<p>Despite their strong technical backgrounds and experience working in specialized teams, veterans still have a hard time securing employment when they enter the civilian workforce.</p><p>In this episode of Honest HR, host Gloria Sinclair Miller speaks with Ronda Wakefield, a human resources consultant and talent acquisition specialist, on how HR and talent acquisition professionals can become more inclusive in their hiring, engaging and retaining veterans. </p><p><b>Earn 0.50 SHRM PDCs for Listening to This Episode</b><br />Episodes of <em>Honest HR</em> help you build your competencies while also earning professional development credits (PDCs) toward your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP recertification. All relevant details, including the Activity IDs, are provided during the episode.</p>
Despite their strong technical backgrounds and experience working in specialized teams, veterans still have a hard time securing employment when they enter the civilian workforce.
In this episode of Honest HR, host Gloria Sinclair Miller speaks with Ronda Wakefield, a human resources consultant and talent acquisition specialist, on how HR and talent acquisition professionals can become more inclusive in their hiring, engaging and retaining veterans.
Earn 0.50 SHRM PDCs for Listening to This Episode
Episodes of Honest HR help you build your competencies while also earning professional development credits (PDCs) toward your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP recertification. All relevant details, including the Activity IDs, are provided during the episode.
Welcome to Honest HR, the podcast for all of us, HR professionals, people managers, and team leads, intent on growing and developing our companies for the better. We bring you honest forward thinking conversations and relatable stories from the workplace that challenge the way it's always been done, because after all you have to push back to move forward.
Honest HR is a podcast from SHRM, the society for human resource management, and by listening, you're helping create better workplaces and a better world.
I'm Wendy Fong.
I'm Amber Clayton.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
And I am Gloria Sinclair Miller.
Now let's get honest.
Now let's get honest.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
Now let's get honest.
Hello everyone and welcome back. I am your host, Gloria Sinclair Miller, SHRM field services director. This podcast is approved to provide re-certification PDCs, but only if you listen to the full podcast. Our guest today is Ronda Wakefield. Ronda has two career passions, human resources, and the restaurant industry. With 18 years of experience in HR in a variety of different industries. Ronda spends the majority of her time working with organizations all across Montana and several other states as a human resources consultant and a talent acquisition specialist. And in her free time, she also has that passion for the restaurant industry. Ronda, welcome to Honest HR.
Good morning, Gloria. Thank you for having me.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
So we're so excited to have you here today. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit more about your background and your two passions?
Thanks Gloria. I won't spend too much time on the restaurant industry today, but more focusing on the human resources aspect. But early in my career, I worked in human services. I did a lot of work in behavior modification and worked with the foster care system. At one point, my husband and I were the youngest foster parents in Montana. And I would travel around the region training foster parents for the state. So as we know, training is a big part of HR, so I probably engaged in HR before I even realized it. But at one point the day came when my heartstrings just couldn't take the foster care and the human services industry anymore.
I was working for a global staffing franchise at that time and just found a natural home in human resources and I found that the transition going from helping children and families to helping employees and employers was pretty natural. And I just kept going with human resources after that. And in 2018, when SHRM announced the veterans at work certificate program, I was honored to be selected as one of the founding inclusion captains, and equally as honored to be part of cohort two for the veterans at work certificate program.
While I'm not a veteran veteran myself, my father is a disabled Vietnam vet. My brother is a golf war vet. My son is an Iraqi war vet, and my daughter-in-law is a Navy veteran. I remember when my son came home after seven years in the army, he worked in the infantry area and he had a difficult time finding a job in the civilian world. I watched him struggle finding work and just knew that I wanted to make a difference.
During that time, I also became an ESGR volunteer in Montana, so I was working at it from that angle as well and I've just continued to do so.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
That's awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your background. And we both share a passion for working with veterans. We both come from military families. While neither one of us served, it's definitely we've served as part of our family. So thank you for your service. You and I have been talking about hiring and engaging and retaining veterans for years, but yet this is still a conversation that we're having. This is still a challenge for many organizations. Can you share what your experience has been in the space?
I think definitely just the stereotyping that is affiliated with and attached to veterans and military spouses. We'll talk about that a little bit today, too. Some of the most common ones, PTSD, that veterans are violent and they're unpredictable, oftentimes thinking, "Oh, they don't have the skills needed to perform the job. They're only military focused. They won't stay in the job long because they have to move." Quite honestly, recruiters often struggle too to read military resumes, so we put them aside. I'm guilty of that myself. But I think those of us who have invested the time and best practices for hiring veterans are able to look past those stereotypes and recognize them as just that, we have to do that deeper dive.
