Season 1 • Episode 2
The veteran unemployment rate is now at an all-time low, but studies reveal that nearly ⅓ of veterans are underemployed. To better understand how employers can connect with veteran job seekers, our team sat down with David Muir from Easterseals Veteran Staffing Network to discuss all-things veteran hiring.
About DE Talk
For DirectEmployers, it’s all about valuable connections and meaningful conversations. This monthly podcast features honest and open dialogue between powerhouse industry experts on a variety of HR topics ranging from OFCCP compliance advice to emerging recruitment marketing trends, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and insightful solutions that help infuse new life into your HR strategies.
Hosted by Candee Chambers, Executive Director of DirectEmployers Association.
Strategic Partnerships & Alliances Specialist, DirectEmployers Association
Mikey Meagher is a Strategic Partnership and Alliances Specialist with DirectEmployers. For over two years, Mikey has had an integral role in connecting Members with a diverse group of partners, and helping foster relationships that assist in developing a more diverse workforce.
SVP of Easterseals Veteran Staffing Network (VSN)
Mr. Muir served in the VA Army National Guard as an infantryman and M-60 gunner and is currently the Senior Vice President of Easterseals Veteran Staffing Network (VSN). The VSN is dedicated to providing top-tier military talent to employers while assisting veterans, guardsmen, reservists and military spouses secure long-term, meaningful jobs.
Welcome back to our second episode of the DE Talk Podcast. My name is Candee Chambers with DirectEmployers, and I’m really excited this morning as we have one of our partnership specialists, Mikey Meagher interviewing a dear friend of DirectEmployers, a person by the name of David Muir.
You all know that the veteran unemployment rate is now at an all time low, but studies reveal that nearly one third of veterans are underemployed. To better understand how employers can connect with veteran job seekers, our team sat down with David Muir from Easterseals Veterans Staffing Network to discuss all things veteran hiring. From connecting with employers and organizations like DirectEmployers, to assisting veterans in their transition, this one man show is assisting veterans in the DC Metro area and proving that there is more to a veteran resume than what there often appears on paper.
Now I would like to introduce Mikey Meagher. She’s been with DirectEmployers for, I think, two and a half years, and she is one of our upstanding partner specialists and she knows a lot of people in the partnership space. So, I am going to let you introduce and give David’s bio, Mikey.
All right, thank you so much, Candee. It’s an honor to be here today and to interview David. As Candee was saying, what an impressive resume.
To get started and a little bit about David’s background, David is the head of a social enterprise project of Easterseals of the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area of the Veterans Staffing Network. They are dedicated to getting our veterans and their spouses into good jobs, and providing top tier military talents to employers. He led a cradle to the grave government procurement cycle awarding 4.5 million, including forecast analysis, response to FRI, FRP, proposal development, desktop publishing, project management, instructional design, training documentation, in-person content delivery, report generation, status meetings with government and prime contract representatives, personnel management, and video multi-media production.
He created a job searching training workshop that is supported by the Ohio State University and used at Virginia Employment Commission. He acted as a subject matter expert, solution architect, and led instructional designer for the redesign of the Department of Labor vets employment workshop, developed multiple lines of businesses in the government and commercial spaces, recruited for national and international positions, analyzed, optimized, and created multiple systems and training programs, and operate and recovered of failing multi-million dollar restaurants.
Wow. So, so lucky to have David here with us today. And again, thank you for joining us.
Before we get started, a little background on how David and DirectEmployers came to be is Shannon Offord, our vice president of partnerships, actually met you, David, about four years ago at an Easterseals event in Chicago and you two found out you had a lot in common, I think as many people do with Shannon. Prior to meeting you, he actually remembers seeing you on TV and knew of your passion for veterans. From that point you developed a friendship that ultimately led into a partnership with DirectEmployers, and you later attended our 2018 annual meeting conference in Seattle where you and I actually met for the first time and presented on the Veterans Staffing Network.
So, let’s start by giving our listeners a little insight, David, into your background. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? You yourself served in the Army, so what was your role and when did you serve?
Thank you. I can’t believe that whole background was me. Are you sure you’ve got the right guy? So anyway, it’s an honor to be here and I do value my partnership with you guys.
I actually enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard on my 17th birthday way back in 1989 and was a machine gunner in the infantry for the 29th flight infantry division. I did my six years and got out in May of 1995 and was fortunate to have served during peace time and was never really deployed anywhere.
