Each year on November 11, the United States celebrates Veterans Day, a public holiday honoring the efforts and sacrifices of former US military personnel. These brave men and women, like the troops serving their countries around the world, dedicated themselves to the work of protecting their country. After their military commitments have ended, many of them bring their skills and values into the civilian sector.
I am proud that APICS has a number of veterans on our staff and among our membership, and their military service has added a rich layer of experience. These individuals are exemplary in terms of their dedication to our organization, and we appreciate the values they bring to our community.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Colonel David W. Sutherland, cofounder and chairman of Easter Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services and the chief strategy officer of Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services. Easter Seals Dixon Center is dedicated to working nationally and locally to help veterans and military families access meaningful employment, education, and health care. Colonel Sutherland and I discussed the myriad skills veterans can offer the supply chain industry.
He told me that approximately 250,000 service members transition out of the US military each year. This population, along with the other 500,000 veterans who are underemployed or unemployed, all possess core skills that support supply chain. “What you see with all of our service members— whether they are cooks, whether they are supply specialists, or whether they are infantry men—they all bring qualities and skills that are perfect or ideal for the supply chain management industry: accelerated learning curve; leadership; the abilities to influence people to improve the organization, delegate, and motivate others they are working with; teamwork; diversity; inclusion; and action,” he said.
He also noted that these individuals perform well under pressure, respect procedures, are tech savvy, understand health and safety standards, do everything with integrity, and triumph over adversity.
In addition, recall that material handling and logistics have their roots in military practices. Today, military personnel use these skills to move a variety of supplies—including food, clothing, personal care items, ammunition, building materials, repair parts, and more—to military bases and conflict zones around the world. As Colonel Sutherland noted, these skills can be used for some more fun ventures as well. “You want to stage a snowball fight in the middle of the desert in December?” he asks. “You look to a non-commissioned officer, and they are going to figure out how to get snow into the middle of a desert under combat situations.”
Building your team
Colonel Sutherland recommends a four-step process for adding military veterans to your workforce:
- Recruit: Use the veterans who already are in your workforce to attract others. Encourage your employees to share job announcements with fellow veterans. Also, consider creating a job page on your website to list opportunities that would align perfectly with veterans’ experience.
- Integrate: Get to know your veterans and their unique experiences.
- Train: Through training, you’ll see that veterans shine on jobs when they feel appreciated and understood.
- Retain: “When it comes to veterans, retention is the least complicated of the four steps,” Colonel Sutherland said. “In practice, veterans want what all workers want: that they and their families are treated fairly and respected for the work they do and that they’re challenged in their daily duties. Then, they will thrive.”
Before going through this process, it is important to educate managers and human resources specialists about the crossover between military and civilian experience. “The fact is that 80 percent of military occupations have a direct civilian equivalent, but the descriptions are not aligned,” Colonel Sutherland explained. “Because of the military-civilian culture gap, managers may reject that qualified candidate simply because they may not understand the military experience versus academic degrees.”
The US Department of Labor offers a Civilian-to-Military Occupation Translator
to help bridge this gap. Hiring managers and human resources professionals can search by civilian job title to see what military titles and codes are equivalent.
“Just give them a chance,” Colonel Sutherland advises. “Be willing to trade education for experience … [and] don’t just look at this generation of veterans. Look at and consider all generations of veterans because they don’t lose the skill sets that I talked about earlier. They’re just phenomenal, phenomenal people, and they’re going to make a positive difference wherever they go.”