From Boots to Briefcase: Conquering the 18-Month Churn: Making the Transition from Military Service to Civilian Employment Can Be a Harrowing Journey for Veterans. Learning Teams Are Central to Helping These New Hires Find Success

By King, Emily | Talent Development, April 2011 | Go to article overview

From Boots to Briefcase: Conquering the 18-Month Churn: Making the Transition from Military Service to Civilian Employment Can Be a Harrowing Journey for Veterans. Learning Teams Are Central to Helping These New Hires Find Success


King, Emily, Talent Development


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A few years ago, a growing manufacturing company began to think about military veterans as a pipeline for leadership talent. The company's president, Jack, was himself a retired military officer and thought highly of job candidates with military backgrounds.

In anticipation of service members returning from active duty and becoming available in the civilian job market, Jack directed his recruiting team to pursue and track the hiring of veterans. He asked that they report their progress on a quarterly basis, and in the coming months, many former service members joined the company.

After the first 18 months of the veteran-hiring initiative, recruiters began to notice a trend: Many of the newer employees were being hired to replace the recently hired veterans. A check with HR proved that these individuals had in fact chosen to leave the organization sometime in the first 18 months of their employment. Information from exit interviews identified "lack of fit" as the most common reason for resigning.

Training and development for cultural fit

Unfortunately, this story is not unique. Many well-meaning organizations are experiencing a similar pattern among their military new hires. Smart companies that look beneath the surface are successfully turning it around and retaining veterans beyond the 18-month mark--well beyond.

The secret ingredient can be found in the exit interview data. Last year, MyMilitaryTransition.com surveyed two groups: military veterans and civilian HR managers, posing the question, "Why do veterans leave civilian jobs?"

Not surprisingly, the veterans identified "lack of cultural fit" as the most common reason for voluntary resignation. The HR professionals reported something similar. From their point of view in the organization, veterans resigned due to "an inability to let go of the military way of doing things."

Throughout this article you will see sidebars containing case examples from coaching clients I have worked with over the years. So what is the solution? Interestingly, it does not lie with recruiting or HR. It lies with learning and development. Specifically, the solution is tailored onboarding for veterans. It doesn't have to be complicated or costly. It just has to be done.

From boots to briefcase

The move from military service to civilian employment is fundamentally different from the move from one civilian job to another. The tacit learning about how work gets done is so familiar that it becomes second nature. Not so with the transitioning veteran. Many of the day-to-day activities that can bewilder and frustrate former service members aren't even on the civilians' radar as potential stumbling blocks.

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Before a veteran can put your company-specific orientation material into meaningful context, some form of onboarding support is a necessity. Even veterans with some civilian work experience under their belts can run up against barriers that are, at their core, transition related.

The role of training and development

While every company and every veteran has their unique issues, it's a safe bet that proactive training and development executives can help their company retain, engage, and grow their veteran hires.

Veterans are a group whose challenges can be predicted and who share some common issues, from one veteran to the next. This means that they can be well served by a group learning solution, which is far more economical for the employer than providing each employee with her own coach. Smart companies realize the value in providing tailored onboarding training and resources in the earliest days of a veteran's employment, especially in light of the alternative: absorbing real and opportunity costs associated with learning in real time by trial-and-error, not to mention attrition.

The overarching theme that training and development can address is failed expectations. …

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