Talent 2025 trains HR pros to be 'military-ready' employers
Military veterans who have sacrificed for America spent their Election Day explaining to West Michigan business leaders why vets need to be hired.
“On election day, we have our liberties to thank you for,” Talent 2025 President Kevin Stotts told veterans sitting in the 50-person audience at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center downtown Grand Rapids.
Talent 2025 hosted this first-of-a-kind event for Michigan, inviting both vets and human resources professionals to “10 Steps To Becoming A Military-Ready Employer,” a series of workshops aimed at helping businesses understand the value of hiring members of the armed forces.
Michigan currently ranks toward the bottom for the utilization of GI Bill benefits in U.S. territories, Stotts said, and ranks in the bottom 10 among states for veteran employment.
The workshops gave Michigan HR personnel an idea of the core values military personal have, he said, highlighting the goal-driven, team-orientated and professional nature of military training.
“Soldiers get core values, like honor, courage and commitment, pounded into them,” said veteran Paul Ryan, chair of Michigan’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. “They live it so much every day, sometimes they take their skill for granted. They don’t sell it to their employers.”
Ryan laid out incentives for hiring military personnel, saying the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) sets forth rights and responsibilities for servicemen and civilian employers. One free program companies can use to connect with vets is “Hero 2 Hired,” which he termed “monster.com on steroids.”
Some employers shy away from the military out of fear of deployment, lack of training, or personal instability, he said, all of which are not reasons to avoid hiring from the military.
The core skills of a military-trained person alone make him or her some of best people to hire, he said.
“When it comes to financial hiring decisions, it did not hinge for me on technical skills, but on, ‘is this a person with integrity absolutely necessary in financial business?” he said. “If a person had those skills in abundance, but lacked some technical skills, I can train them a little in the technology, but I’d never be able to train them in core values.”
Sherrill Curtis, principal and creative director at Curtis Consulting Group, took the tables through questionnaires designed to help business minds understand military mindsets and how they can adapt to each other.
The key measurement where the military and business agree are a work force with coveted core competencies, she said, and enhanced brand recognition translates to increased market share, which in turn leads to increased talent and customer attraction and retention, as well as opportunities for tax incentives and credits.
Military employees, she said, could be the internal champions for team goals.
“When I say champion, I mean someone who leads the office in going after the goals; because that person walks around with a thumbs-up, people get on board,” she said. “Being a team player means so much more to those with military experience than what it means to most of corporate America. Team playing in the business world means, ‘as long as you play nice with your politics and don’t step on department toes.’ (Vets) are looking to know, ‘what are your real goals? Let’s do it!’ They’re like the Energizer Bunny — they’re always ready to go.”
Some of the responsibility, however, does lie with the vets themselves. They need to sell their resumes better by losing the technical military language and boiling down their responsibilities to civilian terms, said Steven Lipnicki, assistant dean of students at GVSU.
“There’s the technical side of what they did in the military role that they can translate to civilian terms,” he said. “Sometimes, the soft terms are so ingrained, they don’t even think of them. Some of those core values and ethics have become so involved, we might know about them more than they articulate.”
Ryan sees Michigan improving and illustrated his hope with a story of a wounded veteran he knew involved with the Kalamazoo Office of Public Safety.
“This gentleman was, before he left, an ordinary beat cop. When he came back, this injury he sustained on his right hand made him unable to fire his service pistol,” he said.
“The department, at its expense, trained him to fire his pistol left-handed. They could have easily said, ‘you can’t perform the duty, we’ll bring you back as a desk job worker,’ but they didn’t. They knew his greatest asset was as an officer out in the community. This individual is out there at his best use and the citizens of Kalamazoo now have the best service. Everybody wins.”
Stories like this, Ryan said, are probably what brought the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award home to Michigan again.
Since the inception of the Freedom Award in 1996, 175 awards have been given out to employers nationwide.
Michigan and North Carolina are tied at second place with 10 awards each.
“You would think, given Michigan’s economy, they would care most about employees and payroll rather than going above and beyond the law for their military employees. You’d be wrong,” he said. “With a much smaller Guard and Reserve population, and fewer employers in the state, we’re tied for second place in the nation in term of Freedom Awards given out. It really is incredible.”