HVAC Workforce: Hire a Veteran
Tom Perić: We see some ads, hear a lot of talk, and read articles about hiring military veterans. Yet if you own a small business and say you’ve got two openings, you probably have no idea of how to do that. True?
Justin Constantine: I think, frankly, there are a lot of people in that position. When you see a commercial, if it’s FedEx or a big company like that, it has strong ties that come in and it has a whole infrastructure built in [for hiring]. That’s probably not where the majority of jobs are coming from. That’s certainly a concern [for hiring veterans].
There are a few different resources that I would recommend. Every state has employment offices. In those offices, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) have representatives, and they have a priority for veterans. For “regular veterans,” those who aren’t disabled, they’re called Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVERs). So, if you are one who would consider utilizing a state employment office, which your tax dollars are paying for, you might as well — that is a great place.
They also have the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP). It’s what it sounds like; it’s for disabled veterans who are looking for jobs. It’s on a state level, with the DOL and the Veterans Administration [http://1.usa.gov/1XLhmwR}.
The VA has their own totally new initiative. I believe it’s the Veterans’ Employment Commission. VEC is the acronym. If you go to va.gov, down at the bottom somewhere there’s a link for it, so try out the VA’s home page, www.va.gov.
They have about 28,000 résumés of veterans all across the country. It’s very user-friendly. They’re really trying to pull themselves into the 21st century, and they recognize the appointments. The VA used to not be involved in appointments, but now they are. They’re trying to make some big steps there. You can go in and set filters by geography or by skill set, or whatever you want, and that way you can narrow it down to where your small business is and what you’re looking for. That’s one good resource.
There are a couple that are nonprofit, and I work at one. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has Hire Our Heroes [www.uschamberfoundation.org/hiring-our-heroes], which is probably the biggest employment group. The team I run is the wounded veterans and caregivers program, but the overall program began about four years ago, and it’s helped hundreds of thousands of veterans get jobs —and their spouses and caregivers. That’s hireourheroes.org. On there, which is free for employers also, there’s one part that is a résumé engine (which we’re in the middle of transforming, but it’s resumeengine.org), for free, employers can search all the resumes that they upload there. It’s over 100,000 résumés — a very significant number.
One more similar to that is called Hire Heroes USA (www.hireheroesusa.org). They have a partnership with the USO, and they are similar to Hire Our Heroes; just smaller.
Those are all free for job seekers and employers alike. As I said, you can kind of drill down. Otherwise, one other option is going to the hiring fairs on military bases. A lot of your people probably are here on base. You can do a lot of stuff online now. It would take some dedicated time, no doubt about it, but once you figure out the system, there’s lots and lots of résumés. You can tailor it to find people who are just right for you.
Tom Perić: From the employers’ perspectives, what should they expect to recognize when they hire a vet? I realize that’s a very open-ended question.
Justin Constantine: Well, I can speak in generalities. Probably the fact that in the military, 270,000 service members are leaving the service every year, and I project over the next four or five years, a lot of veterans who are looking for employment are going to be transitioning service members.
We learn great things in the military that carry over to the private sector, including a lot of soft skills. There are specific skills if you’re in a particular industry, like my brother, for instance, who retired from the Air Force in cyber security. It wasn’t hard for him to find a great job on his way out the door. For those of us in the Marines or other combat arms for other services, sometimes it’s not such a direct link. But the soft skills that we learn include leadership, initiative, working well with others, working on teams, working hard, showing up for work on time, being drug-free, taking orders well —those types of things. Those carry over well to whatever your job is in the private sector. Essentially, it’s customer-service related. So, those are all great.
One thing is that we don’t talk about ourselves. We’re not trained to do that. We’re trained to talk about the team or the mission, and so I think a lot of veterans struggle in the interview process, especially in job fairs where you might only have a minute or two to make an impression —really highlighting what they’ve done, what they’ve done well, and how that could carry over to that firm can be difficult for veterans.
Tom Perić: Let’s see if I have this right. They’ve been so immersed in a team process that as an individual, which is of course what they’re promoting in a job interview, it probably makes them a little uncomfortable, then?
Justin Constantine: It does. They’re not used to it. And, frankly, one thing the employer should know is that it might very well be the first interview that this service member or veteran has had because they haven’t had to have one in the military unless they were in front of a promotion board, which is the closest thing we have to an interview. Their civilian counterparts may have already had three, four, or five interviews over the years, but we just don’t do that. We submit where we want to go for our next duty station and what we want to do, but it’s not an interview.
Typically, it can be a little more nerve-wracking for us than other folks. We’re taught and trained to speak in blunt language, to just answer the question as quickly as possible, to get the information and move on. That can be a little off-putting, I think, if you’re not used to that. If you’re the one conducting the interview, that’s something you need to be aware of. Even if a service member may have an award on his résumé —say he got his Army achievement medal or something like that —he may just downplay why he got it because no one in the military is walking around bragging about awards.
