Veterans in the Workplace

Mark Sagor


Of the 21.5 million veterans in the United States, 9.1 million are currently in the workforce. Ninety thousand troops will be looking for their place in the workforce in the next two years as they return (many after multiple tours) from Afghanistan. A million service members will be leaving active duty over the next 5 years according to government estimates. Those of us in management and human resources can observe this Veterans Day in a meaningful way by educating ourselves about what these returning service men and women can offer our organizations as employees.

There are several business sponsored initiatives underway that highlight the value that returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan bring to the organizations that employ them. VetsinTech is sponsoring a Hackathon this Veterans Day in San Francisco to connect veterans with the Silicon Valley tech ecosystem. They emphasize that veterans have the entrepreneurial skill set valued by tech startups: dogged determination, a highly developed sense of discipline, the ability to work in teams or autonomously and a strong work ethic.

Craig Mullaney, an Afghan veteran and SVP of Content, Strategy and Operations for Ustream is a member of VetsinTech’s advisory board (Ustream was founded by and is currently managed by many veterans). He says:

“Generally the American population is very very supportive of veterans, more supportive than any previous conflict. But I think that as a society we tend to put this new generation of veterans on a pedestal, where they can be admired from a distance. But, they need jobs. They don’t want a handout, but they may need some assistance in making that transition from serving their country in one capacity to serving in another capacity.”

Many returning veterans talk about the difficulty of making the transition from military to civilian life. There is a sense of mission and purpose and camaraderie in the service that can be hard to replace in civilian work life. Jake Woods looked at this problem and saw an opportunity. He looked at the problem of reintegrating veterans and saw an opportunity to improve our response to disasters. Veterans, it turns out, are especially talented at disaster response. Team Rubicon is on the ground this Veterans Day in the Rockaways helping dig out from Hurricane Sandy. Jake’s 5 minute Ted Talk is inspiring and well worth your time.

The US Forest Service has 4800 veterans as employees (12% of its workforce). They are “all in” when it comes to appreciating the benefits military experience brings to civilian work: the ability to work together with diverse people, under sometimes stressful circumstances, toward a common goal.

It’s not just public sector organizations that are taking note of the special value veterans bring to civilian work. Johnson & Johnson, Amazon, Jobvite, & JP Morgan Chase, to name just a few, have launched initiatives to employ more veterans. A recent blog by Meghan Biro in Forbes detailed five attributes these companies recognize and value in veterans:

1.  Leadership

2.  Grace under pressure

3.  Results oriented

4.  Capacity for self-sacrifice

5.  Clear communications and goal-setting

Veterans from recent wars are also running for office in record numbers and we could see an increase in the number of lawmakers with military experience for the first time in 32 years. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel some pride of country in the election last week of Tammy Duckworth, a half Thai, Indonesian speaking, double amputee war hero, to represent the 8th congressional district in Illinois.

Congratulations to Tammy and to all the returning veterans who have so much to offer our country now in their civilian lives. Let’s all be mindful this Veterans Day of doing our part to increase the opportunities available to them.