Every so often, I dedicate my writing to a topic that is near and dear to my heart- raising awareness of employment trends and challenges for military veterans who are transitioning out of the service and back into the civilian world of work. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference on this very topic at Amazon’s headquarters, hosted by Deloitte and other organizations dedicated to hiring veterans in their organizations as well as organizations that exist to directly provide transition support.
Part of the day’s events included a presentation by representatives from LinkedIn who shared their latest Veteran Opportunity Report, a study using the massive data and insights available to the digital networking platform. What is important to acknowledge is that LinkedIn’s positioning as a powerhouse of professional networking puts its teams in a unique position to understand this topic in great detail. If you are interested in learning more about this untapped talent pool, I encourage you to download their report for yourself. In the meantime, here are some highlights that might surprise you.
The quick stats:
- Veterans remain with their initial employers 8.3% longer than their nonveteran counterparts
- Veterans are 39% more likely to be promoted than their nonveteran colleagues
- Veterans are 160% more like to have a graduate degree or higher as compared to nonveterans
- Veterans with bachelor’s degrees have 2.9X more work experience than their peers
It’s important to note that there are several challenges that transitioning veterans face that can significantly hamper their ability to succeed in the long-term once they enter the civilian workforce.
- Inaccurate Understanding/Myths About Veterans- It is important for anyone with hiring duties or ability to have an accurate understanding of what veterans bring to the table and what challenges this (and other) underrepresented populations face when it comes to finding meaningful work opportunities.
- Underemployment Trend- While the rate of veteran employment has improved due to a laser focus on the topic and support from employers, the data suggests that underemployment is a trend that seems to be a real reality for veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce. LinkedIn’s findings suggest that the underemployment gap between veterans and nonveterans has dramatically increased over the last decade to approximately 34%.
- Unintended Consequences- Underemployment can potentially result in “brain drain”, lower wages, fractional use of skill sets, lower levels of personal and professional development, and higher costs for employers.
Debunking some myths of hiring veterans.
As with other underrepresented segments of the US workforce, there are a few common misperceptions that exist that may be impacting your organization’s ability to access talent from this segment of the talent pool.
- The Turnover Myth: Veterans have difficultly integrating into the civilian workforce and tend to leave their first employers at a rapid rate. Various studies, including LinkedIn’s current research, shows that the opposite is, in fact, true. Veteran retention rates are higher than their nonveteran counterparts.
- The Mental Illness Myth: Many veterans are unable to contribute and succeed in the civilian workforce because they struggle with mental illness. This one is really surprising but there are many folks out there who believe that many or most veterans are entering the civilian workforce with mental health issues that prevent them from contributing to their organizations.
- The Culture Myth: Veterans are unable to shift their ways of working to be productive in the civilian workforce. No doubt, the organizational culture in the military is unique and it is unique for a reason. Service members have a very serious mission where errors can result in disastrous results. Over the years, the military has mastered how to indoctrinate, train, and sustain a fighting force that is capable of protecting our interests. To accomplish this, they have developed a very unique way of working that enables them to drive consistent and reliable behavior from the members of their services.
- The Experience Myth: The time veterans spent serving in the military really doesn’t equate to experience in the civilian world. This myth is easy to see in LinkedIn’s research showing that veterans are 70% more likely to take a step back in seniority than their nonveteran counterparts. Granted, if you haven’t served in the military, I can understand that it might be difficult to relate that experience to the civilian workforce but I don’t know too many 21-year-olds who are managing 30+ employees and millions of dollars of inventory in highly stressful situations with a 24/7 operational tempo outside of those in the military. Though the context is very different, the leadership experience that veterans bring to the table is undeniable.
I recently penned another piece on the “network gap” that exists that creates inequities in people’s ability to develop fruitful networks. This network gap can negatively impact many marginalized populations of the workforce and seems to be at play in hampering the civilian work prospects of veterans as well.
As an entrepreneur, I have benefited significantly over the years because of my own military experience. Fortunately, I understood the importance of developing and cultivating a broad and diverse network within and outside of the military networks that have, and continues, to serve me well. One of the things I really appreciate is the support that I have received from my military network and it has, no doubt contributed to where I am today. Unfortunately, for many transitioning veterans, they have relied too strongly on the insular culture of the military to develop extremely powerful networks within that community but have failed to expand those networks out into the civilian world until they begin thinking about their transition. At this point, by their own behavior (or lack thereof), many transitioning veterans may be putting themselves squarely into the network gap in ways that have tangible and long-lasting effects on their career prospects post-military service.
While some industries have begun to understand the value and potential talent that dwells within marginalized populations like transitioning service-members, there are still many that have yet to do so in any meaningful way. The result is veterans who struggle to gain appropriate professional opportunities and businesses that struggle to fight for talent in the same small talent pools, creating a lose-lose for everyone.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.