And then thought that my military experience was in the rear view mirror, and fast forward many years later after a culinary and restaurant career, changed into the professional staffing universe and that ultimately led me to designing the GigSpire program, which was job search training, which was sorely needed when the recession began.
At that time, the only program I had ever heard of to help people learn how to get a job was the TAPS program, Transition Assistance Program, put out by the Department of Labor. So, in May of 2009 I audited a transition class and saw that it was very outdated and still needs some help and that ultimately led to me finding some teammates and leading the first redesigned in that employment workshop that every service member gets when they exit the military now.
And then that lead me to come into Easterseals when I heard they wanted to create this fantastic program called the Veterans Staffing Network.
Awesome. And you mentioned thinking your military career was in the rear view mirror. So, can you tell our listeners how your service and the skills you learned in the military ended up impacting your life moving forward?
Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s really kind of funny the things that get ingrained into you during your military service that you don’t realize, particularly in your youth; discipline, respect, commitment, doing things right the first time, trying to be as efficient as possible, constantly being open to being trained on how to do something new, just true resilience. A lot of these things… leadership. You don’t even know that you’re a project manager when you’re in the military, you just do your job. And so, all of these things, now that I’m on the civilian side and I’ve worked in the employment space for nearly two decades, all these different skills met are just a part of wearing the cross of the nation really are ingrained, and they don’t leave you. It’s like riding a bike.
And the great thing about what we do here at Easterseals with our staffing network is to help these men and women kind of realize that they have these skills so that we can help them, and help employers, understand what those skills are and how they can be applied to help everybody have a great meaningful employer employee relationship.
Awesome. All great skills learned as well. What do you consider, out of all those, to be the most valuable thing learned while serving that has kind of launched you into helping other veterans getting positions?
I think it’s the resilience. Never stop. Job search is challenging. I think anyone who has ever looked for a job can identify with that. It’s a stressful thing, it’s a negative feedback loop a lot of times, and it can create a lot of despair in some people.
And so, working with the military population and helping them kind of see through that despair and understand that they have a lot to offer employers and how to engage them has been something that takes fortitude and the fact that we can tap into that resilience is exciting and I use that resilience throughout my life outside of my profession, too. So, I would say that that is probably my favorite thing about being a prior soldier.
Great. And in talking about your resilience, we hear you won an award during your service, the Soldier of the Year award. Can you tell us a little bit about this award and why it’s so meaningful to you?
Sure. It was a company level award. So, out of, I think it’s 160-something people… I’m an old guy now so the memory… but it’s about 160 people in the company between the three different platoons we had. They vote on a soldier of the year and I was selected to represent our company over the year. So, it was four enlisted junior non-commissioned officers, I was a corporal, and so there were a variety of tasks that they had to know, different duties and how to perform the different tasks as an infantry soldier.
I got the chance to go represent and it felt good. Anytime your peers select you and recognize you for being committed to doing the job right was pretty special, and so I enjoy that.
Great. And I just want to say, on behalf of DE and myself, we thank you so much for your service. While I never served in the military, it’s definitely greatly appreciated. You definitely earned your military badge of honor, that’s for sure.
As many veterans have transitioned out of the military, they often struggle with where to go next and that whole question of, “What skills do I actually have,” comes into play. So, can you talk a little bit about your transition from the military and possibly any apprenticeship programs that you took to start your career?
Yep. So, I was in college while I was serving in the National Guard. My transition out, like I said, I thought I was just kind of done with the military and wasn’t going to be something that I needed. What I was studying in school didn’t work out and I had a very lost feeling. I was no longer a soldier, I was no longer going to be a teacher, and I came across a culinary apprenticeship and ultimately that led me to have an almost 15 year career in the restaurant industry.
But the reason the apprenticeship really resonated with me was it was a structured training program that had a definitive end date, it had standards of excellence that needed to be achieved in order to [inaudible 00:11:18] over time. And I think when you look at that type of a framework, it’s very similar to what the military puts in place. There are roles, responsibilities of duties to being in the military regardless of branch or what your job category is, and each of those standards needs to be met and they need to be met with an exceptional level of commitment and performance for a variety of reasons. If people do things wrong in the military, it could cost lives, and so it’s important to take your job very seriously.
And so, that modality of learning how to become a solder and learning how to train to become a soldier fit very well with an apprenticeship process and have the years have gone by, we’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of apprenticeships that are out there to help develop the workforce of the future. And you’re seeing an awful lot of people coming out of the military who are taking advantage of the apprenticeships and really getting into some great opportunities.
