Military experience lends especially desirable skills to the government contracting workplace: Leadership. Responsibility. Integrity. Can-do attitude. And, often, an understanding of national issues that aligns with company mission.
Any employer, not just GovCon companies, would welcome these capabilities. Yet unemployment rates among post-9/11 veterans have long been persistently high, outpacing record unemployment among their civilian counterparts.
Recent numbers give cause for optimism and might indicate that employers are getting the message. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate for veterans of the two Gulf wars dropped from 15.2 percent at the beginning of 2011 to 9.1 percent by the beginning of this year. The overall veteran employment rate fell to 7.5 percent—lower than unemployment nationally.
Among government contractors, this trend is nothing new. They’ve long championed veteran recruitment. Why? Many GovCon human relations professionals point to a cultural connection. A Society for Human Resources Management study in 2010 revealed the majority of civilian employers struggled to translate veterans’ military skills to civilian job experience and openings in their workplaces.
But GovCon companies get it—and they’ve been leading the charge toward hiring veterans.
Matching the Mission
GovCon human resources professionals agree: An effective hiring strategy must align with the organization’s overall mission and core values. The theory applies across industries, company structure, and workforce size. But perhaps nowhere does the universal HR principle rings as true as among government contractors—where many missions literally put human lives on the line.
“Given our markets and our mission to deliver service excellence, aligning our requirements to hiring veterans comes naturally to us,” said Greg McElroy, director of talent acquisition at Serco. Currently, Serco has 9,000 employees at more than 100 locations across North America. In 2011, the long-standing DoD service provider earned recognition as a Military Times EDGE “Best for Vets” employer and as a “Top 10 Best Corporation for Veteran-Owned Businesses” from NaVOBA’s Vetrepreneur magazine.
As one of the nation’s largest defense contractors, Northrop Grumman employs more than 18,000 veterans. Its robust military recruiting strategy—and a new hire veteran rate of 26 percent—helped Northrop Grumman earn the 11th spot on G.I. Jobs magazine’s 2012 Top 100 Military-Friendly Employers. In 2011, civilianjobs.com also recognized Northrop Grumman as a “Most Valuable Employer for Military.”
Sotera Defense Solutions also takes pride in its workforce of 1,600-plus professionals—25 percent of whom come from military ranks. “Veterans are a great fit for Sotera because they bring first-hand knowledge of our customers’ challenges and our national security mission,” said Lisa Broome, senior vice president for human resources.
An HR commitment to the organization’s core values creates an edge in the marketplace. “ATK’s values identify patriotism and people as our greatest assets and are among the key factors that give us a competitive advantage,” said Christine Wolf, senior vice president of human resources. “Military service shapes and tests a person’s skills under the most challenging circumstances, and we look for that kind of person to join our workforce.”
What’s the best way to find candidates with military service experience? Strategic outreach—deployed on multiple fronts. Sotera credits employee referrals with many of its hired veterans, for example, but also relies on established partnerships with organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project.
ATK has seen the most success listing job openings with veteran programs and accessing résumés through certain databases, including the Employer Partnership organization.
With a history of service to the DoD, CGI Federal’s current veteran hiring program builds on three primary components: working directly with military Career and Alumni Programs, hosting job fairs targeted at veterans, and using online job boards focused on veteran applicants. Its U.S.-based onshore delivery centers may be especially well suited to military experience. The newest location in Belton, Texas, was chosen specifically for its proximity to Ft. Hood and the returning military personnel and families who call the base home.
At some ITT Exelis locations, the percentage of employees from military backgrounds can be as high as 80 percent. So it should come as no surprise that the company has a strong military outreach program. Its multifaceted recruitment strategy includes taking part in Transitioning Assistance Program events, attending military-focused career fairs, posting to military job boards, and developing a broad interactive campaign targeting candidates with military experience.
The corporate website, www.exelisinc.com, also features a designated link to “Transitioning Military” in the Careers section. Here, jobseekers discover that “Military experience is a plus” and gain valuable advice on transitioning to civilian life, including the employment search, veteran benefits, and available resources. The web page also makes note of the company’s seventh year as a G.I. Jobs magazine Top 100 Military-Friendly Employer, with 8 percent veteran hiring in 2012.
Outreach calls for a significant investment: in websites and materials, in advertising, and in special events. Northrop Grumman made room in its corporate recruitment advertising budget last year to target veterans and take part in more than 100 career events for military jobseekers. Its Operation IMPACT (Injured Military Pursuing Assisted Career Transition) provides career transition support to military service members and their families who have been severely injured. To date, the initiative has helped more than 100 wounded warriors find meaningful employment.
