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Witness Testimony of Henry Jackson, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, Society for Human Resource Management

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), with 260,000 members, is the world’s largest association devoted to serving the needs of human resource professionals and to advancing the HR profession.

SHRM and its members have adopted the transition of military veterans into the civilian workforce as a key issue. With successful transitions, our heroes receive the welcome they deserve; employers gain workers legendary for their commitment to mission; and our nation’s productivity and status in the global marketplace is enhanced. 

Within the last two years, SHRM has forged partnerships with Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS). The organization is also about to enter a similar collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. In all instances, the goal is to ensure that employers have what’s needed to create a transition program, identify and hire veterans, and retain those veterans, including building a workplace supportive of our military forces.

Ultimately, SHRM wants every one of its members—plus other HR professionals—to know who to call to find veteran talent, and who to call to get assistance in easing the transition of that veteran into the civilian workforce.

Many of the hurdles facing employers and veterans alike can be described as culture clashes. Veterans need help translating their specialized skills, along with their respect for discipline and chain of command, into civilian vocabulary, and a job.  They are not accustomed to self-promotion. Nor, given their combat experience, are they accustomed to a business concept of a “life or death” situation; or to “seeking input” from a team; or a managerial style that is not centered on command and control.

On the employer side, more communication with HR professionals is needed. SHRM research (available to the Committee) found that most talent managers are unaware of the many resources available to them, from both government agencies and non-profit organizations, to assist them in finding, hiring, and retaining the right veterans for their jobs. SHRM pledges to help close that communication gap, and to help employers see veterans as loyal, dedicated, and highly trainable potential employees. Many local SHRM chapters and councils are already conducting employer-education programs focused on the benefits of hiring veterans, and on how to make their transition successful.

The Society has dedicated a section of its website to the transition issue, and another on disability employment. It offered a military program at its annual conference last year and will do so again this month, making the educational event available to more than 12,000 conference attendees. Similar programs are met by a receptive audience—SHRM describes its members as professionals who understand that it makes sense to hire veterans, and that it’s a moral obligation to help those veterans after all they have sacrificed.


Introduction

            Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and distinguished members of the Committee, my name is Hank Jackson. I am the Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  SHRM is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. The Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. On behalf of our approximately 260,000 members in over 140 countries, I thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Committee to discuss the transition of military veterans into the civilian workforce.

Our members strongly believe that helping military servicemen and women transition back to the workforce benefits every party involved: our heroes receive the welcome they deserve through employment; employers gain employees who are committed to the mission; and our nation’s productivity and status in the global marketplace is enhanced.

In my testimony, I will share SHRM’s efforts to promote the recruitment and retention of veterans in the workplace, provide SHRM survey research on the state of veterans’ employment, describe our concerns about why the promise of employment to many veterans remains unfulfilled, and offer proposals for eliminating these hurdles to veterans’ employment.

SHRM’s Efforts to Promote Veterans’ Employment

The transition of veterans into the workplace has developed into a key concern for SHRM and for the HR profession. To assist employers in recruiting and retaining current and former members of the military, SHRM has collaborated with key federal agencies. 

First, our members appreciate that almost half of our nation's military strength resides in the National Guard and Reserve. They see men and women leave their workplaces to do their duty, and they see them return from combat, sometimes struggling to reintegrate into civilian life. In addition, some Guard and Reserve members joined the military as their first real “job,” and now they need our members’ help. After all those warriors have sacrificed for us, HR professionals embrace a responsibility to help our heroes reclaim their civilian lives and return to meaningful and productive work.

For this reason, SHRM formed a partnership with the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) by signing a Statement of Support in March 2010. As the principal advocate within the U.S. Department of Defense, ESGR’s mission is to develop and promote employer support for Guard and Reserve service by recognizing employers that offer outstanding support, increasing awareness of applicable laws and resolving conflict between employers and service members.

Through this partnership, SHRM is working with ESGR to link all SHRM state councils and chapters with their local ESGR office and encourage SHRM members to sign their own Statement of Support. More than 300 SHRM chapters and 31 SHRM State Councils have signed a Statement of Support to date.

SHRM also serves as a member of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award National Selection Board, which selects Freedom Award recipients on an annual basis.  The Freedom Award is the Department of Defense’s highest recognition given to employers for exceptional support of their employees serving in the Guard and Reserve. We are pleased that several employers of SHRM members have been presented with the Freedom Award.