And with talking with the framework of an apprenticeship program, would you consider that, when you talk to other veterans, do you highly recommend an apprenticeship program for them after they transition out of the military?
Everybody’s different, right? But apprenticeships are a really great place if they’re not sure and you want to develop a skill, it’s a great structured learning environment. Of course, you’re going to have others who, you know, they want to be in whatever profession they want to be in and they have the opportunity to go and leverage some educational benefits and they go to school. But not everybody is meant for college and secondary education like that, so apprenticeship is great.
Another type of mindset are entrepreneurs. And some people want to go start a business and they have their own plans, but for those who aren’t quite sure how to go about doing that, franchises have become a really, really great tool for veterans that have an entrepreneurial spirit, but he or she may not have that business savvy because franchises have been developed and they’ve been proven as a successful business model. And so you also are seeing a lot of new franchise owners come from the military and be successful.
And what did you learn as a veteran job seeker turned staffing professional that you can share with employers who are trying to actively recruit veteran talent?
There’s a couple of key things. One is there’s a difference in the mindset of joining the military and training to become a service member versus a civilian employer. And what I mean by that is in the military they hire for ability and they train for the job, right? They do a complete assessment of who this person is when they join the military and then they say, “This person would be good for these types of jobs,” and then they train that person. I didn’t know how to fire a rifle or shoot a machine gun before I joined the Army. They taught me how to do that.
With the civilian workforce, training is expensive. And so finding somebody and making an investment in training on a new hire is scary. And so, employers are looking for someone who can “hit the ground running” and not every veteran has those skills walking in the door, but they are capable of training. You can hear a service member frequently say, “Well, just tell me what you want me to do, show me how to do it and I’ll get it done,” and that is the mindset that they’re ingrained with. So there’s that chasm to overcome.
And then I would say that the second biggest thing that I’ve come to learn through my career as far as the difference between somebody from the military and the civilian workforce is accomplishments, right? So, if I’m interviewing with you and all I do is talk about my team because there’s no individual in the military, everybody does it as a unit or a squad or a division or a fleet, and so that’s the mindset that that service member, that veteran candidate is now thinking. And the reality is, that if you’re interviewing me, you don’t care what my unit, squad, fleet, division did. You want to know what I did. What was my individual accomplishment because if I can accomplish things somewhere else, I can more than likely accomplish things for you as your employee.
There’s another one of those cultural chasms where a lot of time a service member has not reflected on the specific accomplishments that he or she had in the military. One of my favorite examples is when I was teaching a TAP class, I had a young man who was coming out of the Navy at 28 years old and everybody’s homework assignment was to go home and think of a couple of accomplishments that we could talk about on their resume. So, when he came in, he said, “You know, David, I can’t think of anything.” And so I said, “Well, all right. Well, what do you do in the Navy?” He said, “Well, I’m the right hand man to the air boss.” And I said, “Stop right there. First of all, I’m Army, I don’t know what an air boss is and a good chance nobody else does either.”
Do you guys know what an air boss is, out of curiosity?
No? Okay. So, the air boss is the officer on an aircraft carrier who’s in charge of all the aircraft, 300-somethingish aircraft. And that person is constantly so focused on the aircraft that are actually in the air flying around that this young man, from the age of late 25 to 28, was in charge of the flight deck of an air craft carrier. So, this person was scheduling 200-300 people, we was managing safety training, and by the way he was responsible for putting $20 billion of the United States property in the air in a scramble drill.
And when I brought that kind of stuff to his attention he said, “Gosh, I never thought about it that way. I just did my job.” And that’s really one of the biggest chasms and something that an employer who’s looking to hire veterans can take away as, don’t just ask a question and not probe because a lot of times that veteran candidate has not done the reflection of their individual accomplishments inside the role of performing their duties, if that makes sense.
Yes, definitely. That was a very great example and I’m sure a lot of employers will definitely take that into consideration when interviewing future veteran employees.
So, to kind of bring us into our next topic, you had a long journey to get to where you are today. From active duty, to staffing work, to then redesigned the Department of Labors employment workshop and the Transition Assistance Program otherwise knows as TAP. Tell us a little bit about the program you redesigned and what that means for veterans and employers.
