Supporting Veterans in the Workplace During Veterans Day and Year-Round

Portrait of Black little daughter with American flag embracing her mom in military uniform

Irving Smith, senior director, global Veterans initiatives, ADP, discusses how organizations can benefit from hiring Veterans and supporting Veterans in the workforce.

It's one thing to champion diversity. It's another to create an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can belong and thrive. For the 200,000 people who leave the military every year and transition into the business world, that gap can make the move seem daunting and impact the success of their new careers.

For Veterans Day, organizations should assess how far they've come in creating an inclusive environment for Veterans and identify areas for growth. But support for Veterans, or the benefits of hiring Veterans, shouldn't be an annual initiative only.

In this interview with Irving Smith, senior director, global Veterans initiatives, ADP, SPARK captures several ways organizations can support Veterans during Veterans Day and year-round.

Q: Why does the Veteran demographic stand out as an attractive opportunity for organizations to recruit the talent they need to be competitive?

IS: Veterans bring transferable experiences and skills to organizations. Through their military service, they develop exceptional leadership qualities, discipline and a strong work ethic. These attributes are invaluable in fostering a culture of excellence and propelling organizations toward success.

Another one of the benefits of hiring Veterans is because they are known for their ability to adapt quickly to new environments and handle high-pressure situations with composure. This adaptability is crucial in today's rapidly changing business climate, where agility and resilience are vital to staying competitive. By harnessing Veterans' diverse perspectives and problem-solving skills, leaders can enhance their ability to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.

Additionally, Veterans often possess technical expertise and specialized training that aligns with industry requirements. Whether in logistics, technology, engineering or project management, their knowledge can be leveraged to strengthen capabilities and drive innovation. By tapping into this talent pool, leaders can enhance operational efficiency and stay at the forefront of their industries.

Lastly, by actively recruiting Veterans, leaders can demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility and support those who have served. This commitment can help foster a positive employer brand and help enhance the reputation of organizations that value diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and the well-being of their employees.

Q: Why do organizations often struggle to adequately support Veteran workforces?

IS: A need for understanding: One common challenge is a need for knowledge and awareness of Veterans' unique experiences and requirements. Some organizations may need to fully understand the skills, values and perspectives Veterans bring. This can lead to alignment in providing the appropriate support and resources necessary for Veterans to thrive.

Transition challenges: Transitioning from military to civilian life can be a significant adjustment for Veterans. They may face difficulties translating their military skills to the civilian job market, understanding corporate culture and adapting to new work environments. Organizations with effective transition programs or resources can provide needed support during this critical time.

Limited Veteran-specific programs: Organizations can benefit from specific programs or initiatives tailored to the unique needs of Veterans. For example, mentoring programs, networking opportunities or support groups specifically designed for Veterans can be instrumental to their successful integration into the workforce. Organizations may miss opportunities to support their Veteran employees without these targeted initiatives.

A need for communication and engagement: Effective communication and engagement are crucial in supporting any group, including Veterans. Establishing open lines of communication, providing platforms for feedback or actively seeking input from Veteran employees may help organizations address Veterans' specific needs and concerns.

A need for training and education: Training and education on Veteran-related topics, such as military culture, can help create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for Veterans. Challenges in providing appropriate support may arise without investments in such training.

Q: Could you discuss any overlaps you see between leadership in the military and business worlds and why that matters when recruiting and retaining Veterans?

IS: Ability to operate in high-pressure environments: Military and business leaders often face high-stakes situations requiring quick decisions under pressure. Veterans are trained to effectively handle stress and maintain composure in challenging circumstances. This adaptability can translate well into the business world, where leaders must navigate complex and rapidly changing environments.

Strong sense of discipline and accountability: Military training emphasizes discipline and a strong work ethic. These qualities are highly transferable to the business world, where leaders must set high standards, motivate their teams and ensure tasks are completed precisely and efficiently. Veterans often bring a sense of dedication and responsibility to their roles, positively impacting team dynamics and organizational culture.

Effective communication and teamwork: Both military and business leaders must be skilled communicators and team players. In the military, effective communication is essential for mission success, and leaders must be able to convey clear instructions and goals to their teams. Similarly, in the business world, leaders must communicate their vision, motivate employees and foster collaboration. Veterans often possess excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work well within teams.

Experience leading diverse teams: Military leaders often lead teams composed of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and skill sets. This experience can be invaluable in business, where leaders must manage teams with varying perspectives and experiences. Veterans are often adept at fostering inclusion, promoting teamwork and leveraging the strengths of each team member to achieve organizational objectives.