Soon after forging our partnership with ESGR, we inaugurated a military hiring event as part of our 2010 annual conference and exposition in San Diego, California. That event, called “Military Veterans: Transitioning Skills to the New Economy,” brought together HR professionals, business leaders, federal agencies and hundreds of members of the military. We showed both employers and veterans how they could benefit each other, focusing on the skills they each need to succeed as partners. During the full conference, participants also were addressed by Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS). His riveting remarks reminded us that there are other heroes who need and deserve our attention. They are the people who volunteered for active duty, many of them right out of school, and who now return in search of their first civilian job. Building on the enthusiastic response we received for last year’s program, we’re holding another veterans’ employment event at our conference in Las Vegas later this month, offering it at no charge to more than 12,000 HR professionals. The six-hour program will focus on everything needed to recruit and accommodate veterans, wounded warriors, and spouses. Just as important, we’ll talk about creating an inclusive workplace that encourages veterans to stay with their new organization.

SHRM has also developed a deeper relationship with VETS, to complement our ongoing partnership with ESGR. The core of our work with VETS is in helping the agency to inform employers across the nation about the resources that are available to them in finding, recruiting, and retaining military veterans. For instance, right now, we’re identifying states that will be pilot sites for a more cooperative relationship between SHRM chapters and VETS. We want our members, at the state and regional levels, to get to know the VETS staff, and to rely on them for assistance.  In addition, our two organizations are working together to create a toolkit for employers. It will be a collection of practical steps and tangible tools for creating a hiring program, identifying and hiring veterans, and doing what it takes to retain those veterans, including building a workplace that’s supportive of our military forces.    

In a related effort, the White House invited SHRM to participate in “Joining Forces,” an initiative focused on the needs of military families led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.  Addressing the goals of this effort, SHRM’s educational materials will include resources and tips on effective practices for recruiting and retaining military spouses, maximizing workplace flexibility and other policies to support military families, and creating high-performing work environments for all service-connected employees.

I’m also pleased to inform you that we’re preparing to embark on a similar collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

These partnerships have proved to be invaluable to SHRM and our members and hopefully to the agencies as well, and we are deeply grateful for them. Ultimately it is our hope that through all these efforts, we can help every SHRM member to know where to find qualified veteran job candidates, and where to get assistance in easing the transition of that veteran into the civilian workforce.

SHRM Research on Employment of Military Veterans

SHRM features a research department that has conducted several survey reports on employer recruitment, hiring and retention practices of military service members. In June 2010, SHRM published its most recent report in this series, titled “Employing Military Personnel and Recruiting Veterans—Attitudes and Practices.”

The survey examined two areas:

  1. Active Duty Service Employees. The poll looked at pay and benefits that organizations provide to employees who have been mobilized to serve on active duty for an extended period of time (more than two weeks), either as a reservist or as a member of the National Guard. The challenges organizations face when an employee has been mobilized to serve on active duty and the overall familiarity that HR professionals have with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) were also explored.
  2. 2)     the resources that could assist organizations in recruiting and hiring veterans.

The survey’s key findings include:

  • The majority of employers are considering and hiring veterans. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that, within the previous 36 months, their organization had hired veterans as full-time, part-time or temporary/contract workers. Of those organizations that hired at least one veteran, 50 percent revealed that they had made a specific effort to recruit and hire veterans.
  • Organizations are going beyond what is required by law to help employees who are returning to work after active duty service. Sixty-six percent provide returning employees an employee assistance program (EAP) to help with transitioning back to work, 58 percent provide catch-up skills training to help with transitioning back to work, and 48 percent provide flexible work arrangements during the transition.
  • Organizations find that veterans make extremely positive contributions to the workplace. Of those organizations that had hired at least one veteran during those 36 months, more than 85 percent said the benefits of hiring employees with military experience include:
  • “Strong sense of responsibility”
  • “Ability to work under pressure”
  • “Ability to see a task through to completion”
  • “Strong leadership skills”
  • “High degree of professionalism”
  • “Strong problem-solving skills”
  • “Ability to multi-task”
  • “Ability to adapt to changing situations quickly”
  • “Positive impact on the image and/or credibility of the organization”
  • Employers are providing generous benefits support (i.e., non-direct compensation) to mobilized employees and their families.  Sixty-three percent of respondents said their organizations provide an extension of health insurance for the employee's family and 47 percent provide an extension of health insurance for the employee.
  • Employers are seeing fewer employees mobilize to serve on active duty. In 2004, 51 percent of employers said that in the previous 36 months they had experienced employees being mobilized to serve on active duty, either as a reservist or as a member of the National Guard, for an extended period of time (more than two weeks). In 2010, that figure decreased to 34 percent of respondents.
  • Importantly, HR professionals believe transition assistance programs can further facilitate the hiring of veterans. When asked “What programs would help your organization in efforts to recruit and hire military veterans,” 72 percent responded programs to train veterans with additional skills for the civilian workplace; 71 percent said programs to help veterans transition their military skills to the civilian workplace; and 71 percent said assistance identifying and reaching out to qualified veterans.[1]

