Best Practice for Hiring Veterans: Train Them First

For those who recently separated from the military, few things are more irksome than employers who talk a big game about their “support” for hiring veterans, yet do not provide tangible programs or action steps to get boots in the door.

After all, everyone supports re-integrating veterans into the civilian workforce. Right? Easy to say out loud, but far more tasking when it requires a significant investment of time and people power.

Though veteran unemployment overall is nearly half of what it was four years ago, unemployment amongst the youngest veterans (18 to 24 years old) runs as high as 18 percent. Add to that, many of the jobs targeted to veterans are low-skilled and therefore low-paying, which sets up vets for poverty and struggle rather than for success.

While no veteran I know is looking for special treatment, we are appreciative when companies realize the value-add—the discipline, mindset and leadership experience—that many former service members bring to their next chapter. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go after veterans. Let’s take a look at some contrasting approaches:

Doing it Wrong

Vocational Training: Many vocational programs are costly and lack coordination with potential employers. All too often they do not lead to a job, only to veterans feeling frustrated—and broke. And don’t get me started on for-profit universities like the University of Phoenix that survive on GI Bill money with dubious returns on their degrees.

Super Bowl 50: This year the NFL sent event managers to my Air National Guard Wing in Northern California under the banner of “hiring veterans” to work venues in San Francisco for the week leading up to the Super Bowl, and in Santa Clara for the game itself. But the NFL’s patriotism did not extend beyond $15 an hour—a pay scale that borders on exploitation. And no, participating veterans assigned to the stadium did not get a chance to watch the game.

Getting it Right

PG&E: With an expedited training program aimed at veterans, PG&E’s PowerPathway program is customized to suit the positions that it needs to fill. The nonprofit I work for, Swords to Plowshares, partnered with PG&E in order to pre-screen 15 veterans. Upon completing the 10-week program, all participants were hired either by PG&E or by private contracting companies, with an average starting wage of $34.66/hour.

VetsinTech/Salesforce: By hosting a 3-day class to learn Salesforce, the popular cloud computing software, VetsinTech provided veteran participants with an opportunity to get certified as Salesforce Administrators—a valuable tech skill to bring to any company. I belonged to the latest class, held at Salesforce University itself in downtown San Francisco.

Forward Thinking

What these success stories have in common: Both training programs offer a chance to learn the latest skills of the trade, plus a chance to get a feel for the job to ensure it’s the right fit. No cost to veterans, and no initial obligation from employers.

The bottom line is that paying lip service to veteran hiring means little without pre-employment training or on-the-job training that veterans often need to successfully translate their skills to a civilian career. If you genuinely want to hire veterans, then provide them some training first.


Brian Jarvis is a Communication Associate at Swords to Plowshares and a Public Affairs Specialist with the 129th Rescue Wing. Follow him at @briancjarvis.

Feature image from Department of Ecology, State of Washington