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Approximately 200,000 men and women leave the military and transition to civilian life each year, but veterans struggle to find gainful employment and social support during their job search.

During the pandemic, the veteran unemployment rate soared to 11.7%, with more than a million veterans filing for unemployment in April 2020. Although the veteran unemployment rate rebounded in 2021 to 3.9%, there is still work to do to help veterans recover from financial losses and mental stresses sustained during the pandemic.

Unemployment and Veteran Suicide

There is a direct link between unemployment and suicidality. Suicide among veterans increased 30% between 2010 and 2018 and is now at the highest recorded rate in US history.

We know gainful employment for veterans is one deterrent to veteran suicide, but employers may still have misconceptions that make it more difficult for veterans to join their civilian ranks. Here are several actionable steps employers can take to improve veteran hiring and retention practices.

Improve Your Job Description

Bradley Aune, Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program Specialist at Job Service North Dakota, says many service members have a military resume, and civilian employers don’t understand how that translates to the workplace. She helps veterans re-write their resumes and coaches employers on how to advocate for hiring veterans.

“One of the biggest changes employers can make in job descriptions is to use the word or and not just and,” says Aune. “Say you’re open to a degree or experience. That still gives veterans the chance to apply.”

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Provide Training to HR Teams

Since a veteran’s resume may read differently than a civilian’s, an Applicant Tracking System with a rigid keyword search may overlook some highly qualified veteran candidates.

“Organizations need to coach their HR teams on how to recruit, approach, and interview veterans,” says Aune. “Employers may need to take that extra step.” He suggests employers complete the SHRM Foundation Veterans at Work Certificate Program. This free program equips employers with knowledge and tools to provide better work opportunities for veterans.

Understand Veterans’ Unique Skills

It’s widely known that most veterans possess a variety of technical skills. This attribute is predicated on the military’s training and upskilling process and the fact that only 14% of veterans are combat specialists, while the rest take on thousands of other engineering, support, administrative and operational roles.

What’s less explored is how veterans excel at executive functioning skills and why these skills are desired in the civilian workplace.

Executive functioning skills are the mental attributes needed to succeed in a job, whether managed autonomously or through teamwork. Skills like working memory, flexible thinking, project planning, emotion regulation and self-management might be referred to as “soft skills” in corporate circles. Leaders would be best served if they addressed these abilities as educators and referred to them as “executive functioning skills.”

Succeed with Social Support

Simply hiring a veteran is not enough, and to be fair, the same holds for civilian employees. Millions of American workers, including veterans, are struggling with pandemic-related stress. These challenges severely impact people’s mental health, both on and off the job. Providing a solid Employee Assistance Program is a critical step toward keeping veteran employees healthy and safe.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-based intervention program that assists employees in dealing with personal challenges that may adversely affect the employee’s performance. A recent Yale study found that social support programs are a key factor in reducing veterans’ suicide risks.

Emerging Fields for Veterans

The green and clean energy industries provide prime examples of creating a talent funnel that continually replenishes itself to meet increased demand. The Solar Ready Vets Network offers a 12-week, on-the-job training fellowship for military members, which leads directly to certification and job placement in high-demand areas. The program provides the Solar Opportunities And Readiness (SOAR) Initiative for veterans, which offers credentials at the end of the training.

The combination of on-the-job training, job placement and credentialing provide veterans the opportunity to try a new field and gives them the career security they need as they step into the civilian world. Considering veterans’ sacrifices for our country, adjusting hiring and retention practices to boost veteran employment and social support seems like a small ask for corporate leaders.

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