both with the public and with each Stroupe, & Hynes, 2012). other. Does the company use collaborative wiki pages? Do they blog? Do they use The November 2012 Monster.com Veterans Google+? Do they use Skype? Do they email? Talent Index showed that while one-half of Do they text? How do they dress? Are they the veterans surveyed did not feel ready to formal with each other in conversation? Will transition to civilian careers, two-thirds of the the boss be called “Bob” instead of “Sir,” or respondents felt their military-acquired skills “Sergeant?” were relevant to business use. Two-thirds of the employers surveyed recommended veterans invest time in translating those skills to gain the best hiring advantage (Monster, 20
  21. 21. Using language in a resume or interview that 2/3 OF VETERANS SURVEYED FEEL THEIR MILITARY ACQUIRED SKILLS ARE RELEVANT TO BUSINESS, BUT 1/2 DO NOT FEEL READY TO TRANSITION TO CIVILIAN CAREERS. -Monster.com’s Veterans Talent Index 2012). That means identifying the tangible skills they, as veterans, bring to the company and how a they will improve the company’s bottom line. The same skills used to figure out where an IED might be buried or which dining facility at Kandahar had the shortest lines can also be employed when building a network. It’s also important to translate the intangible skills developed during service. These are often more difficult to quantify, including: “integrity; used to working as part of a diverse team or as an individual” (May, 2012); “they show up on time, they stay until the job is done, they have leadership and training, they teach you discipline, how to lead, how to work as a team, all of those things that aren’t necessarily taught in the civilian world; functioning in foreign environments and bringing communities together” (Casey, 2013); and, “a strong and unwavering desire to do a good job, make difficult decisions in stressful environments, negotiate with other cultures” (Preston, 2013). tells a perspective employer the veteran is capable of both leading and following, comfortable working in teams or alone, thriving in unfamiliar circumstances, and committed to performing the task to completion is a start to expressing the value of those skills. Another component of translating skills is relaying the value of experience versus education. While most companies are looking for a minimum of a bachelors’ degree, the experience a veteran gains may more than make up for education (Preston, 2013; Monster, 2012). Veterans must be prepared to address this issue by being able to succinctly convey the value of their experience. For example, being in charge of eight people for four years provides practical education in managing employee schedules, assessing personnel training and resource requirements, allocating and requisitioning resources, and monitoring all facets of task management for a team. Questions that veterans must ask themselves include: Does my LinkedIn profile convey my value? Does my resume read like my military file, or like the resume of an employee of the company I want to work for? According to Meg Garlinghouse of LinkedIn for Good, “HR people and recruiters could learn to use veterans’ language, but ultimately they are working in the civilian world” (Garlinghouse, 21
  22. 22. 2012). Because of this, veterans must be proactive in handling as much of the skills translation process themselves, rather than relying on HR managers and recruiters to understand the equivalencies. NETWORK - ONLINE AND OFF Veterans must develop and exploit their network to get a job. They can use the military’s transition program, job fairs like Hiring Our Heroes, and VSO-sponsored events to establish job-related contacts. They also can use social media tools, including Google’s VetNet, LinkedIn, and even Facebook, to expand reach beyond in person. Who can help the veteran get a job? Use the network to build and refine the resume. Take out the inscrutable acronyms and express experience in a way a hiring manager would “HR PEOPLE AND RECRUITERS COULD LEARN TO USE VETERANS’ LANGUAGE, BUT ULTIMATELY [VETERANS] ARE WORKING IN THE CIVILIAN WORLD.” -Meg Garlinghouse, LinkedIn hangouts or Skype or Facetime to practice, if not in person, to get comfortable expressing passion. In addition to practicing passion, practice talking to people. Veterans already have the ability to interact with people of different backgrounds. Veterans should adapt that ability to the environment where they want to work, and how they will interact with understand. colleagues on an interpersonal level. Showing PRACTICE PASSION a message, but probably not the message Once veterans have figured out where they’d like to focus their job-hunting efforts, built a network to help get hired, and polished their resume to succinctly convey their assets and strengths, it’s time to practice articulating passion. Practice talking about what gets them fired up. Practice conversing up for a job fair in overly casual attire sends an employer wants to interact with. On the opposite end of the spectrum, sitting ramrod straight, avoiding eye contact, and including “Sir” in every response conveys a stiffness that may lead employers to conclude the veteran won’t fit in with the company environment. about what is important to them, and what is important about them. If they drove ships in the Navy but want a job as an actuary, practice talking about their passion for numbers. They can use networks to practice informational interviewing. Use Google 22
  23. 23. CONCLUSION After World War II, veterans returned home from the war to find ample opportunities for further education and employment. As a result of these opportunities and their efforts, veterans rose to positions of leadership in all sectors of American society, from academia to business to government. The economic success of the post-war years was the peace dividend borne from confidence developed by overcoming adversity in war. It was reinforced by a public narrative that supported veterans as the very best the country had to offer, and critical in improving future prospects. By adopting more effective communications practices today, the stakeholders outlined in this research can ensure that the young veterans returning from their service can have similar opportunities. Employers can empower veteran employees to champion employer initiatives. VSOs can reframe the narrative to show veterans strengthened by service and up to the challenge. Government can improve communications within and among organizations to reduce redundancy and increase message clarity. Veterans can become their own brand evangelists. Taken together, these steps taken by stakeholders related to the veteran employment issue can overcome the barriers facing this generation of young veterans—our ‘Next Greatest Generation’—and get them to work.   23
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