By Col. Robert J. Yost, director of the U.S. Army Transition Strategic Outreach OfficeMarch 28, 2013
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (March 18, 2013) -- Army representatives took part in Coca-Cola Corporation's formal, collaborative Corporate Leadership Council summit at the U.S. Patent and Trade Office complex Feb. 25 in Alexandria, Va.
The second meeting of its kind, this summit featured leaders from key businesses actively engaged in the process of hiring Soldiers who are making the transition to civilian life. The CLC summit convened to discuss internal best practices for providing veterans with employment opportunities. A total of 19 different companies were represented: AbilityOne, Ally Bank, Altria, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Exxon Mobil, Futures Inc., Google, Granger, Home Depot, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, McDonald's, Oxy Petroleum, State Farm, Tyson Foods, Virginia Values Veterans and Walmart.
This high-powered industry lineup -- made up of recruiting and human-resources managers, vice presidents of talent acquisition, employment directors and more -- was joined by the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel (G-1), Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg; the 65th Adjutant General of the Army, Brig. Gen. Jason Evans; and the TSO program director, Col. Robert Yost.
The daylong benchmarking session was designed to encourage dialogue addressing the Army's role in assisting companies in identifying, recruiting, hiring and retaining Soldiers who are seeking civilian employment.
Agenda built on momentum, culture of success
Bromberg's opening remarks established the forward-leaning tone of the day. He referred back to the first meeting of the CLC in Atlanta (in November 2012) when the initial vision and foundation for the consortium was presented.
"I want all of our Soldiers -- at the 90-day mark before transitioning from the Army -- to be able to confidently say, 'I have a civilian job in hand,' and have their entire transition process be smooth," he said.
The session commenced with a general discussion on how the Army can become as user-friendly as possible to the private sector while improving ease of interaction. Central to this theme was the clear explanation of the role of the Transition Strategic Outreach Office. At the November 2012 CLC, the general consensus was that there was a need for a clear "single point-of-entry into the Army's transition network."
Bromberg, Evans and Yost made the role of the Army's Transition Strategic Outreach Office clear to the business leaders: TSO is the primary means for employers and industry to access the Army Talent Pipeline -- Soldiers who are transitioning to civilian life. TSO helps employers "navigate" the Army's reintegration network by developing lasting relationships with industry leaders. TSO falls under The Adjutant General Directorate, or TAGD, of the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
As the morning progressed, each of the corporate attendees took the opportunity to share many of their recent success stories, cutting-edge initiatives and lessons learned.
The chief of the Army Transition Branch, Walter Herd, provided an overview and introduction to the new federally mandated Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. Herd shared that the Army Career and Alumni Program is the Army's vehicle for transition assistance. He discussed what the program now offers and how it has evolved over time, giving a detailed look at today's updated ACAP centers worldwide and the services provided to transitioning Soldiers.
Geoff Cramer, president of Futures Inc. -- the creator of the Army's preferred portal for the placement of civilian jobs and Soldier access, Hero 2 Hired (or H2H.Jobs) -- presented an update on the newly upgraded capabilities, improvements and enhancements of the https://h2h.jobs website.
Leaders in the Army and the TSO Office strongly encourage employers to use the Hero 2 Hired tool. The website provides hiring managers with direct access to qualified candidates who already have background checks and security clearances. H2H.Jobs leverages a unique military-to-civilian skill-translation technology that matches the talents of Soldiers to civilian jobs. The result is a fast, accurate job-matching process.
As part of the overall H2H discussion, both Bromberg and Evans fielded questions from the participants. This led to a greater understanding of how the Army, by using H2H, is combining its transition activities into a single, streamlined entity. At the conclusion of the Futures Inc. presentation, Cramer provided the opportunity for all companies in attendance to sign up for individual, customized H2H World Wide Web seminars, commonly referred to as "webinars," for their respective organizations.
Following lunch, the participants enjoyed three distinct, in-depth presentations -- designed to provide unmistakable examples of successes within the arena of veteran hiring -- from State Farm, Tyson Foods and Virginia Values Veterans. These discussions provided a free-flowing dialogue that, in turn, generated an outstanding exchange of ideas among the corporations within the partner coalition.
The afternoon ended with a robust discussion on the "way ahead" and what innovative ideas could be applied to make the hiring/transition process more effective. For example, the representatives of both Google and Walmart agreed to work together -- prior to the next quarterly CLC summit -- to develop the process and outline for the production of "Soldier testimonial videos."
Many of the other coalition members began to brainstorm how they, too, could deliver job-placement "speed to market" by serving as facilitators, enhancement providers, and real-world subject-matter experts working side by side with H2H, ACAP and the TSO team.
'Our hats are off to you guys!' Positive feedback from program participants
While many different sectors of industry were represented at the Alexandria gathering, several individual attendees took the time to share their individual thoughts, observations and suggestions for future sessions. Specifically, the TSO office received feedback from Ability One, State Farm and Walmart.
The AbilityOne® Program (www.abilityone.gov) is the largest federal source of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. The program is administered by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, the operating name for the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. Through a national network of more than 600 nonprofit agencies, or "community rehabilitation programs" (CRPs), the program provides the federal government products and services at fair market prices. The procurement of these products and services results in employment of more than 50,000 individuals.
In attendance at the Feb. 25 CLC event was retired Col. Chuck Guta, key account manager for NISH, an AbilityOne authorized enterprise. Once known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, it is now known as NISH: Creating Employment Opportunities for People with Significant Disabilities.
"I wish I had a transition process like this when I retired after 31 years of service!" Guta said. "This gathering of such talent -- and their desire to work with the Army to hire Soldiers -- is wonderful to see!"