I think one of the things that has been really helpful for me, psych armor, who is one of the partners of the SHRM veteran at work certificate programs has a great publication called the 15 Things Veterans Want You to Know, and it really helps you understand the mindset of veterans and also the misconceptions about veterans. And I think if people really take the time to read that information, it can be helpful. It can help you move past that.
Another misconception is that veterans only want to do the same type of work in the civilian world that they did in the military. And again, those of us who have taken the time to do that deeper dive know that is not true. For example, my son was in infantry, like I mentioned, so I automatically assumed that he would want to be work for the police department or maybe the highway patrol or the border patrol. And he said, "Mom, I don't want to have anything to do with that. I want to use my skills, but that's not what I want to do." And so those are some of the things I think those biggest challenges that come in front of us immediately when we think about hiring veterans.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
That is so true. And I think you hit on one of my biggest frustrations in this space, which is this ability or lack of ability to really take the time and understand the service member or that military spouse, to your point, their experience, what they're bringing and not making this assumption that when I get out of the service, whether it was 6 years, 8 years or 20 years, whether or not I'm going to want to do the same career. But at the same time, there's also this lack of, I guess, training, experience or the desire to want to do a little bit more research as it relates to that hiring manager or that HR manager who wants to better understand what that experience was for someone in the service and how that's actually going to translate when they come into a civilian job.
So how do you respond to that? I have my way of responding when I hear the, "I don't understand what this service member did or this veteran did. I don't know how that translates into to the work that we want someone to do." How do you respond to that question?
I think this is a twofold situation, Gloria. I think it goes both ways. I work with a lot of veterans, just through different industries, I'm helping them write resumes, helping them be more successful, hopefully, at gaining civilian employment. But I recommend to them that they do their part as well. It can't all be on that employer. And so when talking to veterans, I ask them make sure that you have really read the position description that help [inaudible 00:07:58] and match your resume to that in the same language. We all know that the military has their own language and while they understand it very well, we don't. So on the front end, if they do their due diligence in trying to get that translation done, that's the first part.
Secondly, then for recruiters and talent acquisition specialists, even supervisors, we all know that so many times we just take that resume, look at it and scan it, is it a fit or not? But think about the people that come through that aren't necessarily even military. Sometimes we have to do that deeper dive. With our veterans and veteran spouses, we've got to do that and a little bit more. It has to be purposeful, and I think you really have to focus on that. I would encourage recruiters and talent acquisition specialists to pick up the phone and call that veteran, ask them, "How does this specifically relate to the position we're trying to fill. Explain your experience to me in civilian terms." And I can tell you that 99% of the veterans are used to having that conversation. In fact, they welcome it. They want you to ask them, "Oh, I don't understand." "Okay, let me help you understand." So just taking that extra step to make sure that you are understanding what they're looking for and how their past military experience relates, can be very beneficial to both parties.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
I think you absolutely hit on it. It's definitely the responsibility of both parties, the hiring manager, but also that veteran who is coming in for an interview to do their homework. It really speaks to having a conversation. It's so easy to have a conversation and really draw out the experiences. And quite frankly, that's what we should be doing anyway. And our veteran candidates should not be any different.
I love the other point that you made is, there's a language in the military, but there's a language in HR. You and I use words that if we're talking to spouses who are not in HR, they have no idea what we're talking about. So we have to keep that in mind as well.
Okay. So one of the things that we have talked about is specifically here with SHRM. We talk a lot about the skills gap. So we talked about having to make sure that we understand the experience that our veteran candidates are bringing, but we also are all dealing with the skills gap. And I think the skills gap was, when we think about pre-COVID world and post-COVID world, there's still a skills gap that we're going to have to deal with. But the theme that we hear from employers all the time, and I know you've heard it as well, is we can't find employees with leadership skills or problem solving or critical thinking, and you and I could expand that list and go on and on. Our service members are veterans, they have these skills, but yet the unemployment rate for veterans is traditionally two to four percentage points higher than those that have served. So how do you respond to that? And I know in the training that you've done and in all the work that you've done, this is definitely something that you hear all the time
Speaking for Montana specifically, we see that right now the statistic is 1 in 10 Montanans is a veteran, so it is high. And it's interesting that, like you said, you pointed out that our unemployment rate is so high yet our veterans and military spouses are really struggling to find work. And when interviewed, they say that their biggest challenge is getting into that civilian workforce. I think, again, just reminding employers that they are missing a large, incredible talent pool by not considering military veterans and spouses as well. We have the tools in the resources to help them successfully bring both parties into the workplace.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
That's great. And I think we have to continue to remind individuals. You hit on the military spouses and we've touched on that a couple of times, and I'm excited about the work that the SHRM foundation is doing as we're updating our materials, as it relates to employment for the military spouse, and with the military spouse. I think similar to having to explain the experience of that service member, that veteran who served and whether they served full time or, and we haven't talked about this yet, whether they're reservist, whether they have to do the one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year. My mother spent most of my living years I'll say, when she was in the military, because she joined before I was born, I remember her being a reservist and thinking that every kid, every parent, went away for two weeks every year to camp, or to the one weekend out of every month.
