One hundred percent of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) approximately 600 affiliated chapters and 50 state councils have committed formally to supporting members of the National Guard and Reserve, meeting a challenge put forth to them in 2010.
In March 2010, SHRM launched a public awareness campaign to educate its members about the employment and workplace challenges that military-connected employees, veterans and their families face through its signing of a statement of support for the National Guard and Reserve. The signing of the statement—and SHRM’s subsequent challenge to its affiliates to do the same—has helped forge a partnership between SHRM and the nonprofit organization Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), which promotes a cooperative culture of employer support for National Guard and Reserve service.
“Signing these statements has focused all SHRM affiliates on a key HR and public policy issue—the employment and workplace support of military-connected employees,” said Nancy Hammer, SHRM Government Affairs senior policy counsel. “An added benefit has been linking SHRM members with ESGR offices in the field to offer support and assistance with employers’ USERRA obligations and to serve as a resource for finding military job candidates.”
Boots on Ground Lend Support
The initial awareness campaign has turned into a full-blown call to action for many SHRM affiliates. Forging bonds with local military veterans groups, many have implemented employment support initiatives.
“It really has turned into a national grassroots movement,” said Nancy Conway, SPHR, SHRM’s North Central region field services director and Member Relations liaison for SHRM’s Government Affairs ESGR effort. “A significant number of SHRM chapters and state councils have sponsored veteran hiring initiatives such as career and job fairs, among other initiatives.”
For example, the 2012 goal of the SHRM-Atlanta veterans initiative is to assist 1,000 veterans through chapter programs to transition to civilian employment after serving in active duty. Welcome-home events and mentoring and hiring programs are among the initiatives SHRM-Atlanta coordinates with the help of a core leadership team of volunteers.
SHRM-Atlanta can leverage the support of more than 1,700 members who work in companies and organizations that need the skills, experience, discipline and service orientation that veterans bring to work. The chapter works with its members to help them understand and navigate a complex, fractured veterans employment landscape—a landscape that demands that employers understand where to find talented veterans, how to translate military skills and talents into civilian jobs and how to assist veterans to find the resources they need to transition back to civilian life.
“Focus on one aspect of the problem that no one else is working to solve,” said Stuart Smith, SPHR, one of the chapter’s co-team leaders and CEO of Stuart Smith and Associates, a professional facilitation services firm. For SHRM-Atlanta, “that is mentoring veterans during their job search and immediately after hire. Be the support system that they need,” added Smith, who served in the U.S. Army during 1986-92.
Campus Crusaders Target Workforce Readiness
SHRM’s Washington State Council is helping to coordinate a statewide initiative with local chapters and the state’s Veterans Conservation Corps (Vet Corps) to help returning veterans transition into meaningful civilian jobs.
The nation will have “a huge number of veterans coming back [from deployments] during the next two years, and we’re not ready,” said Audi Ritz, SPHR, workforce readiness director for the Washington State Council and HR manager for Bremerton, Wash.-based American Financial Solutions. “Employers are going to have jobs to fill that these veterans are qualified for, but we need to create a support system to help integrate them into companies’ talent pipelines.”
Ritz said there’s a major unemployment problem among 18- to 24-year-old veterans, many of whom have worked only for the U.S. military. “The unemployment rate for this group of veterans is about 30 percent, or twice that of their counterparts,” said Ritz, who added that many of these individuals go back to school when they can’t find a job. For them, workforce readiness assistance often is crucial to helping them secure that first civilian job, she said.
So SHRM chapters are partnering with 31 Vet Corps representatives at colleges across the state. Ritz said the Vet Corps’ campus pilot program is in its third year and is running only in Washington state. Partnering state chapters lend support for areas identified by their Vet Corps counterparts.
For example, Vet Corps representatives have asked chapters to help implement job shadow days and to create and promote internship opportunities for veterans.
“The chapters’ HR professionals provide that link that’s needed to the civilian world,” Ritz explained. “The chapters not only provide internships that help veterans become familiar with the private-sector workplace, they can also conduct interest assessments to help veterans gauge their interest in pursuing career paths in professions for which jobs are available.”
A Two-Way Street
Providing needed support is a two-way street. Having a veteran or associated representative present at a chapter meeting on military and veteran culture helps chapter members—and subsequently their organizations—to become more culturally competent, Ritz noted; think diversity and inclusion, bridging the gap between civilians and veterans. This “awareness training” helps to reduce potential misconceptions associated with veterans returning to the workplace and to remove possible employment barriers that can pop up during the recruitment process.
SHRM chapters also work with Vet Corps representatives to:
- Translate veterans’ military skill sets into civilian-friendly terms for resumes, cover letters and interview sessions.
- Develop and/or support campus veterans’ centers.
- Share pertinent veteran employment announcements, news articles and communications with other state SHRM chapter workforce readiness directors and the Washington State Council for further dissemination.
- Develop relevant webinars to host on chapter or state council websites.
Though the goal was to have 10 of the state’s 17 SHRM chapters partnered with a Vet Corps representative by the end of 2012, 13 chapters are already partnered with an organization representative.
Enlisting Future SHRM Support
Smith and Ritz urge other SHRM chapters and state councils to get involved with their local military veterans organizations and to avoid being intimidated by the apparent scope of need.
“Surround the initiative with motivated, caring people with a real passion about the issue,” Smith said. “Then get the board’s support, put a plan together and just get started. Don’t worry about the details. Do your best to get out of people’s way and things will work out. Make it easy for people to get work done, and don’t duplicate others’ efforts.”
Ritz agreed: “There are so many resources already available that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just have to leverage your human resources and HR expertise to create and support a strategic partnership.”
To read about other affiliates’ stories of support, visit SHRM Online’s Volunteer Leaders’ Resource Center and click on Affiliate Successful Practice Center. If your chapter or state council would like to share its best-practices initiative and story of support, send that information to Enterprising.Leadership@shrm.org.
Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.