2022-11-11 06:30News

President and CEO, Susan Hardwick, Featured in The Wall Street Journal: Veterans Are a Valuable Talent Pool You Shouldn’t Overlook

Oringially posted in The Wall Street Journal's The Workplace Report by Alexandra Levit

When good talent is hard to find, as it has been lately amid the labor shortage, veterans could become your company’s secret weapon.

“Veterans have a focus on accomplishing the mission, a commitment to hard work, the ability to lead and function as a team, and the ability to pivot on a moment’s notice from plans that aren’t working to plans that do,” said Paul Dillon, a former U.S. Army Reserve officer and a Vietnam War veteran who now teaches about veterans’ issues at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

What’s more, said the two-time Bronze Star Medal recipient, veterans receive top-notch leadership and technical training, and they have a variety of transferable skills to offer the civilian workforce.

Yet while many employers have veteran-employment programs in place or prioritize veteran hiring, businesses that are new to the veteran labor market sometimes struggle to find qualified veterans for their needs, to adapt to the continuing service commitment of reservists, or to smooth the transition between the military and civilian workforce for veterans. However, there are plenty of resources and successful corporate veterans programs for companies that want to tap this market.

Susan Hardwick, president and chief executive of American Water Works Co., a water-and-wastewater utility with 6,400 employees, said the diversity of ideas and servant leadership style—one that serves the group first and the principles of leadership second—that veterans offer are a natural fit for the company’s mission.

When recruiting, American Water connects veterans’ military service to the impactful, everyday work employees do. The HR team attends events for active-duty military and veterans, including in and around military bases. So far this year, American Water has hired 45 employees based on voluntary self-identification with military or veteran status.

Additionally, American Water participates in other hiring programs targeted at this demographic, including a corporate fellowship program called Hiring Our Heroes and a Department of Defense-led Military Spouse Employment Partnership as well as a policy of posting openings on the Hire a Hero and Job Opportunities for Disabled Veterans job boards. 

At Humana Inc., veteran hiring has been about more than filling open positions. The insurer wanted its hiring to reflect its business of administering health benefits for six million active-duty military and retirees across 32 states.

“We believe it is important that our workforce reflects our customers, so we’ve launched several initiatives to provide employment and development opportunities to veterans and their spouses,” said Chantelle Johnson, associate vice president, workforce and culture, enterprise inclusion and diversity at Humana.

Humana’s Veterans Hiring program has dedicated HR team members focused exclusively on veterans and military spouses, including Wounded Warriors. Since the program’s launch, Humana has hired more than 6,000 veterans and military spouses—exceeding its goals.

Humana has also started hosting Department of Defense SkillBridge program interns. SkillBridge allows those in their final six months of military service to participate in fellowships, internships and on-the-job training in potential post-service positions.

Companies new to veteran hiring can start small. Mr. Dillon suggested going to your state’s Veterans Affairs Department and asking for organizations in your area that specialize in hiring from this population. He also cited the value of using military skills translator apps at Military.com and VeteranJobs.stripes.com to determine what career paths veterans can pursue in your organization and asking veterans themselves how they can best contribute.

“The best way to identify good veteran candidates is to take the time to have one-on-one conversations and get to know their skills, talents and aspirations. Have them describe the work they did in the military and the skills they gained, for example: ‘Tell me about your time as a squad leader,’ ” Mr. Dillon said.

When launching a veteran hiring program, look to existing veteran employees to help. As Ms. Hardwick at American Water put it, your company’s existing veteran workforce can be your most valuable resource, so offer opportunities to allow them to take part in job fairs and interviews that create connections between current and prospective employees.

Keeping veterans engaged in your organization once they are employed does come with its own set of challenges, including a lengthier personal adjustment period and the potential for culture clashes. Here are some tips to ease your veteran employees’ transitions and promote their long-term success in the organization.

  • Build cultural competency. Organizations new to employing veterans should consider using resources like the nonprofit PsychArmor—which aims to promote military cultural awareness—to understand the basics of the military and speak a common language with candidates and hires, Mr. Dillon said.
  • Provide transition assistance. American Water’s veterans' transition guide includes career-development opportunities and information to make sure the company’s military reservists maintain their regular pay and benefits during annual exercise/duties. The organization also provides a mentor and reskilling and upskilling paths for transitioning veterans. For its part, Humana employs HR team specialists to help new veteran employees and their spouses transition into the civilian world.
  • Establish in-house veterans' networks. The Veterans Network at Humana is a forum for veterans and their families to hear and learn from each other, said Ms. Johnson. It’s a space not just to share but also to collaborate, commiserate and have fun.
  • Communicate the benefits. American Water makes a point of widely sharing stories of veteran employees the company has hired, Ms. Hardwick said, showcasing their talents and how they have positively transitioned and contributed to the success of the organization. This bolsters a sense of belonging among veteran employees as well as visibility for veteran hiring initiatives generally.

About American Water

With a history dating back to 1886, American Water (NYSE: AWK) is the largest and most geographically diverse U.S. publicly traded water and wastewater utility company. The company employs approximately 6,400 dedicated professionals who provide regulated and regulated-like drinking water and wastewater services to an estimated 14 million people in 24 states. American Water provides safe, clean, affordable, and reliable water services to our customers to help keep their lives flowing.