But there's that experience that people have to understand and when only 1% of the population serves, it's an experience that 99% of our population still doesn't understand. The Montana statistic, that 1 in 10 has served has definitely... You see that in pockets of the country, like here in the southeast, there's definitely a larger military population who transition here. It's probably for the warmer weather, but you definitely see that as well. But as it relates to the military spouses, they have an even more difficult experience, especially when their spouse is still serving, and if they're inactive and they're being deployed somewhere or reassigned somewhere every two to four years that military spouse, depending upon their employment, has to move around as well. And some of them, and I think as employers, we're getting better, especially now as it relates to remote work, some of that work can be remote. But I think about some of the bias, quite frankly, that exists for a military spouse when they're looking for employment and an employer sees that they've jumped around jobs every two to four years. How do you help, when you're talking with employers or even military spouses, to get past that bias, if you would?
So again, you've touched on that same thing. We went back and forth a little bit. It's no secret that military spouses struggle to find employment. I often find it interesting because we talk about them moving every two to four years, but I I'll often ask employers, "Well, what's the what's the longevity of your current staff? Non-military, is it much greater than that?" And sometimes people go, "Oh, okay." But military spouses they, they oftentimes are forced to either leave off employment and skills and experience because they don't want it to look like they're a job and they don't want to be discredited for lack of longevity. So they go back and forth do I list this place? Do I list that one? What should I do? And maybe it's not even as much as moving as it is. Maybe they took some time off for education or whatever that case may be. And they don't know, should I list it or should I not?
Yeah, they're probably going to move around every two to four years, but again, look at the positive in that. Look at... They didn't just jump ship. It was planned. We knew that ahead of time. And what we find I think, is that military spouses are much less likely to just leave a job when they get one. Civilian employees can, they have that flexibility. I think military spouses, when they land that job, they are there and they stay. They appreciate having that opportunity and they're more likely to stay longer. They're highly adaptable and they're flexible. They're used to being change agents. They can handle high stress. They're incredibly reliable, and they're definitely committed. They have a diverse set of skills. And I think it's really, really important though, first and foremost, for employers to understand that, like you said before, when there is someone in your family serving, the entire family serves. Not just that active duty person or that reservist. So the entire family serves. I think as long as employers understand that and they stop and put some forethought into it, things will work out okay, and you're going to find that you get great, great hires with military spouses, or maybe it's those guard or reserve, the ones that come and go a little bit. We run into that a lot in ESGR as well.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
Absolutely. I think you hit it on the head and I loved your question around, so tell me about what the longevity is of your normal staff. Because I think, again, we run into this bias, unconscious or conscious, that happens as it relates to this group.
So let's move a little bit, because we've talked about the hiring aspect and getting past that first hurdle, if you would. And I think a lot of employers believe, "Yay, I achieved success. I hired a veteran, check that box, get that credit." But then they are not always thinking about that next step as they should with any employee. But as we're targeting our veteran community today, we still see high turnover with veterans, whether it's in that first year or the second or third year. Some of that is due to a lack of planning with the engagement and retention, and just thinking about what are some of the best practices that might be out there. So I'd love to get your perspective on, what best practices, as you're working with employers, do you see as it relates to engagement and retention?
Yeah, unfortunately you're absolutely right in that them leaving and turnover there. One study showed that two thirds of veterans are likely to leave their first civilian job within the first year. And that is a high number. The thing about it is it's not for the reasons that most people think. Their primary reasons for leaving are low job satisfaction and limited opportunities for advancement.
Because this is Honest HR, I'll share an honest experience with you, and that is my first experience being what I call my first real HR job. I remember going to the executives and sharing with them my passion for hiring veterans. And they said, "Great. We will back you a 100%." It was a manufacturing company and things were going great. All of a sudden I hired this large number of military veterans and I'm here to tell you, it was a disaster.
Looking back though, I recognize so many things that I could have done differently. And specific to that group of new hires, not just the normal onboarding while we implemented an onboarding program, we didn't have anything that was really dialed in for helping our veterans be successful. Some of those best practices, some of those things I could have done differently, number one would've been accurately describing and showing the work environment. What did the sounds look like? What did the culture look like? Was it something that was going to be maybe a trigger for them? They would share that information with them with me, had I given the opportunity to do so.