Recruiting and retaining Veterans can benefit organizations in multiple ways. Veterans bring unique skills, experiences and perspectives that can contribute to a diverse and dynamic workforce. Moreover, their leadership qualities, honed through military service, can positively impact team performance, organizational culture and overall success.

Organizations should establish straightforward transition programs to recruit and retain Veterans effectively, provide mentorship opportunities and create a supportive and inclusive work environment. Recognizing and valuing the overlaps between military and business leadership enables organizations to tap into Veterans' immense potential.

Q: What can organizations do to support Veterans year-round?

IS: First, establish a Veteran business resource group (BRG) for Veterans and their allies. BRGs are a big part of Veteran support ecosystems. Furthermore, BRG members can help organizations find Veteran applicants, serving as excellent complements to recruitment teams.

Second, be visible in your local communities by using corporate philanthropy and working with third-party Veteran organizations; the BRG can help with this, too. Additionally, look for Veterans to hire and remind hiring managers and recruiters to seek out Veteran talent.

Finally, consider encouraging Veterans to self-identify (self-ID). It's tough to help Veterans if you don't know who they are. Plus, organizations benefit from having Veterans on their teams. For some new hires, organizations can apply for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) of up to $9,600.

Q: How often does support for Veterans expand to empower other underrepresented groups?

IS: I have seen several examples of this phenomenon throughout my professional career. A great example is with onboarding. Many companies have onboarding programs that help Veterans assimilate that are different than typical onboarding. Veteran onboarding programs typically involve mentorship, training, meetings with senior leaders and other activities.

Many Veteran onboarding initiatives are best in class and subsequently adopted to prepare other team members to deliver value in the shortest time possible. The old saying, "A rising tide lifts all boats," is appropriate, considering how Veteran initiatives can empower other underrepresented groups (URGs). Additionally, we know that Veterans come from every URG. This reality creates an opportunity to employ more Veterans and URGs simultaneously.

Q: What advice do you have for organizations that want to strengthen their commitments to supporting Veterans in the workforce?

IS: Establish a Veteran hiring program: Develop a formal program focusing on hiring, onboarding and retaining Veterans. This program can include targeted outreach efforts, partnerships with Veteran organizations and specialized training for hiring managers who need to understand Veterans' unique skills and experiences. By prioritizing Veteran hiring, you demonstrate a commitment to supporting their transition into the civilian workforce.

Create a Veteran-friendly work environment: Foster a workplace culture that is inclusive and supportive of Veterans. This culture can be achieved by implementing policies that accommodate military obligations, by providing resources for Veterans to connect and support each other and by offering mentorship programs that pair Veterans with experienced employees. Encourage open dialogue and provide channels for Veterans to share their perspectives and experiences, such as a BRG.

Provide transition assistance: Recognize that transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging for Veterans. Offer resources for potential applicants, such as resume-writing assistance, interview preparation and career counseling tailored to their needs. Consider establishing partnerships with local Veteran service organizations to provide additional support and guidance during the transition process.

Offer professional development: Invest in the professional development of Veterans by offering tailored training programs, workshops and educational opportunities. This investment demonstrates your commitment to their long-term success and growth within the organization. Providing opportunities for Veterans to enhance their skills and knowledge can contribute to their company loyalty and sense of belonging.

Recognize and celebrate military service: Acknowledge and appreciate the contributions and sacrifices of Veterans. Celebrate military holidays, such as Veterans Day, and create opportunities for Veterans to share their stories and experiences. Recognize their achievements and milestones within the workplace and in their personal lives. This recognition helps foster a sense of pride and belonging among Veterans.

Engage in community partnerships: Build relationships with local Veteran organizations and community groups supporting Veterans. Collaborate on initiatives such as job fairs, networking events and volunteer opportunities. By actively engaging with the Veteran community, you demonstrate your commitment beyond the workplace, creating a positive reputation as a Veteran-friendly employer.

Supporting Veterans in the workplace year-round

Supporting Veterans in the workforce is an ongoing commitment. Regularly evaluate and assess the effectiveness of your initiatives, seek feedback from Veterans within your organization and adjust as needed. By prioritizing and investing in the well-being and success of Veterans, you can create a workplace culture that values their contributions and fosters long-term commitment.

For more on how your organization can do and be its best, visit the ADP DE&I Resource Center.

ADP's Military Strong BRG

ADP's Military Strong BRG fosters a strong community for its Veteran employees, their families and their allies. Its activities seek to honor and build an internal network for Veterans while engaging external entities to give back to local and national military charities and organizations. The BRG's celebratory month is in November, aligning with National Veterans and Military Families Month and Veterans Day.

Are you interested in potential Veteran job opportunities? Join ADP's talent community.