Military

Veteran employment and retention focus of conference

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Mentoring, accommodations for disabilities and support programs in the workplace are three things businesses can offer to increase veterans’ chances of success in post-service careers.

Those ideas were shared during a panel discussion on veteran retention Feb. 15 at the Veteran Small Business and Why Hire a Veteran Conference, presented by the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

During a breakout session, business owners and human resource specialists suggested employers consider military veterans’ past experiences and develop initiatives to make them feel valued, such as through company announcements and activities.

“It’s so important that veteran employees feel like they’re a part of the team because at the end of the day, that’s what we know, to be a part of a team,” said panelist Shirley Martinez, a veteran who is an equal employment specialist and diversity advisor for Colorado Springs Utilities.

Programs and rewards

Martinez spent 15 years in the Army and said she knows firsthand the struggles of transitioning into the civilian workforce as a military veteran.

“I started working at Colorado Springs Utilities right after I retired from the military,” she said. “I remember feeling like I didn’t belong and like no one really took me under their wing.”

Martinez said it wasn’t until after Sept. 11, 2001, that the company began looking into how many of its employees were veterans, focusing on those who were on military reserve status.

“Initially I didn’t reach out because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but after 9/11, I asked my boss if I could put together a program,” she said. “We had 286 vets, and I needed to figure out what we need to do here to help them.”

“About 80 percent of the time an employee with a psychiatric disability is not going to disclose it to their employer.” 

— Chantal Woodyard

CSU launched its program, “Deployment to Employment,” and established a veterans committee to engage veteran hires.

The committee is composed of employees who served in different military branches and CSU departments, and meets once a month.

“The focus is: How do we effectively help those coming into the organization feel like this is the right decision they’ve made and how, as an organization, are we going to sustain them?” Martinez said. “It’s a process of not just saying ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here, you’re hired, and we support vets,’ but also ‘Let’s talk along the way and make sure that you have the resources you need.’”

Awareness 

Psychiatric issues often have the most stigma attached and are the least reported, said Chantal Woodyard, owner of Advantage Advocacy and Consulting Services.

“About 80 percent of the time an employee with a psychiatric disability is not going to disclose it to their employer,” she said. “If you notice a veteran having an ‘off day,’ you can certainly open the conversation to them about maybe needing an accommodation and keeping it business-related so they feel comfortable having that conversation with you.”

Lynette Crow-Iverson, owner of drug-screening company Conspire, has 25 full-time and part-time employees, including military veterans. She said one had served for more than 12 years as an explosives expert.

“After a few weeks, he was doing a really good job, and then I could see some off days,” Crow-Iverson said. “I started paying attention to that and when I would see him having an off day, I would pull him out of the clinic or give him a special project.”

Four years later, he is one of her best employees.

“He’s never late and is extremely dedicated,” she said. “I’m really glad I took a chance and invested in him because he’s turned out to be phenomenal.”

Manage expectations

While transitioning, military veterans need to be realistic about duties and salary. Employers need to focus on the job’s worth in the market, said Marnel Mola, a human resources consultant for Mountain State Employers Council.

“It’s important to have a conversation around expectations, making sure that is what you’re basing salary decisions on,” she said. “Veterans may be starting over, but they’re going to advance quickly if they already have some experience.”

Crow-Iverson said she usually pays veterans more because of their skill sets, including soft skills.

Steven Walsh is retiring this year after 20 years in the Air Force as a health care administrator. He said he attended the conference to better understand what employers are looking for in veteran hires.

“I haven’t started the formal interviewing process but have been massaging relationships and trying to build networks,” he said. “The transition isn’t as smooth as one would hope but there are a lot of resources in our community. There are a lot of people who take the time to mentor military veterans, helping guide them through the process, which makes it easier.”

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