Also, I didn't do a good job of carefully matching their military skills with our needs. Did it look the same? I think I was so focused on, I want to hire veterans. I didn't necessarily need to check a box or get the credits, but I just wanted. I feel like it's the right thing to do, but we want it to be successful.
Also, I needed to be honest with them about the leadership within the organization or the department they were going into. Veterans are used to strong leadership. They can follow direction. They like it. They like a challenge, but they also like everybody to be acting as a team. And we all know, let's be honest here, we all know those different departments in our organizations that maybe don't have strong leadership or there's a lack of teamwork. And being honest with those veterans upfront about that, because that's going to be a struggle for them. It's going to be a stress point for them. They're used to structuring teamwork.
Other things that I really recommend is getting creating a veteran employee group, if you can, if you're large enough to do that, create that group there so that people have that and they can lean on it or tapping into the department of fences steel bridge program. There's a lot of resources and tools out there that we as HR professionals can implement in our organizations to help veterans be more successful. I think you have to be committed to it. You have to be devoted to it and it has to be specific and purposeful so that everyone feels successful.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
That's awesome, and you shared some really great resources and thank you for your honest assessment of that first experience. I think about a first experience that I had and you're absolutely right. The value of having, if your organization can have, large enough to have some type of resource group, whether it's an employee resource group or a business resource group, either one of those options are really helpful.
I remember one of my first real jobs, hiring veterans and actually starting our veterans community network and the value that group had, not only in the recruiting process, but in the engagement and retention. Because every experience like every new employee coming into something different, raised different questions and having a group that had gone through that experience before was very helpful as our veteran new veteran employees came into the organization. Especially if this was their first veteran job or a civilian job, I should say, coming out of the military.
I remember my experience having someone and we all dread the performance appraisal and the self-assessment process, and I had a new veteran hire who the first time she was asked to do a self-assessment struggled with it because again, thinking about her military experience and being enlisted and just not used to having to put down on a piece of paper, all the great things that she did. It was very easy for her to talk about the team, but very difficult for her to talk about her individual achievements. And quite frankly, using the word "I did" was quite difficult for her in this first experience. So that time from the time you're hired and the onboarding to that first year is so critical and again for any employee, but when we're trying to create a culture and a more inclusive culture where we have different people from different backgrounds coming into our workforce, it's even more critical that we do this.
So I want to ask you to share more of the experience that you had. And I want to us to dive in a little bit to your SHRM experience because you have been very focused over the last few years. You mentioned in your intro that you're an inclusion captain for us in the state of Montana. So I will let you talk a little bit about your experience working with our SHRM state council in Montana and the role that you've played as an inclusion captain, I should say, and some of the other great work that you've been able to do with the councils and the chapters.
Yeah, it's been super exciting and SHRM has really provided just the opportunity for me to work directly within my passion there with helping the veterans. My responsibilities as an inclusion captain have really, really helped bring in more of the additional tools and resources. Prior to the inclusion captain stint though, our Montana SHRM state council had working with veterans as an initiative already. So it was easy to get them on board. In fact, I didn't have to do anything. We were already had so many of those things in place. I got the opportunity to go back to SHRM and do the training for the inclusion captains back in, I guess it was 2018, and that was super, super exciting. Bringing those tools and resources back, SHRM has some great print material that the inclusion captains have access to that we can share with everybody who is willing to listen. And I find for the most part that people are.
Then I think it was in 2019 that our SHRM state council applied for an innovation grant, so we could do even more work around our state for veterans. We were awarded that grant, which was super exciting. And I don't know if you've ever been to Montana, but we are a very large state. I think from corner to corner. We're about 800 miles, so we can't just travel across the state in one day. My other state council members really stepped up and they all wanted to go through that same training as well. So now if we have an organization down in the southeast corner of the state that wants to hear about the veterans at work certificate program, one of my fellow state council members down in that part of the state will jump in and do the presentation. They've all been trained on it.
And we've also done... We have seven chapters in the state of Montana, I should clarify that. So even though we're very large, we only have seven chapters. Our members at large list is very, very large and because we don't have... We're so rural, so we have a lot of HR professionals out there who aren't members of SHRM. We want to make sure that we're attracting and sharing this information with them as well. Some of the things that we've done so far last year, the week of Veterans Day, we took out a week long ad in every newspaper in the state of Montana, and shared the information about the veterans at work certificate program. We really attracted a large audience with that.