Well, I want to be candid and first say I was never on active duty as a national guardsmen. I got fortunate, was not called up, although I would have loved to. I just think that the National Guard were the first ones to show the video of we’re out of helicopters and blowing stuff up real good, so they got me first.
But, the Department of Labors deployment workshop was part of the overall Transition Assistance Program. When I audited the class in 2009, it was an outdated program candidly. It was based on job search tools and techniques that were used in the late 90s. There was really no mention of social media and how tools like LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter could be used to help market yourself, it didn’t have any of that content. There were no scripts to really help educate the individual on how to engage an employer. It was just kind of here’s a basic what a resume looks like and here’s what you should do and here’s how you fill out a job application and it was two and a half days, and it wasn’t even mandatory back then.
And so, the curriculum that I had designed was really built for a person who knew nothing about job search and they wanted to do it themselves and they wanted to do it the right way. And so I took all the techniques that I used as a profession staffing business person from approaching perspective employers and talking to them and getting them to do business with me and everything I did to recruit a candidate and polish up that persons resume and make that match happen. It’s not rocket science. Job search just has a thousand little things that could go wrong. And so the goal was to help them navigate that so that they could successfully find their own job.
And the really exciting thing about that re-design back in 2011 was it was really a joint effort, right? So, the federal government from the office of the Secretary of Defense, all five branches of the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, everybody recognized we had this unemployment crisis throughout the country but really in the veteran population was gigantic. And so in addition to having the privilege to go ahead and lead that re-design, it was made mandatory.
More than 200,000 leave the military every year, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with that. But everybody is mandated to go through that training and it’s really… if you look at the difference between unemployment back then when you had particularly first term enlisted population at nearly 30% unemployment rate to what it is today, it’s really staggering. Then the exciting thing is not only was that first revision done back in 2011, but jointly the government has continued to make refinements and improvements on that to modernize it and help get employers onto it as well.
So, you mentioned you built the program from, in terms of the lengths as someone who knew nothing about the job search and how they can navigate that. Was that your main goal in determining what was most important for veterans to learn through this job search process?
You know, I think it’s important for everybody because everybody needs a job. But the unique challenges that people leaving the military face when it comes to job search was really important, right? So, helping them understand skills translators, there’s a website called O*Net OnLine that’s put together by the Department of Labor that has a military skills occupational code translator to help them understand and just helping to provide these men and women with additional tools that help them overcome these challenges based on their unique experience was really rewarding and it’s been exciting to see more tools develop over time to help these folks.
It’s really important to make sure that these men and women are prepared. Not only veterans but also their family members. Keep in mind that military spouses, their unemployment numbers are still very, very high comparative to the rest of the workforce and that’s because these men and women face unique challenges where they’re bounced around the planet every couple of three years, there’s stigmas around hiring a military spouse or family member. And so there’s still a lot of work to do and there’s a big effort to continue to push and make that happen.
But yeah, when I designed this program it had to be tweaked a little bit to make sure it was accommodating to the special challenges that service members face.
Is this curriculum still in use today with the TAP program?
Yes, some of my original content is there, but like I said they continue to make refinements and adjustments. I don’t think any training program really cannot evolve. If we think about just how different the world is in 2019 compared to what it looked like in 2011, social media has become a much bigger influencer when it comes to job search. You know, fax machines used to be a way people communicated with resumes back in the early 2000s. When was the last time you faxed a document?
So, the program has continued in evolution with the Department of Labor, particularly their veterans employment training service has continually pushed out and had curriculum review and curriculum revisions. But the last time I looked two years ago, my original scripts for engaging employers were still verbatim in that training and that’s exciting.
Very exciting. And that brings us up to the GigSpire curriculum is something you still use in your work for Easterseals Veterans Staffing Network. For those listeners who aren’t maybe as familiar with the Veterans Staffing Network and its mission, can you tell us about your work?
Sure. So, at the beginning of 2012 I took a little break. The re-design was pretty heavy lifting at the end of 2011. And then towards the beginning of the fall, right around now actually back in 2011, I caught wind that Easterseals wanted to build this really innovative program to help veterans and their families. And it was around job search, and it caught my ear.
What they wanted to do was create the first self-sustaining employment solution for veterans and their families. You see, employment programs throughout history have always been funded by the government and that comes with limitations on who can access that training, like the training is all delivered on a base and if I’ve been out and I don’t have base access I can’t get to it, if the class is full a spouse may not be able to get to it, kids may not be able to get to it, caregivers of wounded warriors can’t get to it.