Guta went on to describe how the AbilityOne Program recently helped find employment for 240 people with disabilities. An AbilityOne nonprofit agency received a five-year contract to consolidate units of the Defense Manpower Data Center, which supports all Department of Defense human-resources systems. DMDC supports active duty, Reserve, Guard and retired military members and their families, as well as civilian contractors who work at DOD. This contract created approximately 240 jobs in the Fort Knox, Ky., community for wounded, ill and injured warriors and others with significant disabilities.
When asked if he would be willing to promote the U.S. Army TSO office and the innovative Hero2Hired/H2H.Jobs site by providing informational web links to their CRPs, Guta responded without hesitation, "Absolutely! To all of them! This program is something they have got to hear about. In fact, I also work with the Atlanta chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA); they need to know about this too!"
State Farm insurance company has jumped in to the mission of hiring transitioning Soldiers with a blend of passion and patriotism. At first, State Farm began its initial efforts with outreach to the U.S. Air Force. Now, though, they have learned about the U.S. Army TSO Office, the TAP Program and the ACAP initiatives -- and they have become avid supporters of the Army mission.
"We have never before seen anything like what the Army is doing!" said J.D. Trueblood, State Farm's director of agency recruiting. "Our hats are off to you guys!"
Trueblood confided that he, like so many others, originally held some of the common misconceptions about hiring Soldiers, such as "Connecting with the right person inside the Army is impossible," "Soldiers only have a single set of skills for which they are trained," and "Soldiers don't know how to interview in the civilian world."
At first, he wondered how a coalition of such different companies could come together and share best practices without compromising proprietary information. The CLC summit opened his eyes, and he is now a strong proponent of the Army mission. Trueblood said he envisions multiple opportunities for future Army successes.
"Obviously, the power is in the coalition. The TSO office has shown just how to make that work," he said.
Trueblood said he sees the value of employing the Army's brave men and women, and has realized that the breadth and scope of each individual military occupational specialty, or MOS, goes far beyond one skill.
"There is a compassion and commitment which we have seen in the Soldiers we hired. In life, either you have that or you don't," he said. "I can train someone to be a State Farm agent, but I can't teach them the ability to generate passion for one's accomplishments, passion for being part of a team, or pride in the detailed planning of a mission. Our Soldiers have that from the moment they walk in the door!"
Trueblood said he would like to see the Army continue to play up the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, value of Soldiers.
"Those are huge transferable skills needed in corporate America," he said. "We'd like to discuss a way to possibly leverage H2H.jobs by using characteristics, or filters, which may be unique to the needs of State Farm. Finally, we'd love to actually be given the opportunity to assess how the Army coaches its Soldiers for interviews, and provide our set of 'civilian' eyes to the process. Something like that could serve as a big win for the Army and for the coalition!"
Recently, Walmart made positive media headlines by announcing its "Veterans Welcome Home Commitment" hiring initiative, which company leaders anticipate will result in the hiring of 100,000 transitioning servicemembers over next five years. Under the new program -- to be launched Memorial Day, May 27 -- recently separated veterans (those who have transitioned from active duty within the last year) will have priority access to open jobs throughout the United States. Most of these jobs will be in stores and clubs across the country, and some will be in distribution centers and the corporate home office.
"The jobs will look different for different people, and veterans will be held to the same basic hiring criteria as other candidates," said Sherri Eiler, Walmart's project manager for military programs.
In an effort to maintain their competitive edge through acquiring top talent, Walmart leaders believe that recruiting veteran talent allows them to develop future company leaders while giving back to those who served their communities and their country, she said.
When the first CLC session met in November 2012, Eiler was only able to attend via conference call. This February was different.
"I was so glad I got to make the trip this time! I really wanted to be in the same room with my fellow industry associates because that's how the true synergies are formed," she said.
A group setting produces an environment where the team becomes the "most creative" in finding new and innovative ways to reach out to top Army talent, Eiler said.
Initially, many of the business leaders had some reservations about sharing "trade secrets" in such an open forum.
"I know that my business competitors and I are coming together to focus on the needs of our veterans so, in this case, altruism trumps business competitiveness!" Eiler said.
Specifically, the CLC meeting allowed her to share the many ways that Walmart has discovered the true benefits of hiring Soldiers.
"We learned how to give those Soldiers (we were interviewing) a full understanding of the positions available at Walmart, whether in field operations, logistics, transportation, or as part of our global security operations."
The Walmart hiring managers learned that Soldiers bring so much more to the table than one level, or layer, of a specific MOS. In fact, their skill-sets open them up to a world of possible career paths.
While the new Army TAP guidelines now require transitioning Soldiers to commence their separation process at least 12 months prior to separation, Eiler encouraged Soldiers to start even sooner.
"You know, even starting two years before separation can be so helpful," she said. "Some Soldiers may wish to receive specialized credentials or certifications, or even take additional college classes once they know what career path they would like to pursue when they are ready to separate from service."
Another wonderful benefit of the summit, according to Eiler, was learning more about the advancements and upgrades within the H2H.Jobs system. In fact, Walmart has already formed a close working relationship with the team at Futures Inc., and the results have been highly successful. For instance, Walmart jobs are top-loaded directly into H2H instead of going through a middle man.
In the long term, Eiler said she firmly believes that collaborative industry seminars and benchmarking sessions, such as the one held in Alexandria, will ultimately cultivate a "unique hiring space for our servicemembers. The question is, how do we best communicate that to them, and then drive them to the space that has been created just for them?"
By connecting employers to Army Talent, the Army's Transition Strategic Outreach Office will play a key role in that process.
For additional information on the U.S. Army Transition Strategic Outreach Office, visit https://www.hrc.army.mil/ArmyTalentPipeline.