Veterans arguably held the country’s most important and dangerous jobs to ensure our nation’s freedom and security. However, when they return home and re-enter the civilian workforce, they face multiple challenges and stigmas that often leave them underemployed or unemployed, especially if they are injured. Today’s challenging economic climate amplifies these challenges.
The latest Annual Warrior Survey from Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) revealed the unemployment rate for wounded warriors registered with the nonprofit was 6.8% in 2022, down from 13.4% in 2021, but still higher than the general veteran (2.4%) and U.S. population (3.7%) at the time of the survey. Workforce leaders can continue to decrease veteran unemployment rates by acknowledging their barriers to employment, recognizing their unique skills, and accommodating them in the workplace.
Veterans Face Barriers When Seeking Civilian Employment
In WWP’s Annual Warrior Survey, WWP warriors reported the top barriers to employment were difficulty translating their military skills to the civilian workforce (37%) and mental and psychological distress (48%). These barriers go beyond impacting warriors vocationally, as physical or mental injuries can create social stigma and prevent veterans from seeking help.
In addition, veterans who are underemployed or unemployed can experience significant financial strain from growing economic pressures like inflation. In the survey, 64% of warriors reported not having enough money to make ends meet sometime in the past year. The top-reported source of financial strain was the increased cost of goods.
Employers Can Benefit from Veterans’ Unique Skills
Despite these challenges, veterans offer unique skills and experiences that make them valuable employees. For example, the challenging and stressful situations that veterans face during their military service, provide them with skills to manage high-pressure situations in civilian life. Military training and service also build adaptability, teamwork, discipline, punctuality, and reliability.
As a national transportation company, CSX has found natural success employing veterans, due to clearly transferable skills and a shared commitment to service, safety, and high performance. In fact, nearly one in five CSX employees has served, making them a driving force for the business.
Employers like CSX that provide opportunities for veterans to excel will not only see their employees benefit but their company as a whole. Below are three ways you can begin to unlock a veteran’s full potential in your workplace:
• Emphasize their value and contributions to your company’s mission.
Veterans want to know how their work will contribute to the company’s success. A sense of duty and the desire to make a difference are often what led them to join the military. Find areas to consistently reinforce how the veteran’s role helps meet business objectives.
During hiring, consider adjusting job descriptions to highlight the overall contribution of the position to the company. While on the job, provide regular performance feedback to veterans to demonstrate their connection to the organization’s mission. Not only does CSX develop recruitment messaging and outreach strategies targeted directly to veterans, but the company regularly shares veteran employee vignettes, testimonials and recognition of their contributions both internally and externally.
• Make the onboarding experience an inclusive one.
The onboarding process can be a foreign experience for many veterans accustomed to military structure and procedures. Think of benefits packages: veterans received military benefits without multiple options or costs. So, ensure your hiring managers and recruiters describe the intricacies of health care plans, policies, and job duties to empower veterans throughout their careers.
Resources are available to employers looking to make their processes and workplaces more veteran-inclusive. For example, WWP’s Warriors to Work® program can help your company facilitate a productive onboarding process and develop practices to increase retention among veteran employees. Disney’s Veterans Institute offers seminars on best practices for becoming a veteran-friendly business. CSX incorporates rigorous training procedures across the onboarding journey writ large, which is also designed to help veterans transfer from their service role to their civilian role.
• Go beyond providing reasonable accommodations and support.
Employee health and well-being are table stakes for companies. Some veterans have physical injuries or mental health challenges like post-traumatic stress, making it difficult to find and maintain employment within the confines of traditional employer expectations. Providing accommodations and support for veterans should go beyond meeting the legal requirements. For example, take time to educate supervisors about the importance of actively supporting veterans and providing flexibility. A veteran with a traumatic brain injury may require more time to process instructions. Someone dealing with post-traumatic stress may need a break after a difficult customer interaction. When supervisors understand these needs, they can create the environment a veteran needs to contribute successfully.
Also, consider implementing a veteran mentorship program or veteran resource group to help veterans acclimate to your organization’s culture and work expectations. Resource groups help ensure a smoother transition and an opportunity to build camaraderie with other veterans in a safe space. CSX’s Military Business Resource Group has proved to be a vital engine for collaboration, shared experiences and resources, and internal advocacy. In addition, CSX has a community investment program, Pride in Service, which supports military-connected families and individuals through philanthropy, volunteerism, and custom programming. This reinforces the company’s overarching commitment and helps connect its veterans and military-connected families to causes they understand first-hand.
Veterans and servicemembers often bring highly transferable skills to the civilian job force, but it’s crucial that employers provide them with everything they need to succeed. By honoring and empowering veterans in your workplace, you unlock a talent source with great potential to give your company a competitive advantage.