And so, I thought it was kind of cool that they wanted to build this inclusive thing. And I don’t know how much you know about Easterseals, all I knew is they did nice things for people. Something with handicapped kids, but that was all I knew, right? And Easterseals, quite frankly, I think is the biggest and most best kept secret about a wonderful organization.
We’ve been around 100 years. We started in Chicago as a society for crippled children because our founder saw that these kids needed someone to be their champion. Today we have 74 affiliate [poppers 00:26:42] all across the country, and we are very much a grassroots community based service organization where we develop programs that our communities need to help everybody live, learn, work, and play in their own communities in an inclusive environment.
So, the Veterans Staffing Network was just an innovative extension of an already rich history of innovation at Easterseals. And our mission really is to be completely inclusive of veterans or family members from any era to help provide them access to training to be able to get a job. To help them be able to navigate that black hole job search negative feedback, to help them understand really who they are when they leave military service and to identify those skills that are valuable, to help identify career paths that are meaningful for that person. Not just a job, but a real career that’s fulfilling.
So, we’ve got career coaches on staff and we did start our program, quite frankly, was meant to do just that. And so the way that we pay for our services instead of relying on grants is we engage the business community under the adoption of a commercial staffing firm model, right? So, our employer partners are organizations that pay for staffing services, they work with temps, they work with head hunters. I’m a head hunter, no blow to my nose, though. That’s funny, come on.
Anyway, we work with these businesses. We help identify the types of candidates that they’re looking for and then we go and find them from the veteran community. And then when we place those individuals in a job, whether it’s a temp to hire job or a direct placement opportunity, the fee we collect from our employer partner rolls back into the program and that’s what pays for our career coaches and our infrastructure to be able to deliver this social mission and we don’t have to worry about who can and can’t access the training. If somebody wants it, we’re here to help them.
To date we’ve placed more than 1,200 people in 30 states in a variety of industries from big to small companies. And those revenues has allowed us to provide career coaching support to more than 12,000 people. It’s really exciting. The program just continues to get bigger and bigger.
As a matter of fact, we just finished our biggest year yet and we’re excited to see continued growth and partnership with direct employers is just another way that that happens.
Wow. Those are some really awesome numbers and congrats on it being the best year yet. We definitely want to keep partnering with you and do anything we can to help place veterans in positions.
And I got to say, you have the best of both world with helping veterans while assisting employers with their needs. It sounds like you’re wearing a lot of different hats at Veterans Staffing Network and in charge of everything from veteran relations to veteran support, this is definitely a huge undertaking. Would you mind explaining your process of how employers utilize your service?
Absolutely, absolutely. So, really it starts with a conversation. Is their business one that can work with a staffing service? Let’s face it, not every business uses staffing support services, it’s not an expense, right? So does that organization work with the staffing service and if so in what capacity? What types of job are they looking to fill through our service? And so we have that initial discussion, are we going to be good business partners discussion, just like any other ordinary business discussion.
Once it’s determined we put an agreement to do work in place. We have conversations with their HR and their recruiting managers, their frontline hiring authorities, and really kind of understand in depth exactly what this candidate should look like. What kind of skills do they need to have? What are some of the intangibles that would tip the scales one candidate versus another? Once we find a candidate, how do we get them through our employer partners process? What are the evaluation criteria? And then our recruiters and our career coaches go to work.
We establish partnerships in a variety of organizations in addition to direct employers. But we’ve also got partnership with major veteran service organizations like the American Legion and AMVETS and the VFW. We’ve established partnerships with government organizations like the Army Reserve, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs on the federal level and their respective state counterparts know who we are. Student Veterans of America is one of our great partners. Association of the US Army just became one of our partners just last month.
And so when we start casting a net to find veterans and service members and their families, we’ll pulse these organizations because there’s no magic way to reach all veterans and each one of these organizations has access to a unique population of people from the military universe. When we are looking for spouses we go to Blue Star Families, a military spouse employment partnership and to the US Chamber of Commerce is Hiring Our Heroes. And so they help push the word out and really amplify the message to our military community about the employer partner that we have and the position that we are trying to fill.
We screen that individual and then we put them through the evaluation process internally and then through the evaluation process with our employer partner and it’s not always a match, but that’s our hope all the time is that we can find the right person.