Tom Perić: What should a veteran expect from an employer?
Justin Constantine: I think veterans should expect that they may have to take a pay cut coming out of the military because we’re still, to a certain extent, an unknown entity to this employer. After you’ve been in the military for a little while, the pay is pretty good. When you consider your housing is covered, and it’s tax-free, and if you’re deployed (added income), that’s tax-free. A lot of times, the job seeker has to be prepared to take a pay cut coming out the door, but there will be opportunities in the private sector, where it’s different than in the military where you just get a pay raise once a year or if you get promoted.
One of the challenges that we face when we go into the private sector is that the lines of communication and the command structure are not as familiar and intuitive as they are in the military. I can walk on a base, and I can tell what everyone’s rank is; I can look at their chests and see what kind of ribbons [they wear] and the things they’ve done, so I know who’s the boss and who’s not. We don’t know that in an office. You’re walking down the hall, people are calling each other by their first names, it’s comfortable, there are different types of dress, et cetera. It can be confusing, but what I tell the folks who are transitioning is that if they give you a chance for a mentor, take it. That person has been around and obviously wants to help, and they can explain these things to you that might be just different. You have to be in the field for a while to understand it.
Tom Perić: I’m going to go a step further, then. If an employer is astute at this and wants to hire a veteran, he may make the conscious decision to either formally or informally assign a mentor. So that can make that transition smoother, at least.
Justin Constantine: It really can. There are a number of easy steps that employers can take to make the onboarding process a lot smoother and more productive for the transitioned service members. Having an affinity group for veterans is one example. From within that, that’s where your mentor could come from. Typically, they are other veterans, but they don’t have to be. People who are civilians but just care can make great mentors just as well as a veteran could.
There are sometimes questions that the new employee doesn’t want to ask someone in their chain of command or go over to HR and ask. Even something like, “How do I sign up for health care?” “How do I know what to pick?” We don’t have those decisions in the military, so that is the best practice, you’re right.
Tom Perić: Is it acceptable to talk more specifically about not necessarily the military service, but if they’ve been in combat? What’s the protocol? Is that like, you don’t talk about it or you don’t ask? I’m unsure, which is why I’m asking the question.
Justin Constantine: I think a lot of people are unsure about that. I think a lot of people want to ask for good reasons but understand that it could be a touchy subject. With that being said, I think that companies ask those questions or it comes across as if they’re asking those questions as a roundabout way to find out about PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].
Tom Perić: Oh, really? I never thought of that.
Justin Constantine: Yeah, some service members have been overt about that, which is unfortunate. Some service members tell me that an employer has asked: “Did you go to combat? Do you have PTSD?” And you’re not allowed to ask those types of questions in an interview or for any medical [reason]. ... Typically, veterans and service members are comfortable with being asked about military service, what they did in the military, what they liked about it, what they learned from it, and how those lessons or skills could be applied to the jobs they’re applying for. I would strongly suggest staying away from asking questions about combat because if I were in there and, say, my best friend was killed, and you ask about combat, that’s the first thing I’m going to think of. That’s a drastic example, but it’s a possibility. Really, as an employer, what are you going to get out of that question? It’s better to stay away from that. Once you get to know that person and they start opening up to you, certainly, you can have that conversation. I would suggest staying away from it.
Tom Perić: I can tell from your background you do a lot of traveling. You talk to a diverse group of people. What I find when someone carries a message like you, even after the number of years that you’ve been doing this, there’s always one or two big myths you feel like you’re always flailing against. If that’s true in what you do in promoting the message for veterans and to hire them, what’s the one that you still seem to be facing and are trying to demystify, if you will?
Justin Constantine: One thing I work on a lot is PTSD. It’s something that you’re maybe most interested in within the military community. Are you familiar with just dropping the “d” and just calling it post-traumatic stress? That way, we talk about it as a disorder, and it keeps the stigma alive, and it potentially makes people feel like there’s something wrong with them. There is kind of a movement to just call it post-traumatic stress. It doesn’t matter to me, but I know some people are sensitive, so I’m going to call it post-traumatic stress. And I would recommend that other people err on the side of caution and just call it PTS.
Anyway, I would say that is one issue. And, the statistics side of human resources management has done some studies that show that a lot of HR folks are concerned about hiring veterans because of post-traumatic stress, even though they don’t know what post-traumatic stress is. They don’t know how prevalent it is in the veteran community. They’ve just heard stories about it. So that’s distressing to me, because our veterans already, as I’ve indicated, have trouble talking about the great things they’ve done in the military because they don’t want to brag. And then, if you think that the person across from you already thinks that there’s something wrong with you because you may or may not already have post-traumatic stress, that’s an issue.
