Onward and Upward: Understanding Veteran Retention and Performance in the Workforce

SaluteMyJob takes a closer look at a study from The Centre for a New American Security (CNAS) that looks beyond initial hiring data to examine the behaviour of veterans in the US workforce, including retention and performance, as well as corporate perceptions of how veterans perform once hired.  

Although the context and scale of veterans' employment in the US is different to the UK, we believe the findings of this research will be of interest to UK employers and veterans - especially as there are some notable comparisons to recent UK veteran employment studies.  

 

Background

The US veteran community comprises over 21 million men and women who have transitioned from the military. Efforts such as the Veteran Jobs Mission and the White House Joining Forces initiatives have been proactive in promoting veteran hiring and highlighting the unique skill set veterans contribute to the workforce. By spring 2016 the Veteran Jobs Mission coalition had hired 330,296 veterans, with Joining Forces celebrating 1.2 million veterans and military spouses hired as it marked its five-year anniversary.

 

What are the main key comparisons with UK data?    

40% of veterans stated that they were not “prepared for a career transition out of the military.”                      
  • Veterans and managers cite shortcomings by both the military and managers in facilitating an effective transition to the civilian workforce, arguing that “offering veterans the support they need during the transition period from military to civilian life is critical to both successful employment and retention.” Specifically, 40% of veterans stated that they were not “prepared for a career transition out of the military.” Another survey found “veterans finding opportunities that match their military training experience” as the “biggest obstacle to obtaining initial employment”. Dynamics surrounding veteran underemployment are likely twofold, with employers not accurately translating military experience, thereby placing a veteran in a role at a lower level, while veterans themselves may be undervaluing their experience or skills and applying for lower-level roles.

UK comparison: A recurring theme throughout recent UK reports is the difficulty employers and veterans have in recognising the skills and competencies gained in the Armed Forces - and how these skills can be translated into the commercial workplace, so it is interesting to see this particular barrier is also common in the US.  

 

75 percent say veterans are easier or significantly easier to manage than their non-veteran peers.
  • More than 90 percent of the managers surveyed say veterans are promoted faster than their non-veteran peers, and 68 percent also say veterans perform either better or much better than their non-veteran peers. Additionally, over 75 percent say veterans are easier or significantly easier to manage than their non-veteran peers. There is also evidence to support the economic value of veteran employment. Studies have documented its economic value to society, as well as the greater aggregate profitability of firms that hire veterans. The CNAS survey results corroborated these studies, finding that managers perceive veterans as high-performing employees who add value to their workforce.

UK comparison: Recent data from active veteran recruiters in the UK found 72% of employers surveyed “would definitely recommend” other businesses employ veterans, a majority of employers also reported that ex-military employees have lower rates of sickness and are promoted more quickly.

 

  • Given the unfamiliarity of much of the American public with military service and the veteran population, it is easy for the narratives surrounding those veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or mental illness to be generalised across the entire veteran population in hiring.  One survey respondent noted that many veterans – particularly combat veterans – are unfairly categorised in this way; as the veteran stated, people “automatically assume that (veterans) are all PTSD-prone.”

UK comparison: In Lord Ashcroft’s research, 92% of the UK general public surveyed thought it was very common or quite common “for former members of the Armed Forces to have some kind of physical, emotional or mental health problem as a result of their time in the Forces”.

 

Other findings and recommendations

  • Incentivising employers to value and measure veteran fit and performance rather than focusing on hiring metrics alone could improve retention, requiring a renewed look at how veteran hiring initiatives evaluate success and promoting programs such as mentorship and affinity groups.

  • Most veterans will leave their first job after service within one year. However, most of these veterans leave their jobs for positive reasons, such as a move for more money, more responsibility, or a better location. A minority of veterans leave jobs for negative reasons, such as clashes with management or performance issues. However, there are no indications that veterans leave for negative reasons relating to their veteran status.

  • There appears to be lower turnover among veterans once they have found the correct fit, indicating that securing a role in a desired field is one of the strongest factors increasing retention of veterans.

  • While most veterans transition and perform well economically, a significant minority continues to struggle, facing issues such as underemployment and difficulty working in a non-military environment.

 

Overcoming these barriers needs sustained effort, especially by employers to understand the potential of ex-military talent and the return on investment in their transition. 

Andrew Jackson, Managing Director of SaluteMyJob said “This is a comprehensive and thorough piece of research that will be of interest to UK employers and the military community. It reinforces the findings of recent UK research. Of greatest interest to me are the findings that, despite the vociferous public support for veterans in the UK and the number of dollars spent, the barriers remain. This proves that overcoming these barriers needs sustained effort, especially by employers to understand the potential of ex-military talent and the return on investment in their transition.”  

To read the report in full, go to https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/onward-and-upward.