Battlefield to Boardroom: How employers can tap into the ex-military talent pool

April 1, 2014 Brad Beveridge

Battlefield to Boardroom: How employers can tap into the ex-military talent pool

Brad Beveridge, Managing Director, Amrop Knightsbridge Executive Search

Battlefield to BoardroomWhen Corporal David Fascinato looked to start a career in the private sector, he was firmly focused on a job in marketing communications.

With nearly a decade in the military, the full-time reservist had spent a harrowing year in Afghanistan as a Psychological Operations Specialist. During that time, Fascinato worked daily with various stakeholders to manage the perceptions and attitudes of Afghans toward their government and the international mission by directly engaging local influencers. It was an intense mission that required more than a year of highly specialized military training.

Looking at his in-theatre experience and training, Fascinato believed he could be an enormous asset in the public relations and marketing world. Unfortunately, many employers in those sectors did not immediately connect his military experience and training with the current qualifications of public relations and marketing professionals.

"I quickly realized that finding a job in PR or advertising without a diploma or certificate is very difficult, even if you have formal experience in the field like I do," said Fascinato, a graduate of the University of Ottawa.  “I had received some excellent training from the military. Combine that with the experience of connecting communities with a variety of development, governance and security initiatives, meant that it was a bit of a shock to be informed that I didn't have any 'relevant experience'.”

Fascinato’s story is often told among the ranks of military personnel who are now trying to transition into civilian life, or remain connected with the Canadian Forces Reserve but are looking for employment outside of the military. The federal government estimates that more than 5,000 members will leave the Canadian Armed Forces annually for the next few years as Canada winds down its mission in Afghanistan. This flood of military personnel presents an opportunity for Canadian employers to benefit from a largely untapped talent pool of trained leaders – a talent pool which becomes even more valuable as Canada deals with a major skills crisis that is projected to worsen over the next few years (The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, “Canada’s Skills Crisis: What We Heard,” 2012).
Although a small number will have the education and credentials that allow for an easy transition to “civi-street”, as it’s known in the military, the gross majority will find they are square pegs trying to fit into the labour market’s round holes.

“The biggest problem now is that many military personnel are not trained specifically for many of the jobs that are available in the civilian world,” said Shaun Francis, CEO of Medcan Health Management Inc. and chairman of the board of True Patriot Love, a foundation that raises money to support military personnel, veterans and their families. “It’s our responsibility to help our forces transition and train them to be effective employees.”

True Patriot Love recently held a conference in Toronto – From Battlefield to Boardroom – to raise awareness regarding the huge opportunity for Canadian employers to recruit trained, disciplined military personnel who will be transitioning into civilian life as Canada winds down it’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the United States, more than 300,000 veterans are leaving annually as missions are wound down and budget cuts kick in.

In Canada, the numbers are much smaller but the challenges are very much the same: how to find the civilian jobs for veterans that take full advantage of military training and experience.

From Battlefield to Boardroom effectively revealed that there are a number of programs, both governmental and private sector, attempting to bridge the gap for veterans. The Canadian Armed Forces [CAF] provides financial assistance to veterans for additional education that helps “credentialize” military skills and training. Advocacy groups like True Patriot Love and Treble Victor are challenging employers to recognize veterans as potential employees. And programs like the Helmets-to-Hardhats (H2H), a mostly private-sector initiative supported by Ottawa, offer apprenticeship opportunities in a variety of building and construction trades.

However, many of the current options available to veterans usually mean a significant cut to income while retraining. In addition, the types of jobs being offered are not viewed as appropriate for veterans who have leadership experience. Some veterans have reacted angrily to the H2H program, calling it “demeaning” and little more than a “Band-Aid” solution for a much bigger problem.

These veterans argue that their military skills and training, while not recognized outside the CAF, should allow them to find work in areas outside trades and entry-level positions. Others have complained that existing programs do little to meet the needs of disabled veterans, who can find it particularly difficult to find appropriate employment.