Northrop Grumman reaches out to military veterans via its corporate website, as well. A dedicated careers section (www.careers.northropgrumman.com) offers transitioning advice for veterans—from résumé preparation and job search strategies to interview tips and security clearance details. A veteran employee spotlight helps make job opportunities all the more real for jobseekers.
One of the most common outreach activities, job fairs, consistently gets results. Serco—a key member of the VA for VETS team—participated as a hiring company at the initiative’s January 2012 Veteran Career Fair and Expo in Washington, DC. More than 20 Serco operations and HR professionals attended, meeting with 500+ veterans and collecting more than 200 résumés from qualified candidates. Several hires can already be attributed to the event.
Serco rounds out its efforts with Veteran’s Forums and military alumni programs; advertisements in base publications and on key websites; and TAP and ACAP sessions. “We have an established presence on military bases throughout the U.S. and around the world where we are active in the community,” McElroy added. “We take full advantage of relationships we build to source exceptional talent among military personnel whose skills match requirements for open positions at Serco.”
What’s the return like on this kind of resource-intensive investment? HR professionals peg it as high—and well worth it.
“CGI has always valued veterans for their leadership, experience, dedication, and above-and-beyond work ethic,” said Kim Gordon, director of recruiting. “Our hiring practices for veterans, as for all of our members, are focused on supporting our clients’ missions.”
Others echoed similar sentiments. “It is essential that Serco identify and hire talented military veterans to sustain our competitive advantage in the marketplace and provide a signature level of service to our customers,” McElroy said.
“Northrop Grumman recognizes and values the talents and contributions that U.S. service men and women bring to the workplace,” added Michele P. Toth, vice president of human resources and administration for Northrop Grumman Information Systems. “Attracting military talent is critical to our company’s performance.”
Understanding customer needs also ranked high among the HR advantages veterans offer. “Military experience provides valuable leadership skills and an understanding of our military customers’ needs and the environments in which we operate,” said Patricia Park, vice president of human resources for ITT Exelis, Information Systems. “And that helps us develop superior products and services.”
At ITT Exelis, HR has discovered transitioning military personnel perform especially well on overseas deployments. “Veterans bring a depth of understanding to these opportunities and to the demands of overseas operations,” Park said. “As a result, we have been able to perform in an agile manner at staffing these types of positions, and our customers have been delighted with the assimilation of our employees to these types of difficult-to-fill requirements.”
As with any hiring strategy, veteran outreach must evolve to keep pace with the employment marketplace. HR professionals—especially in the ever-changing GovCon arena—say it’s critical to take time to evaluate progress, measure results, and adapt their military recruitment strategies to workplace, economic, and political developments.
With effective military outreach already in place, Serco is preparing to go one better. “We’re in the latter stages of a project started late last year to review and strengthen our efforts,” McElroy said. This project benchmarked Serco’s recruitment outreach against industry practices. ITT Exelis is also currently in goal-setting and benchmarking mode—with an eye toward broadening its military outreach efforts.
Finding qualified military employees got a whole lot easier in recent years. “More and more resources are becoming available to recruit veterans, but at times it is difficult to participate in them all,” McElroy said. “Our biggest challenge has frankly been aligning the many avenues available to employers to reach veterans seeking employment.”
ATK’s Wolf agrees. “One challenge has been determining which programs we should participate in and which events we should attend,” she said. “With limited resources, we need to ensure we are selecting those that closely align with ATK’s business and hiring needs.”
On the Home Front
Veteran employment programs go a long way toward easing the transition from military service to civilian life. One with heavy GovCon involvement is American Corporate Partners. The participant list, which includes Boeing, Deloitte, General Dynamics, HP, IBM, and more, reads like a Who’s Who of GovCon companies. Many executives of these companies aid with the program’s mentoring and business advisory offerings. Last year, for instance, Accenture provided a grant and help for 50 executives with military backgrounds to serve as mentors. Visit https://www.acp-usa.org for more.
Others among the many programs include:
Transitioning Assistance Program. TAP helps military personnel and family members return to civilian life with pre-separation counseling, employment workshops, and benefits briefings, as well as vocational and employment assistance to veterans with service-connected disabilities. https://www.turbotap.org.
Army Career and Alumni Program. ACAP offers transitioners on major installations the employment training, benefit counseling, and other transition resources they need to quickly land a job—often before they leave active duty. https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/active/tagd/acap.
VA for VETs works to reintegrate, retrain, and hire veteran employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs with career-search tools, career-development services, and coaching support for veterans and military service members. https://vaforvets.va.gov.