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Help Veterans Translate Military Competencies into Private Sector Skills

Learning leaders are in the perfect position to help translate the skills and expertise veterans already possess from their military service into the skills and leadership traits that employers want.

Armed Forces, Veteran, Handshake.With an estimated 1 million service members expected to enter the civilian workforce in the coming years, chief learning officers can play an important part in supporting successful transitions by ensuring that formal development programs are in place, not to mention facilitating onboarding and career development. But it shouldn’t stop there.

Many veterans seeking private-sector jobs are challenged because the military language used to describe certain competencies, skills and experiences is different than the language used in the commercial sector.

“CLOs who recognize the nuances of the language of the military versus the language of the commercial world can help veterans successfully transition from military service into their new reality,” said Kimberly Admire, chief human resources officer for Science Applications International Corp., a technology integrator serving the technical, engineering, intelligence and enterprise information technology markets. About 26 percent of SAIC’s 15,000-member workforce are veterans.

For example, many veterans possess technical expertise, including training and certification in military systems that often become the current technology in the commercial sector. Companies looking for cyber knowledge or network engineering skills often can find this expertise among veterans. Military members are known for possessing softer skills that the private sector also values, including problem solving, team building, crisis management, dealing with ambiguity, collaboration and creative thinking.

Formal programs can help veterans and their new private-sector employers appreciate the full extent of the military skill set. For example, Korn Ferry Hay Group [Editor’s note: The author works for Korn Ferry] has teamed up with co-sponsors Harris Corporation, a technology integrator, and SAIC, to offer the “Leveraging Military Leadership Program.” It is designed to guide successful transitions from military to civilian careers.

As part of the four-month LMLP, veterans are given coaching, instruction and numerous group exercises. Veterans receive the same research-based leadership development services that Korn Ferry offers to boards, CEOs and senior executives at global organizations. After completing LMLP, veterans can articulate their value proposition using competencies that potential recruiters, hiring managers and networking contacts understand and embrace. Veterans can back up their value proposition using well thought out and practiced stories from their military service without the use of military acronyms and terms. In other words, they can tell their stories in ways that employers can easily understand. As part of the development process, veterans are also given an assessment that measures learning agility and self-awareness — proven predictors of future success.

Learning-agile individuals can apply past experiences and lessons learned to new situations and first-time challenges. Interestingly, when Korn Ferry analyzed agility assessments from transitioning members of the military who had participated in LMLP, their average measurement of learning agility was higher than their civilian counterparts, many of whom were classified as high potentials and senior executives.

This finding may come as a surprise to some in the private sector, who have the preconceived notion that military members are highly regimented and not creative in their thinking. However, as business leaders who have hired veterans and former military personnel who have successfully transitioned to the private sector can attest, military experience promotes agility. Furthermore, for veterans who have technical expertise and skills that include a strong work ethic and the ability to understand the mission, there is a future in the private sector.

“Harris looks to hire veterans because of the superb leadership and execution skills they develop in the military,” said Robert Duffy, Harris Corporation’s senior vice president of HR and administration. “Veterans also bring a level of maturity and flexibility that is extremely valuable to Harris. We invest in LMLP and make other focused efforts to hire veterans to translate their unique experiences to Harris’ efforts to produce technologies that, in many cases, go back to protect our men and women in uniform.”

To ensure veterans can maximize the value they bring to their new employers, CLOs can meet them half-way by training recruiters and hiring managers to understand the nuances of attracting and managing veterans, identifying positions with required competencies that are strong and prevalent among veterans, conducting veteran training programs to more rapidly and effectively assimilate them into an organization’s culture, and lastly, providing veteran employee resource groups as a forum to offer ongoing support to help them maximize their success in the company.

CLOs who recognize veterans oft-hidden skill potential can help make the business case within their organizations to recruit veterans. “The learning organization needs to help hiring managers and leaders understand the value that military members bring,” Admire said. “For example, if someone is an NCO [non-commissioned officer] and has led large teams of people during challenging times, how does that translate into the needs of the workplace? The CLO who understands has the obligation to educate and inform the rest of the organization.”

Companies can facilitate onboarding for veterans by offering support, such as sponsoring a military affinity group. SAIC’s Military Alliance Group gives veterans access to mentorship and advocacy. Many are assigned a “buddy,” often a former military member, who can help explain the culture and point people to the resources they need. These groups are one way companies can showcase their employer value proposition.

Veterans’ skills can lead to career opportunities across a number of industries and business sectors, provided someone can help them translate military service into traditional employer language. Often, that person is the CLO, who recognizes the skills and expertise veterans bring, and helps others do the same.

Randy Manner is a retired Army major general and a senior client partner at Korn Ferry. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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