 Challenges Facing Veterans and Employers Alike

There are a number of hurdles to be cleared in order for veterans and employers to achieve the goals they both seek—meaningful employment for the veteran and a highly skilled and engaged employee for the hiring organization.  Some of the challenges may be more structural in nature; others attributable to the differences between military and civilian workplaces; while still others are attributable to a lack of access to training and education for veterans and employers.

As noted above, 71 percent of HR professionals are unaware of, or unsatisfied with, programs to help them find and assimilate veterans into their workforces.   In a separate poll, SHRM found that nearly seven out of 10 HR professionals were not at all aware of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Local Veterans’ Employment Representative Program, and the same numbers were completely unaware of DOL’s Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program. As a result, SHRM sees their partnerships with agencies such as DOL-VETS and ESGR as extremely important in order to increase the awareness of available programs.  Part of the confusion of many employers may lie in the number of federal, as well as, state programs devoted to veterans’ employment. While their missions may be distinct, it is not always clear to the employer the role each plays in the employment process.

It is also clear that more communication is needed to advise HR professionals and employers of the help available to them from both government and non-profit organizations, largely at no cost. A follow-up poll last fall by SHRM and the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and released in January found that 87 percent of HR professionals were unaware of the Tip of the Arrow Foundation; 73 percent were unaware of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VetSuccess program; and 60 percent were not aware of such programs, services and organizations as Wounded Warrior, Job Opportunities for Disabled American Veterans, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

There are also some misunderstandings about what to expect from veterans with combat-related disabilities, or what must be done to accommodate disabilities. According to the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the unemployment rate for veterans with severe disabilities is a stunning 85 percent.  For veterans with any disabilities, the hiring challenge is greater than for the rest of their military colleagues—but the problem is largely one of perception. Again, better communications are needed to correct faulty assumptions.

Some employers fear that making physical accommodations for a veteran with a disability will be expensive, but the average cost is $600 or less, according to the Job Accommodation Network within the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. And even that cost can be covered by federal work opportunity tax credits.

According to SHRM’s own research of members, erroneous assumptions are also made about accommodating the nearly half of veterans who return to civilian life with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Lisa Rosser, author of The Value of a Veteran: The Guide for Human Resources Professionals in Regarding, Recruiting and Retaining Military Veterans, has told us that, despite employer fears that a veteran with PTSD will exhibit extreme behavior, by far the most common reaction of a PTSD sufferer to an intolerably stressful situation is to simply leave. And most accommodations for TBI are minor, plus veterans often recover completely from the injury. The benefit of hiring disabled veterans, she said, far outweighs the hassles.

Once hired, retention of veterans is also an issue. This challenge may be described as a culture clash. Not many employers—or HR professionals—can identify with the experience of war, or the unique culture of the military.

Adjusting to civilian workplace protocol also drives away some newly hired veterans. Last year, MyMilitaryTransition.com surveyed veterans and HR managers on why job retention beyond 18 months is often difficult. Veterans cited “lack of cultural fit” as the leading reason; HR managers described it as “an inability to let go of the military way of doing things.”

Finally, many returning veterans face a unique challenge in translating their specialized skills, along with their respect for discipline and chain of command, into a civilian vocabulary, and a civilian job. Last spring, a SHRM poll of its members found that 60 percent of respondents said translating military skills was the biggest hurdle to veterans in writing resumes, interviewing, and other job-hunt communications. The systems used to identify specific job or job functions in the military—the Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) for the Army and Marine Corps or the Navy Enlisted Classification system for Navy personnel—does not easily translate veterans’ skills to a potential civilian employer nor help the veteran clearly articulate what he or she did while in the service.

