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Finding a fit for veterans

U.S. Army veteran Boris Kogan, standing, says a veteran with four years in the infantry may not have marketable skills, but “probably can operate in an environment of stress and ambiguity.” Kogan is CEO of SwarmBuild Inc., in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Tel Aviv, Israel. (Courtesy of Andy Stoll/Iowa Startup Accelerator)

U.S. Army veteran Boris Kogan, standing, says a veteran with four years in the infantry may not have marketable skills, but “probably can operate in an environment of stress and ambiguity.” Kogan is CEO of SwarmBuild Inc., in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Tel Aviv, Israel. (Courtesy of Andy Stoll/Iowa Startup Accelerator)

Hiring veterans is challenging because of differences in jargon and, in some cases, the seeming lack of transferable skills. Are companies hiring for the wrong reasons and overlooking the right ones? Are they using the best process?

Since 1991, more than 30,000 officers and enlisted personnel have found jobs through Orion ICS LLC in Austin, Texas, according to President and former Marine Mike Starich. Positions range from sales, engineering and supervision to technician or other operations-related roles. The business’ gross revenues exceeded $30 million last year.

“In my experience,” Starich comments, “companies have struggled to figure out how veterans fit in their own organizations. Many companies are making an effort. I believe they have an obligation to help veterans find the best fit inside a company.”

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“Companies should be doing more and better,” says Army veteran Andrew White, CEO of Kilroy’s GI Contractors LLC, a Dallas, Texas, construction business that has hired about 15 veterans in seven months. Starich’s example suggests an improved process, beginning with a job description – it’s the mission – rather than gathering entries for an untargeted database.

White alludes with disdain to a transportation company initiating a veteran-hiring program paying $10 per hour. He believes in hiring veterans and the important people around them and compensating them for their experience.

Kurt Gering, a director at the 380-employee San Diego County Regional Airport Authority in California reports that his competitive six-month fellowship for two groups of three veterans pays the equivalent of a $56,000 salary plus benefits.

Skills have to transfer to meet the needs of the organization. “If a position opens while they’re here,” Gering says, “they may apply and compete for it.” Meanwhile, they receive career-development services, opportunities to assess their fit in various parts of the organization, mentoring by veterans and 24 hours of paid time off for interviewing or activities involving the military.

The struggle for some companies also may result from invisible business reasons for hiring a specific veteran. Army veteran Boris Kogan is beginning to recruit. He’s CEO of the start-up SwarmBuild Inc. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Tel Aviv, Israel, an online engineering and digital-fabrication marketplace.

“If you find a person with the skills you need, startup or not,” he says, “we’re going to get it done. Hire on merit as opposed to veteran status. Otherwise, it would be a little insulting.”

Kogan further points out that a veteran with four years in the infantry may not have marketable skills, but “probably can operate in an environment of stress and ambiguity. …These guys are pretty serious in school about getting the skills they need.”

Harley Lippman, CEO of Genesis10 Inc., headquartered in New York City, has found employment for hundreds of veterans in his IT staffing and consulting company. He’s also turned veterans away when they couldn’t fit well in his company or client companies.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he remarks. “It has to be a win-win, or it won’t pass muster. The client would pay a price, and veterans would tell other veterans we didn’t coach properly.

“People in the front lines are the most selfless,” Lippman says. “They’re great employees, because they’re the boldest. They have to be innovative, quick thinkers, team players.”

How can companies make hiring easier? Veterans programs help. So do job descriptions. Check skills and experience. Kogan looks for initiative and drive, character traits and work ethic.

In other words, “bet on the person, like investors in startups,” Lippman says.

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