I've become a member of many other veterans resource organizations in the state, JSEC groups, joining community forces groups, the veteran support networks here, chambers of commerce, we find that they're always willing to help us spread the word. Basically any organization or large group meeting that will allow us to come in and share the information, nothing is off limits as far as we're concerned. So even though we're a very large state with not as many people in our SHRM chapters, we have really, really impacted Montana as far as our veterans hiring practices and initiatives.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
That's awesome. You have done some amazing work in Montana and you should be very proud of the seven, but strong and mighty chapters in Montana. It's probably one of the few states that I actually have not been to, is the state of Montana, so I definitely need to add that to my list of states.
So what advice would you have at this point, as we're thinking about there are a number of professionals out there who are doing the work that you're doing like both of us, really trying to encourage individuals, companies, employers, to hire and engage their veteran community. But there's other individuals who want to do the work that we're doing, whether it's in their employer or being a champion for those, what advice would you give to anyone who's looking to engage and hire, retain our veterans or their military spouses?
I think the main thing is just encouraging everyone to see past the stereotypes of assuming that they're not going to stay long. The average length to stay again, two to four years, in most cases that's longer than any other employee is going to stay, so look past that.
And number one, veterans and military spouses alike, they have almost every quality that employers are looking for. I would challenge employers look at the help wanted ads. What are those things that you're looking for? You're looking for leadership, you're looking for somebody who's dependable, you're looking for someone who's reliable. Our veterans and military spouses have all of those things and more. They're incredibly diverse. They're adaptable. They're tremendous change agents. They're educated. They have some of the highest technology skills. They're technology skills are incredible. They work with the greatest technology. There is they work well under pressure and stress. Their critical thinking abilities are phenomenal. They're reliable, trustworthy, and their team oriented. Do we see must be a team player in every help wanted ad? Do you know any branch of the military that doesn't automatically look at their team? They are all about team.
Then there, there's a number of organizations and resources out there that specifically focus on veterans hiring programs. In fact, it can be overwhelming. There are so many of them out there and I might be a little bit biased, but I really think that the SHRM veterans at work certificate program is a great place to start. It's user friendly. It's designed for HR professionals, supervisors, managers, that employer who does everything, maybe they don't have a dedicated HR department. They've got a great business case for hiring veterans publication out there that I think it was USAA worked on that. SHRM Partnered with PsychArmor, NBCComcast Universal, USAA, and several other great organizations to put that program together so it's specifically designed to help just your everyday mom and pop organization that are looking to hire, as well as larger organizations that can really, really focus on that. And I think it's a great place to start.
The certificate program is self-paced, you can do it from your own home, you could do one section at a time, and it's just incredibly valuable. I think tapping into other organizations too, a neglected to mention when we were talking about some of the work we do here, or I've been able to do here in Montana, our local, our Montana ESGR group is a huge supporter of Montana SHRM. In fact, when we have our SHRM conference every year, Montana ESGR is probably our biggest sponsor, and they've been incredibly helpful. Anytime we have questions or want to partner with somebody to help build a stronger veterans hiring program, specifically as it relates to those garden reserve members as well, they're right there with tools and resources that anything we could ever imagine. So reach out to those other organizations and tap into the tools and resources that they have available to help you be successful, hiring veterans national guards and veteran spouses.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
No, that's great. And I think you've given us a lot of valuable resources and I can't echo enough, we would not be able to do many of the things that we've been able to do with the veterans at work certificate, with the hiring retaining and engaging guidebook that we've been able to create through our SHRM foundation. And it is thanks to our sponsors that you mentioned USAA, JP Morgan Chase, NBCComcast Universal, and of course the partnership with PsychArmor on their certificates as well.
So this has been a great conversation, and I hope we have been able to provide a lot of great resources around engaging and hiring our veteran community. If our listeners wanted to connect with you or reach out to learn more about the great work that you're doing, how would they find you?
Probably the easiest way to get ahold of me is through email. And it's a long one, but it's Ronda and that's Ronda without an H. Rondo@nwmthrsolutions.com, or they can find me on my website, www.nwmthrsolutions.com.
Gloria Sinclair Miller:
Great. Thank you so much, Ronda. Well, we've come to the end of our show and I want to thank Ronda again for joining us today. Thank you all for listening. If you haven't already please subscribe so you never miss an episode. Feel free to reach out to me. You can find me on Twitter at SHRMGloria or on LinkedIn at Gloria Sinclair Miller. And if you'd like to learn more about the Honest HR podcast or to get additional resources and information that we discussed on today's episode, please head over to SHRM.org/HonestHR. To learn more about SHRM podcast, check out SHRM.org/podcast. Until next time. Thank you again for joining us on Honest HR.
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