Amber Stark

Veterans Employment Q&A

SIOP is pleased to announce that the Military and Veterans Initiative Task Force was recently approved by the Executive Board to become the Military and Veterans Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee.

By the Military and Veterans Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee

How can industrial-organizational psychologists best support the military/veteran communities?

First, grow your understanding of the military, its culture, veterans' experiences working in civilian settings, and the unique nuances of the military community. The military selects, trains, and promotes military service members in a way similar to but unique from civilian employers. The Center for Deployment Psychology offers free courses on military culture. The nonprofit Psych Armor has free online video content, and SHRM Foundation's Veterans at Work certificate are also valuable ways to increase your military literacy.

There are a few good books on the topic to use as a reference. Oxford University Press will publish Military Veteran Employment–Your Competitive Advantage in 2021, an edited book by SIOP Military and Veterans Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee members Drs. Nathan Ainspan and Kristin Saboe featuring chapters about Veterans Employment by several prominent I-Os and industry leaders. SHRM's From We Will to At Will: A Handbook for Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace and Sebastian Junger's Tribe also provide valuable perspectives. 

Second, I-Os working in applied settings can further encourage the implementation of research-based best practices by speaking with your company or university leadership to describe the ROI and other benefits of employing and supporting veterans and military spouses. (University of Syracuse's Institute for Veterans and Military Families provides many data founded articles on the ROI for reference.) Additionally, if you are in a university setting, reach out to your school's veteran student organization. If you can influence your institution's course offerings, consider working with your veterans' student organization and the Center for Deployment Psychology to create a course in military psychology or integrating the unique challenges of veterans and military spouse employment into your course content.

For researchers, there is a lot of work to do! If you conduct research or work with a nonprofit or for-profit institution on data addressing military and veteran's employment topics, don't just write a report and leave it behind. Publish the information in reputable peer-reviewed sources. Although data are quickly increasing, most are not published through peer-reviewed processes, which means we are still in need of solid theory and research-driven understanding of the veteran and military spouse employment experience.

What advice do you have for graduate or undergraduate I-O students who want to make an impact on military or veteran research?

If you are interested in conducting research studies, review the literature extensively to ensure that your research builds on prior published studies and identifies research needs. Students can leverage the Military and Veterans Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee to become better connected with other I-Os with relevant expertise.

For students with interest in military and veterans research because of personal reasons, remember to stay objective. If you are studying a topic only because you are making sense of your own military experience, consider whether your experiences will hamper your scientific objectivity. If it prevents the latter, consider working with others that can help you maintain your neutrality or return to the topic later in your career. It helps to have personal interest and passion in your research topic but if your experiences are too close to the topic or emotions too raw, you may bias or negatively impact your research trajectory. This is an important consideration for all research, not just this topic area.

Students can also get involved with APA's student programs and Division 19: Society for Military Psychology and SIOP's student programs.

If you are a civilian student, take the time to understand the military culture and how it works (see the answer to the first question). If you are coming from the military, take the time to understand the civilian employment world and experiences. The military–civilian divide exists on both sides. It is essential to ensure that you understand the other side so you can effectively bridge it.

What strategies do you use to help employers recognize the value that veterans can bring to their organizations?

The most important component of building a strategy is to ensure the business's needs and priorities align with the capability veterans bring to the workforce due to their prior employment experiences and competencies. It is critical to base any veteran-focused employment effort on business-minded justification and need, or the return on investment (ROI).

There is not just one answer when building the ROI of hiring and retaining veterans. To justify and develop a strategy, you must understand what makes the company unique or special and recruit people that fit the company, and vice versa. This principle is the same for veterans and non-veterans.

Once you develop a strategy, it is vital to understand military culture and its talent management processes. This knowledge will allow a civilian employer to better bridge the cultural divides between military members transitioning from a military employment culture to a civilian employment experience. This understanding extends from sourcing and recruitment through employment experiences. For instance, when recruiting newly transitioned veterans, it is important to understand how to translate their resumes, what different ranks and occupational skill codes mean, and the timeline for leaving the military (it is a lengthy process). It is important to realize many in the military did various tasks that can be combined in ways that are not typically combined in a civilian setting. By focusing on the functions and skills individuals gained while in uniform, you can maximize transferability of military skills and occupations instead of translating job titles unsuccessfully. Ultimately, it is important to open your aperture to the types of people who you think can do a job.

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