Over 200,000 active duty servicemembers transition out of the armed forces each year, some prepared for their next mission and some not. While the transition seems fundamentally simple, all the training and mentoring over the course of service may not completely prepare servicemembers for an easy transition. To be most effective, training and mentoring are critical ingredients for success beyond military service.
Military culture provides structure, guidance, and a set of clearly defined steps that leads to accomplishment of a mission. As servicemembers transition to civilian life, they leave a structured environment that has offered family, physical health, mental health, career development services as well as steady income and social interaction. Programs are available to prepare the servicemember for the next step with a career or education, but they do not look at the transition in a holistic way, with an understanding that each family must identify the elements they will lose in the transition and develop a plan to replace those elements.
Are transitioning servicemembers and veterans identifying the best combination of resources to optimize transition success?
Each veteran’s definition of success may be different. Establishing a set of norms or guidelines that allows a clear pathway to successful outcomes is in the best interest of all parties involved. Creating lasting relationships among Veteran Service Organizations (VSO), Mentors, Schools, Employers, and Veterans is a key factor that will create a network or effective services for veterans and families to sustain when making their transition to civilian life.
Since veterans often have limited experience with the demands of the civilian employment market, they are unsure about how to identify, and secure, civilian jobs suited to their skills and interests. As a result, veterans may struggle to navigate the career pathways that lead to sustainable and satisfying employment. The Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) offers programs that help guide decisions for pursuing higher education, finding a job in the public or private sector, or starting a business. However, most TAP instructors are not individuals who have made similar journeys from the military to a successful civilian career, but rather by individuals who are following a general curriculum made for all transitioning troops.
According to a study conducted by Prudential and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), approximately 2,400 veterans reported the following issues:
- 64% of respondents said they had a difficult transition from military service to civilian life. Difficulty is largely attributed to employment challenges. In fact, 86% of unemployed veterans said their experience was difficult, versus 53% of employed veterans.
- Close to one in four believe that employers simply avoid hiring veterans (24%)—primarily due to concerns about multiple deployments or military training and fears of dealing with veterans’ disabilities or “too much baggage”.
- More than two-thirds of veterans consider “finding a job” as the greatest challenge in transitioning to civilian life (69%). Most unemployed veterans report this as their greatest challenge (89%).
- The next greatest challenge for veterans is navigating the benefit and support system for veterans (53%), followed closely by the basic transitional steps of “figuring out what’s next” (50%) and readjusting to their social lives outside of the military (48%).
- 64% are currently employed and 3% are retired. Meanwhile, 33% reported that they are not working, which includes a segment of veterans who are not seeking employment (11%), and those who are unemployed and seeking employment (22%).
Are mentors critical for placing veterans in suitable career paths?
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 80 percent of new jobs come through a personal connection, a strong personal brand, network and a mentor. The availability of “authentic” mentors has proven to be a critical component of a successful transition. In this case, the term “authentic” refers to mentorship in which veterans communicate with those that have traveled similar paths and experienced similar frustrations. Mentorship offers veterans firsthand guidance on career and educational advice. Given by subject matter experts, veterans have found that such mentorship increases the probability of success. When given the correct opportunities and guidance, they are far more likely to succeed beyond the military.
Organizations such as American Corporate Partners (ACP) have shown that over 60% of veterans who received post-service mentorship obtained meaningful employment with an average salary of over $83k per year. Corporations participating in ACP have increased investments in and partnerships with schools to mentor and employ veteran students’ post-graduation. This trend has proven to be successful among companies such as Walmart, AT&T, Macys, Northrup Grumman, and Home Depot.
Having appropriate guidance greatly enhances a veteran’s possibilities of succeeding in any organization, especially when placed in a position that maximizes their skills and education. Organizations wishing to offer these programs should consider utilizing partnerships, peer networks and other resources that will help our veterans to navigate the next steps in their journeys. To discuss this issue more, please contact Chris Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org
“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.” – General Colin Powell