Defense contractors rethinking veteran support


Ever since President Obama started bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, military veterans have been increasingly entering the civilian sector in search of new careers.

Defense contractors, who have long employed military veterans, have been among the leaders in hiring these employees.

In four years, for instance, Falls Church-based Northrop Grumman has seen its percentage of new hires who are veterans surge to nearly 31 percent, up from 17 percent in 2009. Nearly half of Fairfax-based ManTech International’s new hires in 2012 were veterans.

As the ranks of veteran employees grow, companies are starting to refine their strategies on the best way to train and support them. Some are rolling out more structured mentorship programs, while others are starting new internal offices and partnering with veteran-focused nonprofits.

“I’m seeing a turn in the rally cry of, ‘Hire veterans.’ I’m now seeing, ‘Retain, retain, retain,’ becoming more popular,” said Dan Frank, whose company VetAdvisor offers mentoring services for companies that employ veterans.

Over the next five years, the Labor Department projects that 1.5 million service members will be making the leap from active duty to a civilian job.

Contractors from Northrop to Lockheed Martin are taking a hard look at the programs they have in place for veteran employees, considering whether they offer enough support for a group that can face major challenges in adjusting to the civilian workforce.

From uniforms to suits

The move to the private sector isn’t always an easy one for former soldiers — some of whom may be suffering serious repercussions, such as war injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, and others who are simply unaccustomed to a less straightforward chain of command, and having a choice in what to wear each morning.

It’s difficult to make generalizations about such a large population, but many who have made the transition report that the corporate world can be a difficult adjustment.

“Everyone goes through a little bit of a stumbling block,” said Denyse Gordon, an Air Force veteran who now works on Arlington-based CACI International’s veteran programs. “You’re hanging up that uniform — no more boots, no more PT. Some people have a difficult transition, and some people have it easier.”

For Gordon, who spent more than a decade on active duty and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, leaving the military left her lonely.

“I went from being part of this huge family to now I’m solo,” she said.

Gordon had also become accustomed to using what in the military is dubbed a “continuity book,” given to military members taking on a new role with details about duties, terminology and contacts. In the private sector, there was no continuity book.

After 20 years in the Marine Corps, Charles Miles said it was at times hard to translate his military experience into a résuméthat made sense to corporate America.

Miles, who now works for ManTech, at one point interviewed with a company that had never hired a veteran.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

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