By Kimberly Gladden-Eversley
It takes unprecedented bravery to serve in the U.S. military. It also takes courage to walk away from the commitment to sacrifice, service and the only life you may have ever known. Transitioning into the civilian world means removing the camouflage uniform to enter the uncertainties of the civilian workforce. Fighting for freedom, with the opportunity to finally experience freedom, makes this transition sound like a moment of a lifetime. Instead, for many of our active-duty members, this transition is quite daunting.
As countless programs surface in support of veteran transitions, vets continue to face exasperating fear. According to military-transition.org, 48% of veterans found their transition from the military community into the civilian workforce more difficult than expected, 52% found their transition confusing, and 76% found it extremely stressful. Thankfully, veterans who have successfully transitioned have not ended their commitment to serve their country.
James L. Banks, (pictured) a veteran who serves as SHRM’s (Society for Human Resource Management) General Counsel, key lawyer and legal advisor, continues to offer his unwavering dedication to serve without a uniform. During SHRM’s Diversity and Inclusion conference, Banks shared his expertise on transitioning vets and accessibility. “When you want to get out of the military, you’re back in your home, but you feel like you’re not…because so many people around you don’t quite get it,” said James L. Banks. “What you’ve been through and what your perspective is, and what you can bring to the table in this new civilian environment,” he continued.
Military members are not walking away empty-handed; they walk away with valuable skills that can enhance the civilian workplace. “When I was on active duty, it was only afterward that I began to understand the analytical abilities and skills that I picked up,” said Banks. “I can tell you from having both been in the military and lots of different jobs in the civilian sector, how much we would pay to have an employee go through leadership, training, management and develop those skills,” he continued. “Like almost everybody coming out of the military already has… you’ve been practicing every single day…we would spend good money, in the civilian world to put somebody through that.
SHRM has created a military job translator that will interpret veteran service skills for job opportunities nationwide. Active-duty members can translate the skills they’ve gathered during their mission-based commitment to the armed forces easier now than ever before. This tool also provides a candidate database for employers who are looking for qualified veterans actively searching for jobs. “We’ve got lots of excellent toolboxes that will help employers in that regard; the SHRM foundation is sort of leading the effort in that,” said Banks. “One of which is as simple as…a translator for military specialties… it will also help to identify some of the soft skills that that person has,” he continued.
Internships and various informal job opportunities are also available to military personnel as they complete their final years of service. Providing opportunities for active-duty and civilian employers to collaborate, bridge the gap, increase familiarity and ease the transition. Although entering the unknown is part of the challenge, Banks suggests changing the focus and lens through which employers and military members see themselves as the greater obstacle to overcome.
The military community has received continuous praise for their hard skills, but it’s time to recognize their exceptional soft skills too. “They look at a military infantry officer; what can he do here at this company?” said Banks. “What he can do is lead your workforce and manage your workforce in a way that you’ve been spending thousands of dollars to send frontline leaders to courses and classes about how to lead,” he continued.
Removing barriers to improve accessibility takes recognizing the skills and values only a veteran who has carried the country on their shoulders can possess. “I think of the…barrier to access as sort of a thin curtain in front of all of these great abilities and talents…so our job is to understand that thin curtain is there and find a way to move it to the side,” said Banks. “When you’ve gone through training that is required for any length of any tour of duty…you can do almost anything, there’s nothing that’s beyond you, there’s no limit.”
Photo Credit: KIMBERLY GLADDEN-EVERSLEY