And for those organizations that are working with us we offer free consultations on how to develop a robust military employment program so that they can become a military friendly employer, a recognized place. I like to say we’re the only staffing organization that wants to work itself out of clients. We come in, we see an organization with veterans and their families, we help train the organization through the development of an executive champion and the creation of the right types of marketing materials with their advertising and marketing teams to make sure they’re pushing the methods out to the right place, to working with their recruiting and hiring managers on asking interview questions in a way that will really help them find the skills. I like to call it [pool 00:33:17] interviewing.
And example I love to give there is as a 23 year old machine gunner walking out of the woods, if I was interviewing with you and you said, “Tell me about your customer service skills,” I would have looked at you funny, right? They taught me how to hide behind rocks, trees, and bushes and blow stuff up real good. What do you mean customer service, right? But, if that question was framed just a little differently to be, “David, tell me about a time where you had to help somebody, you didn’t know who they were, never seen them before, but you had to take care of their problem,” well, I had dozens of stories. You know, Major Smith rolled up and his Humvee wasn’t there and I didn’t know who Major Smith was and I had to run it by the duty sergeant to get the… and that’s essentially customer service, I just didn’t know that’s what it was called, right?
And so, asking questions in a way to help that veteran candidate think through his or her accomplishments and really being able to talk and identify that.
All the way to the development of retention programs because notoriously, some statistics have demonstrated that veterans tend to change jobs after a year when they first get out and sometimes that’s because they’ve been miss-hired. But a lot of times it’s just because the retention concept is not there so we help our employer partners develop low cost and easy to implement retention programs.
And so that whole service is wrapped up and eventually that employer will have veterans come in to them without us and then we go onto the next business and we do that all over again.
Wow. All great information again. In mentioning retention programs, is that something that you would say separates your staffing agency over others that place veterans? Kind of walk us through a little bit about what separates you from the rest of the agencies.
I think it’s all the back-end stuff, right? So, having been in a commercial staffing firm before, the way I earn money is to make a placement. And so if I provide a candidate to you who is not a fit, that candidate is not going to hear from me again, I’m going to say, “Sorry, you didn’t get the job,” and that’s it. Whereas our program, we want to know why because that person’s going to get triaged to a career coach and we’re going to talk to them about why they weren’t a fit, about why they didn’t interview properly or effectively so that we can help that person be better prepared for the next one. That’s not happening in a commercial staffing firm.
In no way is an organization commercially that’s staffing veterans going to try and help that employer become better at hiring veterans so that they don’t need them anymore.
It is a give back nature of what Easterseals is. That is all the difference in the world. So, although I have no problem with companies that are working for profit and one of their specialties is veterans or military, it is the back-end community based service that Easterseals offers through the Veterans Staffing Network that is all the difference in the world.
If you look at the numbers of everybody we placed, every veteran or family member that we placed, between four and six other people are receiving support services of some form or fashion. And that it the most awesome part about our program and why I would encourage every business out there who’s working with staffing firms to give us a try.
And you mentioned earlier about putting up big numbers and placing veterans this year. Overall throughout the years, can you give a number about how many employers and veterans you’ve connected throughout the years?
Well, I mean, we’ve touched an awful lot of people over the years. And we’ve worked with a variety of industries. But we could always use more, right? I’m always looking for more employers. We currently have, I think, more than 70 different organizations that are doing business with us at any given time. That number ebbs and flows. Hopefully it’ll increase after our podcast effort here today.
It absolutely will.
We’re always look for employers who are looking to hire veterans.
And that bring us to, for all of our members out there and listening who would want to connect with you, what areas do you service? So, if an employer does want to work with you, do they need to be located in a designated area?
Nope. We serve all 50 states and Puerto Rico and DC because that’s a territory, too. We tried Guam, although I haven’t had a chance there yet. I’m waiting to get a client out in Hawaii because I really need to make a client visit out there.
Well, we support the entire nation. What we’re looking for are living wage jobs, right? So, when you think about someone who comes out after eight years in the service, they might have a spouse and a couple of kids and taking a $10-$12 an hour job is not really going to be able to provide for their families.
Sometimes it’s all they can find, and that has led to the under employment of our veteran workforce. Because they are taking these low paying jobs, they’ve got to work two and three jobs just to keep the lights on and that impacts families a lot and it happens all across the country. It’s been a bit notorious through the veteran population.
So, depends on where the company is working. The greater the population, the greater the number of veterans that are in that area, but the reality is there’s veterans everywhere in the country. Some who just got out, some who have been out like myself, gosh, coming up on 30 years. Oh my gosh, 30 years. I’m old, what can I say?
