CHICAGO – Perhaps it was a consequence of sequestration.
Missing in action from this year's Society for Human Resource Management conference were a number of Department of Labor and Department of Defense representatives who have attended past SHRM meetings, people whose mission in recent years has come to include helping veterans transition into the workforce.
The topic was one of the centerpieces of the SHRM conference a couple of years ago. That wasn’t the case this year, though the problems that many veterans struggle with – including health and emotional issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder – remain far from being resolved.
Veterans have been having trouble finding jobs and returning to civilian life. The unemployment rate of veterans who are 18 to 24 years old is above 20 percent, 5 percentage points higher than the civilian unemployment rate for that age group.
The conference floor, with its 700 or so exhibitors, included just a handful of those directly engaged in any effort to hire veterans.
There were, to be sure, a few exceptions, but those tended to be either nonprofits or organizations formed with the idea of helping veterans, vetjobs.com and Wounded Warrior among them.
One of the few examples of private corporations trying to make a dent in the unemployment rate among veterans was HRPlus, a unit of AlliedBarton Security Services.
An employment and background screening firm, HRPlus on Wednesday was scheduled to deliver a presentation aimed at sharing best practices for hiring former military personnel.
Bill Tate, president of the division, readily acknowledged that hiring veterans can be tricky.
“It can be challenging because we don’t always speak the same language,” Tate said. “The terminology used by the military doesn’t always easily translate into civilian life.”
On the other hand, he said, HRPlus has found many veterans it hires to be well-disciplined, well-educated employees with “lots of leadership qualities, who come to work on time and don’t complain.”
Employers, he said, have a moral obligation to seriously consider hiring veterans. “It’s the right thing to do. They put their lives on the line for us.”
Bill Whitmore, the CEO of AlliedBarton Security, summed it up this way in an article published on the Huffington Post’s Now Hiring blog a few days before Veteran’s Day last year:
“While some business leaders talk the talk about why military veterans are important hires, many are not actually walking the walk,” he wrote.
SHRM, for its part, is doing what it can to help employers tackle the issue.
One of the first sessions of its conference, on Monday, was titled, “10 Steps to Becoming a Military-Ready Employer.”
SHRM also has a partnership in place with an organization called the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, which acts as a sort of conduit between those units of the military and the private sector.
Moreover, SHRM has been working closely with the DOL’s Veterans' Employment and Training Service to provide SHRM members the help they need “to recognize the value of hiring veterans and ways to find qualified veteran job candidates.”
Also, SHRM has included a link on its website to America’s Heroes at Work, a site that offers employers a step-by-step guide on how to hire a veteran as well as material on how to address the needs of veterans with brain injuries or PTSD.
Those efforts are sure to help, but the problem is likely to grow over the next 12 to 18 months as the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan.
SHRM officials pledge to do what they can.
“HR professionals know that military veterans bring a valuable set of skills to the workplace. SHRM remains committed to working with both government and private industry to help educate employers about the benefits of hiring veterans,” said Kate Kennedy, manager of media affairs at SHRM.
[Also read: Back from war, back to work]