More recently, Canadian employers have begun to look to the United States for guidance on this pressing issue. With the enormous number of veterans heading into the civilian world, US employers have begun to develop more sophisticated approaches to creating job opportunities, and matching military skills and training with commensurate civilian positions.

Few companies have been more active in this area than JPMorgan Chase. Several years ago, after an embarrassing episode where the bank foreclosed on a number of homes owned by veterans serving overseas, JPMorgan Chase launched a series of employment programs for returning veterans. This included the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a campaign featuring a cooperative network of 79 large public and private sector employers working together to create veteran job opportunities. To date, the mission has found employment for more than 50,000 veterans.

Internally, JPMorgan Chase has a myriad of hiring and talent development programs, including several that try to match military rank and skills with mid-level positions. In one of those initiatives, the bank offers veterans who achieved the rank of sergeant the opportunity to enter and complete an expedited branch manager-training program.

Brian Williams, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army and JPMorgan Chase’s vice-president of military and veteran affairs, said the bank typically required branch manager candidates to have at least two years experience in a financial institution. Utilizing the enhanced leadership and problem-solving skills of veterans, the bank has been able to get ex-military candidates through the program in a little over six months.

“Traditionally, there has been a lot of under-employment among veterans,” said Williams. “It’s not as bad at the officer level, where there is a lot of competition. But at the lower rungs of the leadership structure, there are a lot of good people who cannot find a job that takes advantage of all that they have to give.”

From Battlefields to Boardrooms was a wealth of practical information for Canadian employers looking to tap into the ex-military talent pool. Among the top ideas:

1. Organize veteran’s job fairs. US employers find that they are able to make more and better contacts with ex-military personnel with deliberate job fairs. If nothing else, these fairs can help veterans generate a wider range of options for future employment, as well as getting first-hand information on existing veteran employment programs and job requirements.

2. Hire military employment specialists. Many top US companies employ veterans to head up military hiring programs. This helps employers translate military rank, skills and training to appropriate applications in the civilian world. In many instances, these specialists will become advocates for veteran candidates, by helping hiring managers connect military skills and experience to available jobs.

3. Establish veteran affinity groups. One of the best ways of helping an organization identify ex-military talent, and spread the word about job opportunities among veterans, is to establish internal veteran affinity groups. This not only attracts top talent veterans, but makes those candidates feel more at home when hired.

4. Set a target. Many Fortune 500 companies have set specific, public targets for hiring veterans. Issuing a target is believed to be one of the best ways of holding an employer’s feet to the fire when it comes to creating job opportunities for veterans.

5. Develop a network of like-minded organizations. Many US employers find that networks of companies can often benefit veterans immensely. In this scenario, if Company A cannot find a job for a veteran, they can recommend them for a job in Company B that represents a better fit.

6. Create accelerated qualification programs for veterans. Some of the most successful veteran employment programs have involved matching ex-military personnel with mid-level leadership jobs through an expedited training program. These initiatives seek to match veterans to jobs commensurate with leadership competencies acquired in the military.

By drawing on these tools and techniques, there is a growing confidence among advocates that not only would veterans see greater job opportunities in the civilian world, but Canadian employers would begin to access a valuable but previously untapped talent pool.

There is an expressed hope that as more veterans are hired, more will rise to executive ranks and there will be greater awareness of the untapped ex-military talent pool. “We have so few veterans in senior executive positions in this country,” said Shaun Francis of True Patriot Love. “We have to change that. I’m confident in saying that because I know you’re not doing a favour for veterans by hiring them. You’re getting one of the best human resources you could ever imagine. These people are fearless, logical and effective.”

About the Author

Brad Beveridge

Brad is the Executive Vice President, Canada Operations and is a member of the Executive Committee for both Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge and Lee Hecht Harrison globally. Prior to this role, Brad was the Managing Director for Knightsbridge’s three recruitment practices. Brad also served as a Client Partner at Korn Ferry International’s Toronto office.

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