Oh, that’s nothing.
So, during many conversations, you’ve shared some stories of some veterans that you’ve helped, many of which have incredible life stories. Could you share a story with us that maybe comes to mind and how you’ve helped that individual find their way into their new career?
My favorite one is Renee. Now, Renee was a 19 year Coast Guard spouse, they had four duty stations during the tenure of her husbands career, which is kind of unusual. A lot of Coast Guard families kind of stay in the same area. And then he separated from service and they separated from their marriage.
So, Renee kind of found herself in a new place. And she reached out to go and get access to the spouse TAP programs so that she could kind of get some help and she was actually denied access. Want to take a stab at why, out of curiosity?
Educate you. So, the Department of Defense has the TAP program, right? And they offer that, but the Department of Homeland Security actually owns the Coast Guard, so she didn’t qualify back then. One of those little bureaucratic things that nobody caught until Renee ran into it. But the really cool thing is, even though Renee fell through the cracks there, the Veterans Staffing Network in Easterseals was created to catch people who fall through the cracks.
And so we were able to help provide some pretty intensive career coaching for Renee, this was several years back. Though I hadn’t talked to her in a couple of years, she went off and found a pretty meaningful career in journalism and photography working for a couple of local papers and that was very fulfilling for her.
One of my more recent favorite stories was a lady by the name of Jennifer. She’s a former Army soldier and she was in munitions and her job is to ship things that go boom all around the world in support of our war fighters. She had a pretty good career, left after about nine years, but she had some medical issues that kind of came up, that surfaced after she had already begun working. She was a project manager for an IT company, she was doing pretty well, and then she had some complications from her service arrive that required her to miss five and a half months, including several surgeries and one brain surgery.
And then she was unable to find a job and unable to find a job and ultimately her car was repossessed and she was facing foreclosure after having been unemployed for eight, nine months, something like that. And we were able to work with Jen and first of all help her remember that she is a very valuable person in the workforce and then connect them with one of our employer partners. She went on a temp to hire assignment and they converted her about six months ago and she is thriving and been promoted twice since we placed her.
And so I’ve got hundreds of stories like that. The program has touched so many lives and it’s really exciting to be a part of something so special.
That’s fantastic. And I’ve got to imagine that helping other veterans impacts you daily. Does that provide you with more drive to continue to keep placing your fellow veterans as well?
Absolutely. No one left behind. I think everybody’s probably heard that cliché, but it really is true. Even though there is inter-branch banter, Army gives Navy a hard time, Marines give us a hard time, everybody gives the Air Force a hard time, the Air Force laughs because they sit in air conditioning. But when you get on this side of the fence everybody is military here and we really do want to help our brothers and sisters have a successful life.
There’s a unique comradery having been part of the military community that you don’t know unless you’ve been there and that’s why you’ll find that the majority of programs designed to support military are typically staffed by people from prior service because if you haven’t been in their shoes, you can’t relate properly. It’s a unique brotherhood sisterhood scenario.
So yeah, I get to go to work instead of have to go to work every day.
Yeah. And you have had a true impact in so many peoples lives and I’m sure your experience, you’ve encountered with so many people you love to help them and any savvy employer knows that veterans bring skills like leadership, teamwork, and dedication to their workforce. But there are some myths associated with veteran hiring. What are some myths that you can dispel when it comes to hiring veterans?
Well, the first one that really comes to mind is PTS or PTSD, right? Post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s a myth that everybody leaving the military has it. And I’m not going to say some people do not have it, of course, some people do have PTS or PTSD. But, are you aware that any given time, about 9% of your workforce has some level of post-traumatic stress? Whether it’s you’ve been in a car crash, or several years ago my son was diagnosed with leukemia. One might say those are post-traumatic stress issues that are created based on life circumstances. The big myth is one, not every veteran has post-traumatic stress disorder.
And two, veterans have unique support systems. The military is watching for post-traumatic stress prior to someone leaving and once they leave, they have access to support services that I would argue that the general civilian population does not. So, that’s one.
There are other myths like veterans are too rigid. Well, understand we’re used to working in the system, and we’re used to being efficient. Realize civilian workers who can feel threatened by the fact that a veteran will come in and they work very efficiently. I had one person when I got out say, “Hey, don’t make me look so bad,” you know?
