TCB Forum Highlights: 2016 Veterans in the Workplace
Military veterans’ employment in Minnesota has improved significantly as many companies have used comprehensive programs to recruit, hire and retain veterans. From 2010 to 2015, veteran unemployment in Minnesota decreased nearly 75 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released in September. Despite the state’s progress, however, veteran employment obstacles remain.
To discuss these challenges, five company leaders with roles advocating for veterans’ employment joined Twin Cities Business at its third annual Veterans in the Workplace Forum on October 26 at the Cargill Office Center Auditorium. The panelists were: Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy; Chris Hill, vice president and director of talent acquisition for U.S. Bank; Adam Holton, chief human resources officer of CHS Inc.; Robert Intress, process management leader of Global HR Solutions for Cargill; and Jeannine Patterson, director of recruiting strategy for Ameriprise Financial Inc. The forum was moderated by Dale Kurschner, editor in chief of TCB, and was sponsored by API Group Inc. and Cargill.
Although numerous companies have recruitment programs, one challenge many businesses continue to face is ensuring hiring managers take advantage of recruiters’ efforts in finding veteran talent. It often means additional internal support from the company and its leaders.
“We have learned to be very influencing when stressing why we need to give [veterans] opportunities within the organization,” says Patterson of Minneapolis-based Ameriprise. “It has required a lot of one-on-one conversations with hiring leaders to help them translate resumes and to sell the background and experience of the veteran.” The Ameriprise website highlights success stories about veterans it has hired and testimonials from hiring leaders, such as how they overcame their personal biases. The company also provides support for hiring leaders on how to help veteran employees in their transition. Similarly, Xcel Energy offers training courses on how to effectively interview a veteran.
“People tend to exaggerate [during the interview process,] but it’s the opposite with vets. Hiring managers need to recognize that they are talking to someone who is much more humble than the typical candidate,” says Fowke of Minneapolis-based Xcel.
Providing training and support to hiring managers has proved significant for Intress, who is a recent veteran and now an employee at Cargill. While Intress wasn’t selected for either job he initially interviewed for at Cargill, he made a positive impression with the hiring leaders, who later offered him a different position.
“Because those hiring managers saw value in the discussion and took time to get to know who I was, what I was going to bring to the team in terms of my experience, they were able to find a good fit for me,” says Intress of Wayzata-based Cargill. “They found the appropriate entry point to keep me challenged, to leverage the value I would bring, but not to the extent where it put the company at risk because I was ill-equipped or didn’t have the business experience.”
In addition to training, Holton of Inver Grove Heights-based CHS, who is a veteran of the Marine Corps, suggests that companies try internships to get hiring managers on board. “There are great opportunities around internships because the service member has the opportunity to show that the expertise they may be lacking doesn’t matter for most jobs,” he says.
While veteran employment has improved, underemployment continues to be an issue.
“It’s a very hard conversation to have with a veteran to say ‘You may have to start at a level that’s different than what you are accustomed to,’ but it’s a very necessary conversation because you are level-setting with them, you are helping them set expectations so they are not disappointed,” says Patterson.
U.S. Bank offers business resource groups to its employees and has military-specific resource groups in four cities. “It’s a great opportunity for our veteran employees to start making connections,” says Hill of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank. “Those opportunities to make connections with other leaders within the organization [can] lead to future opportunities.”
But is underemployment the core issue, or is the deeper problem a disconnection between the military and corporate America?
“From a veteran’s perspective, most veterans will feel underemployed when they take their first job after they leave the military, but not necessarily be underemployed. They have achieved a level of experience and responsibility in their military career that can’t be replicated in corporate America,” explains Intress.
“We have to do a better job of educating [veterans] and help set the vision for where they can go by [gaining] exposure and networking. It’s very different than how they’ve grown their careers in the military, but it’s a reality in corporate America,” adds Patterson.
Companies’ efforts are important, explains Holton, because “individuals who are looking to join the military in the future are looking at how veterans are treated today. And how we treat them is going to go a long way towards making sure we have the strongest military.”
Kate LeRette is associate editor of Twin Cities Business.