There are more than 9,000 veterans living in Williamson County, but many struggle to integrate into the private sector after service.
According to a report from Rand Corporation, veterans typically have higher unemployment than non-veterans with similar backgrounds. The trend is especially pronounced for young veterans.
At a Williamson Inc. event last week, advocates encouraged local employers to take a chance on veteran job applicants who might not have a traditional resume, and offered advice for employers about making the most of new hires coming from the military.
Mike Jackson, a veteran and a career advisor for the nonprofit Campbell Strong, which offers financial assistance for people leaving the military, said it’s difficult to transition from a highly structured and hierarchical environment to a private sector job.
“The civilians side is very, very different and very, very challenging. It's always changing,” he said. “The military structure does not change that much. All we do is repeat stuff we were doing five years ago.”
It’s important for employers to recognize this difference in culture, Jack said. As an example, he said veterans might hesitate to speak up because they don’t want to blurt out the wrong answer. Instead of expecting instant feedback, he said employers should give veterans them more time to think about their responses.
Kelly Cubberly, an Army veteran and Technical Sales manager at Dell, told the group that the first step to making the most of veteran employees is simply identifying the veterans already working at a company.
“Some of them are in the background. They might not always want to raise their hand or wave a big American flag, and say, 'Hey, I'm a veteran,'” she said.
Once companies identify veterans, she suggested connecting them to other veterans in the organization. She said that can build a sense of camaraderie and improve communication.
After serving in the Air Force in Vietnam and Africa, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson said he often served as a translator between veterans and civilian business leaders.
“I had to translate to our HR department when a young man came back from Afghanistan or Vietnam, that his career didn't always line up with what we were looking for in the civilian side,” he said. “We had to have some education with our HR department to translate firing weapons and traveling and leading and all of those things.”
Cubberly added that using veterans as recruiters is one of the best ways to attract more veterans to a company. Those recruiters will have an easier time recognizing the skills on a military resume that will be relevant for the company.
The state of Tennessee and nonprofits like Campbell Strong also offer assistance to veterans looking for work and companies willing to hire them.
Campbell Strong can pay half of a veteran’s salary for the first 10 weeks of employment, and also offers financial assistance directly to veterans searching for a job. Tennessee gives veterans advance access to job postings and also offers resume assistance and interview coaching.
While it can take time for veterans to transition to a civilian job, Colin Yankee, a veteran who works on supply chains for Tractor Supply, said they tend to advance quickly if they land in the right environment.
He encouraged employers to recruit veterans for jobs where they are likely to do well, jobs with a team orientation and a mission focus.
Even in those situations, he said hiring veterans can feel like a risk because their background doesn’t look like a similar candidate. Hiring a veteran might mean making adjustments, but he said it’s worth the effort.
“It's easy to hire someone where the resume looks exactly like the job description," he said. “If that's what your hiring managers and front line folks are doing, then give up. You have to take a risk. Hire confidence. Hire character."