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How to Help Veterans Transition Into the Workforce
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How to Help Veterans Transition Into the Workforce

Although the situation has improved some in recent years, it’s still challenging for veterans to secure jobs, especially when compared to their non-military peers. Not only is it difficult for veterans to find jobs, but the transition into the workforce itself is often tough. This is largely due to the immense differences between military and civilian workforces.

According to a Department of Veterans Affairs report, approximately 200,000 service members return to their civilian communities each year, but, as they endeavor to find their place, what was the norm while they were in uniform may no longer apply.

Fortunately, there are also some resources that service members can take advantage of while they’re still on active duty. Enrolling in a leadership development course will help them be more prepared for the job market in the civilian world. But, it’s still important to have a plan for how to help veterans transition into the workforce.

Understanding the reasons why vets might be experiencing culture shock in their new work environment is the first step you can take to help veterans transition into the workforce. From there, there are a variety of ways companies can be more accomodating of veterans, who, with a little extra patience and support, make dedicated and hard-working employees.

While transitioning is difficult from experiences and training to the environment itself, the military is significantly different from the civilian workplace. To start, traditional workplaces generally determine whether or not a candidate is qualified for a job based on prior work experience, certifications, and degrees. However, many service members enter the service immediately following high school. Even though their skills and knowledge make them capable of doing a job, their resume might not reflect that.

In addition to the stress of compiling a resume and interviewing for a position for the first time, veterans often struggle to find a sense of purpose in their new work environment. Unlike the military, which has camaraderie and well-defined roles and missions to work toward, veterans frequently have trouble feeling comfortable in their new, civilian roles.

This discomfort and cloudy sense of purpose can cause anxiety and depression. It can also create relational conflicts among team members or between a manager and an employee.

While it’s not as talked about as much as PTSD, transition stress is very real. In fact, transition stress is often misdiagnosed and mistreated as PTSD. Despite being misdiagnosed, many veterans experience transition stress as they try to adjust to civilian life.

Tips for Accommodating Veterans

Companies and employers need to be aware that veterans might be experiencing transition stress. Being sensitive to their struggle to adjust as well as any physical health concerns they may have, including exposure to asbestos during military service, is critical for supporting veterans in the workplace.

As a manager, you should recognize that a veteran may have different needs than your other team members. Veterans with disabilities and those suffering from PTSD or other health complications might have multiple VA appointments each month that will require accommodation on your end.  

Beyond awareness and sensitivity, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggests that you modify your management style so it more closely coincides with the military training model. For example, when it comes to communication, you can adopt a more straightforward and direct approach. Veterans, who are used to receiving commands, will likely respond better to unambiguous instructions.

Likewise, you should be clear in stating objectives. Remember, veterans are accustomed to having missions. In the same vein as the military’s orders and procedures, take care to clarify all details and expectations so the veteran knows exactly what his or her role is on the team.

If there are opportunities for advancement, outline the path to promotion so veterans understand how they can achieve it. As part of this, you should conduct employee evaluations at regular intervals. When the veteran requires new training, be sure to actually show them how to do the task, and provide them immediate feedback so they can grasp the new skill.

Resources for Veterans

Since it’s not always feasible to provide individual training and instruction for every task, companies should consider assigning a mentor to each veteran. Along with showing them the ropes, this mentor will serve as a go-to resource for the veteran as he or she transitions into the workforce. Having a mentor made 9 in 10 veteran workers happier in their jobs according to a CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey.

As part of their military training, veterans learned how to be self-reliant. It’s possible they feel uncomfortable asking for help. It’s important that they know what assistance is available and how to access it. There are a variety of programs and resources available to help veterans.

One such program is the Wounded Warriors Regiment. In 2018, the dedicated Marine Corps organization teamed up with National Technical Systems to provide veterans with high-tech wheelchairs.

From recognizing the challenges facing former service members to adjusting your managerial approach and familiarizing yourself with different resources, there are a variety of ways you can help veterans successfully transition into the workforce.

Image credit: Photo by Benjamin Faust on Unsplash

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