So, I would say that the myths about veterans being hard workers is true for the most part, but the myths about them all having PTSD, not true whatsoever. And we can joke and we can play and have fun but we’re not one to hang out at the water cooler when there’s work to be done and I think that that sometimes leads people to think that veterans can be a bit too rigid and it’s just because we’re used to getting the job done now so we don’t have to do it later.
Yeah, definitely. When so many employers have great veteran outreach and hiring initiative, but it has taken time, money, and resources to get to that point. What advice moving forward do you have for employers that are just beginning their journey to hiring more veterans?
Well, first, it takes a commitment, okay? And you’re right, the organizations that have invested in this and they have the resources and the man power to be able to create these programs are thriving, without a doubt. But for those businesses who aren’t sure how to get it started, first thing I would recommend is come work with me. Let me help you get some veterans in house and provide you that consultation.
I would say you definitely need to know how many veterans do you have working in your organization? You need an executive champion. Someone who’s going to drive the message not only publicly, and say, “ABC company is going to hire veterans.” But then also communicate that message throughout the organization, right? They’re going to have to be sitting at the executive table to ensure that there’s a budget carved out for the veteran hiring initiative, whatever that might look like for your organization.
You’re going to have to let recruiters and hiring managers know that it’s okay to take a risk on a veteran candidate just because their resume’s not perfect. It’s going to have to be a priority from the top down.
Other things to do is to plug in with your local… each state has their own veterans service, right? Operated, and there’s typically veteran employment service inside of that department, inside that division of the government. Get to know them. Go out into the field and find your America Job Center at the CareerOneStop there’s a person who our tax dollars are paying for at each one of these places called a DVOP leader. That stands for disabled veteran outreach program, DVOP leader, or local veteran employment representative. Find out who that person is. Sometimes it’s the same person, sometimes different people hold those offices. Because those folks are responsible for identifying the veterans who are looking for work in that community and building relationships with [inaudible 00:49:31] who want to hire them.
If you have a military installation nearby, reach out to the transition office and let them know that [inaudible 00:49:39]. Start working with veterans when it comes to reviewing resumes. There’s a lot of internal things that don’t cost a lot of money but they do take time and resources and the first thing starts with the desire to be successful and having an executive who’s going to sponsor that mission, and then talking to the professionals who are in that space to help you get there.
And to bring is to our last question, flipping the script for a second, you just touched on those companies who are just beginning the veteran hiring process. But for those companies with extremely established programs already, what recommendations can you provide to help them keep growing and expanding their current programs?
First, keep it up. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re being successful hiring veterans, keep it up. The second is give back, right? So, find organizations, reach out to organizations who are interested in developing veterans and hiring [inaudible 00:50:41]. And provide some mentorship and stewardship to these organizations so that they too can implement sharing best practices.
Hilton is one of the greatest ones. Hilton was kind of at the forefront and just a unique retention program they created. If you go to a Hilton, the next time look at the name badges on the people who are working on the property, and if they’re prior service, you’re going to see their branch insignia on their name tag. Just a little small thing, easy to do, it doesn’t cost very much. It means a lot and I’ve seen a lot of other organizations adopt that idea just because it makes sense. So, if you’re an established program, give back. That’s really what makes a difference.
Yes, I think we can all agree on that. To end on a personal note, we’ve seen your foodie pics, and we know you’re a great cook. Did you have a passion for cooking prior to your military services or was that something you came about after your service?
I did not. I was a barbarian who ate bad food and canned vegetables and drank so I really had no idea about the world of food. Came up from a pretty blue collar environment in Western Pennsylvania and we had our meatloaf and our government cheese so I didn’t really know.
Once I started my apprenticeship and started working in professional kitchens and first of all, I gained like 35 pounds because I ate everything in sight, I had no idea how good food could be. I was really fortunate to be around amazing chefs that taught me an awful lot and not I eat very well.
Awesome. Well, next time we get you in here to DE you’re going to have to whip something up for everybody.
That’s a deal.
We’ll get a menu down here soon. But thank you again so much, David, for joining us. This was really great information and I bet a lot of our members will be reaching out to you soon. It’s been an honor to pick your brain and learn more about the Veterans Staffing Network.
We’ll link all of this info in a short blog post as well so you can grab all of these links later. On behalf of Candee and I, thank you again for tuning into another episode of the DE Talk Podcast. With so many great topics to cover, be sure to follow DirectEmployers on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and subscribe to the DE Talk Podcast to receive notifications of new episodes available each month. Thanks for listening.
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