There are a couple of reasons why. The first is a hard fact that way more people in American society have post-traumatic stress from car crashes, general disasters, and assault than the veteran community. Veterans just get a lot of the attention. So, the reality is, people are already used to working with folks with post-traumatic stress.
Second, though, automatically, in someone’s mind, means that you are a liability in the workplace or can’t do your job correctly or need special treatment. I have my own business now, but I was injured in 2006 and started going back to work in 2007. I worked for another six years as a lawyer for the federal government with the Department of Justice and the FBI on Capitol Hill. I was in counseling for a year and a half, I worked out a lot and did a lot of healthy things, so I knew how to manage my post-traumatic stress. I learned how to do that through counseling. I think there are a lot of other veterans in the same boat, and so maybe it would be a good idea for an employer to help veterans coming onboard if they allowed them a flexible work schedule, if they do have to go to counseling or medical appointments in the middle of the day, that might be something they could do. But the idea that, because you serve in the military and also if you serve overseas, that there is something “wrong” with you and you’re a liability in the workplace ... That’s a terrible mentality.
I [give] a presentation to our workshops at Hire Our Heroes. It’s an hour-long [presentation] with a psychologist, about the reality and dispelling the myths around the invisible wounds of war in the workplace. Employers find it very eye-opening, and they enjoy it because it’s such a sensitive topic and they can’t ask these questions to people very often. At least they know questions aren’t off the table. Here’s a wounded warrior who says, “yes,” and here’s a psychologist who’s got a degree, [and] you can ask us whatever you want. That’s what we do.
Tom Perić: With the drawdown in Afghanistan — and we don’t know exactly yet, but we might be facing tighter budgets — we should have even more men and women available for jobs certainly in the HVAC industry that is lacking and needs to fulfill the retiring force that’s out there.
Justin Constantine: There are a lot of folks coming out of the military who like working with their hands, who like doing electronics work, who like trade work, and [they] would be good candidates for the positions in your field —especially because so many of our service members come from Small Town, USA. They go back there when they get out of the military, and those are often the types of jobs that are waiting for them. With those jobs typically come good pay, good hours and good job security. I think our veterans, if they knew more about those jobs being available, would go after them.
Tom Perić: You sound like a poster child for the HVAC industry there.
Justin Constantine: Well, I think those kinds of job opportunities are great. So many of the Marines I knew, and I think this is symptomatic of the rest of the services, come from backgrounds where they like to work hard, and they like working with their hands and seeing a job accomplishment right away. There’s something fulfilling about that. At my house in Arlington, Virginia, several of the folks who came in and worked on our HVAC stuff were servicemen in the military, so I always enjoyed talking with them. It’s usual for them to do that, and I hope more are.
Tom Perić: Let me conclude with this question: What should I ask you that I haven’t asked you?
Justin Constantine: Let’s see. I’ll just make a statement. I think, as you described in the beginning, a lot of small businesses want to hire veterans, and maybe they feel like, [if] they can only afford to hire one or two; that’s nothing compared to Lockheed Martin, so why should I? It’s the ones and twos that make a difference in a small town where some labor veterans are from. Even if you want to have the capacity to hire one veteran, it is one veteran at a time. It’s just like all politics; it’s local, and so is our transition. I encourage that, if someone’s inclined to hire a veteran, it’s not a lot of hard work to figure out the right way to do it. There are a lot of good resources out there. I strongly encourage you to take the time, because once you hire one, that veteran is going to have a network, also, and can bring other new veterans.
Tom Perić: You gave the answer; I’m going to propose the question then. So what you’re saying is, to use your word, if an employer is inclined to hire a veteran, they should never think that because they can only hire one or two that they shouldn’t bother because they’re not a big company. As you say, it’s onesies and twosies that in the end makes up the difference.
Justin Constantine: Absolutely.
Tom Perić: Colonel, you’ve been very gracious with your time. Thank you.
As a Marine officer, Justin Constantine volunteered for deployment to Iraq in 2006 and served as a Civil Affairs Team Leader while attached to an infantry battalion. While on a routine combat patrol, Justin was shot in the head by a sniper. Although the original prognosis was that he had been killed in action, Justin survived. Through teamwork and a positive mental attitude, he has had quite a successful recovery. Justin now speaks to audiences large and small about personal leadership, the critical role of teamwork in facing life’s challenges, and the upside of change. He applies his incredible story of overcoming adversity to every level of an organization and all audiences to move beyond the challenges they are facing in their own lives. He is the author of “My Battlefield, Your Office: Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines.” (www.justinconstantine.com)