The main vehicle for addressing skills translation and preparing transitioning service members to civilian life is the Transition Assistance Program or TAP.  TAP represents a partnership among the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, plus VETS at Labor. As noted above, SHRM members have expressed a desire for improving the transition assistance provided to service-members, including translation of military skills, interviewing techniques, and job-search advice.  It is our understanding that VETS is seeking to improve this transition assistance.  SHRM believes this effort is a significant step in the right direction to achieve more uniformity and standardization in preparing transitioning service members for employment in the civilian sector. 

Challenges Can Be Overcome

There are challenges in bringing together employers and veterans successfully, but those challenges are not insurmountable. Success demands the best tools of HR, a community of understanding, and a utilization of what, thankfully, is becoming a broad network of resources being made available to those who have served our nation so selflessly and bravely.

With success comes benefit to both the veteran and the employer. As members of this committee know, veterans make loyal, dedicated, and highly trainable employees.

When I talk of challenges faced in this hiring equation, I must admit that one lies squarely on my own doorstep—the need to make HR professionals more aware of the many resources available to them in assisting the work transition of returning veterans. It’s something that we recognize at SHRM, and we’re doing something about it.

Having said that, however, I want to assure the members of this committee that the target audience for those efforts—HR professionals—is an eager and willing audience. They do not have to be sold on our national obligation to veterans, or the practical advantages of adding veterans to their workforces.

These HR professionals are people who understand that it makes sense to hire veterans, and that it’s a moral obligation to help those veterans after all they have sacrificed. Our members, and other professionals like them, just need assistance in finding the applicants, and in building a long-term relationship with them.

In that same vein, I can assure you that members of our chapters and state councils, just like those of us on staff, are fully engaged and supportive of this effort. Many are educating local employers about existing laws and regulations, and giving them tips on how to find and hire the right veterans for their needs. Others are working directly with veterans, helping them find jobs and transition into the civilian workforce.

Here are just two examples. When 1,500 Vermont National Guard and Reserve members were deployed to Afghanistan, one of our Vermont chapters hosted a community town hall meeting for employers from businesses of any size. In partnership with ESGR, our HR professionals taught those employers about the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act. They also brought in experts to guide employers though the steps they should follow in reintegrating employees when they return from combat.

Another example comes from Texas. As Representatives Bill Flores (R-TX) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) may be aware, our SHRM Texas State Council and some of our local chapters have hosted several full-day events focusing on veterans’ employment. The most recent was May 20, in Austin. Business leaders and staffing and recruiting professionals gathered to learn best practices from an array of experts on how to build a strategy for recruiting a veteran, military spouse, wounded warrior or reservist.

They showed employers how to build recruitment and retention strategies for veterans, for military spouses, and for wounded warriors. Essentially, they talked about effective practices to attract these skilled workers and keep them onboard.

Afterward, here’s what one of the employers said about the program: “Although I’ve never hesitated to hire a veteran, I came away with a new understanding of how to proactively recruit veterans and fully integrate them into the workforce. I couldn’t have found a better venue for honest and direct information on the struggles U.S. veterans face when entering the private sector.”

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, SHRM and its members will continue our efforts to assist employers in finding, recruiting and retaining military veterans.

We will keep reaching out to all HR professionals, whether members of SHRM or not, and make them aware of the programs and services available to employers.

We will continue our ongoing programs with both ESGR and VETS, and we will hold another military employment program for HR professionals at our annual conference in Las Vegas later this month.

Finally, we will continue working with our councils and chapters, engaging them on the military transition issue, and assisting them with their own community-based educational programs.

As we work together to improve employment outcomes for transitioning service members, we suggest the following to foster greater employment opportunities for transitioning service members:

  • Encourage continued partnerships between the employer community and the relevant agencies.
  • Clarify and educate employers about the role of the federal agencies.  Employers would greatly benefit from having a more streamlined set of resources that they can consult to find veteran talent, post their open positions, and find information about hiring veterans and other transitioning service members.
  • Improve and increase uniformity in transition assistance for service-members.  As noted in our testimony, guidance provided to individuals leaving the military should prepare them for what employers need to hire, including translation of military skills, interviewing techniques, and job-search advice.  Having a more uniform system understood by both employers and transitioning service members would benefit them both.

Thank you for this opportunity to come before you and assure you that the human resource profession does appreciate the importance of the challenge before us, and we look forward to partnering with you in achieving a smooth transition for every returning veteran.

I welcome your questions.


[1] Society for Human Resource Management Poll (2010): “Employing Military Personnel and Recruiting Veterans—Attitudes and Practices.”