Few people will argue that it’s important to hire military veterans. But, unfortunately, not enough small businesses are doing so.
That’s the conclusion from a recent study of small-business health in the country that’s conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and insurance company MetLife. The Small Business Index report surveyed more than 1,000 small businesses in the last quarter and found that although both veteran- and non-veteran owned business owners agreed that it’s important to hire veterans, fewer than two-thirds of veteran-owned businesses (59%) and fewer than half (46%) of non-veteran owned businesses have done so. What’s worse is that only 10 percent of non-veteran owned businesses seek to hire those who formerly served.
“Veterans are proven learners with a passion for teamwork and a commitment to results,” Joe Shamess, the co-founder and owner of veteran-owned small business Flags of Valor in Ashburn, Va., said in the report. “Every sailor, soldier, airman and Marine entered military service needing to learn the basic skills of the armed forces and the advanced skills to support dynamic missions. Additionally, many of them have even succeeded at their missions in combat environments. Employing and empowering veterans is what we are all about! It’s a win-win for businesses and their communities.”
Hiring someone who’s been in the military means bringing on an employee that likely has a strong work ethic as well as leadership and teamwork experience. It also means having an employee who usually understands a chain of command and how to take direction.
"They come with a lot of discipline, " says Jennifer Rivera, a Warrington-based human resources professional for a national technology firm that hires veterans. "And I think that makes a good employee for us, especially because we deal with the service industry.” Rivera says that the veterans her firm has hired have many distinctive traits, such as coming in early to just making sure their uniforms are well-maintained. “They are unique and just deserve the opportunity,” she says.
So considering the benefits of hiring a veteran, especially in this tight labor market where good workers are so hard to find, why aren’t more small businesses taking advantage? The responsibility falls on both parties.
Some small-businesses owners are hesitant to hire a worker who doesn’t come from a traditional workplace background. Others are concerned that an ex-military person may be unfamiliar with how to behave in the private sector or can be insensitive to workplace culture. There are even a few small employers who have mistaken notions of ailments particular to veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Many point to a chronic lack of resources among small-business owners that holds them back from making extra efforts to find veterans rather than just posting a job and hoping somebody applies.
Veterans, too, are a part of the challenge. Alex Archawski, founder of Greater Philadelphia Veteran’s Network, thinks many of those leaving the military are unaware of the opportunities for them in the private sector. "The majority of the transitioning veterans I work with are not aware of the small-business community at all,” he says. "Veterans typically apply to larger firms where the logos are more familiar to them.”
Whatever the reason, both veterans and small businesses are missing out on opportunities. For the veteran, working at a small business is often more flexible and rewarding and it can offer the potential chance to have a bigger impact on an organization than at a larger corporation. For small-business owners, because ex-military employees generally come from a background of problem solving, they are often more focused, reliable and efficient.
“The veterans we hire usually understand the chain of command -- they don’t avoid taking responsibility and know how to take direction,” says Joshua Strickler, a project manager at Diplomat Demolition, a demolition company in West Chester. “Their performance and retention rate is much higher than those who did not serve in the military.”
The good news is that assistance is available for those who dig a little. For example, both the federal and local governments provide incentives to small companies that hire veterans. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides a credit of up to $9,600 for those businesses that hire a veteran. The Veterans Administration and Department of Labor also provide grants to nonprofit organizations that assist veterans in finding employment.
One of those organizations is Impact Services Inc. in Philadelphia, which not only provides homes and supportive services to previously homeless veterans but also assists them in getting trained and finding employment. The Veterans Multi-Service Center, also in Philadelphia, helps more than 20,000 veterans each year transition from the military to the private sector by offering programs where small-business owners can meet them in a relaxed, yet professional, atmosphere to share their needs, evaluate candidates and, most important, de-mystify any misconceptions that both parties may have. Archawski’s Greater Philadelphia Veteran’s Network supports veterans in their job search by not only training employers that hire veterans but also actively matching organizations with candidates.