During his military career, Capt. Eric Engquist negotiated mortar attacks, roadside bombs, ambushes and rocket grenades in the Iraqi desert, employing strategic planning and problem solving skills under extreme pressure. After eight years as an Army infantry officer, Engquist left the military to join corporate America, bringing those skills with him.
Today he is the assistant vice president for military transitions at USAA, a company that has been advising and hiring service members for more than 92 years. Engquist helps veterans entering the workforce recognize the skills they have that may give businesses a competitive edge.
“If companies are looking to hire veterans, it is important to understand the value that veterans potentially bring to an organization and that actually hiring veterans is not to be looked at as charity. It makes good business sense,” Engquist explains. He sites a recent study by the Corporate Leadership Council that says on average, veterans are 4 percent more productive and have 3 percent higher retention rates than their peers who don’t have prior military service.
“When you think about the increased productivity and the increased retention—provided that you have a good cultural fit and you onboard and retain employees well—it will impact the bottom line,” Engquist says.
“Veterans are adept at embracing change and operating in nebulous environments. They are very team oriented and they are results driven,” Engquist says. “All of those demonstrate to companies that hire veterans and have good hiring programs that they make good employees.”
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. John McGarrity is the executive director for talent programs delivery with USAA. He says veterans have a tremendous amount of talent.
“I think sometimes people focus on the technical skill they bring to the table but there is a lot there beyond technical expertise. They have been trained to lead. They have been given missions and directives and have been told to execute on those and when they encounter an obstacle they know how to work around that.” McGarrity explains that service members have the ability to adjust to new situations and can easily learn the nuances within an organization.
“Also military members are great risk managers,” he says. “They know how to walk into an organization and identify those areas that need to be strengthened.”
A recent survey by the University of Phoenix highlights more skills gained in the military that include: responsibility, teamwork, ability to work under pressure, ability to follow instructions, leadership, problem solving, accountability, ability to focus on tasks, communication skills, critical thinking, technical skills, analytical skills and cultural awareness.
But even with this valuable skillset, the survey shows that, although the unemployment rate of military personnel is declining, many veterans may be underemployed. According to the survey, 61 percent of past service members who have held civilian jobs say they have previously been or currently are in jobs beneath their skill sets, with nearly three-quarters saying they accepted a position because they needed a job.
Some companies recognize the value in service members and have programs in place to hire and retain them.
GoDaddy, a leading technology provider dedicated to small businesses, embraces a culture that supports veterans and appreciates their service to country. “GoDaddy has a robust population of veterans across every function of our company,” says Elizabeth Driscoll, vice president of public relations.
That includes the company’s founder, Bob Parsons, a decorated veteran, who was honored with the Combat Action Ribbon, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross and Purple Heart for his service with the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam. The company’s resource program, GoDaddy Veterans, is dedicated to creating a welcoming community for service members and their families, promoting career and skill development, and building a recruiting pipeline across all service branches and rank.
USAA focuses on attracting, developing and retaining veteran talent. Twenty four percent of USAA’s workforce is comprised of veterans or spouses of military service members and the company has set a goal of 30 percent for new hires.
“We have a program called VetNet comprised of former service members and spouses of service members,” Engquist says. “They maintain social networking among like experience individuals, mentor and support one another, and provide visibility and education for employees who don’t have military experience.”
Kim Morton, senior manager of media relations for Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, says some businesses in the Phoenix area, such as TriWest Healthcare, Allied Waste, Republic Services and University of Phoenix are recognized by the chamber as being proactive in veteran hires.
“Our strongest partner and recruiter in the area is the University of Phoenix,” Morton says. “Their support allowed us to expand our employment workshop and resume review offerings. We’re now able to offer full and free workshops and one-on-one resume review at virtually every Hiring Our Heroes event due to the University of Phoenix. Their military division also recruits at our events across the country.”
In addition to recruiting events, Hiring Our Heroes has online resources for veterans seeking employment atuschamberfoundation.org/hiring-our-heroes as well as tips for employers to build or improve upon their veteran hiring program at employerroadmap.com.
Hiring our Heroes recently partnered with USAA and the Disney Institute to host a symposium to educate businesses about the advantages of hiring veterans as Corporate America faces an influx of veterans seeking meaningful employment.
“We are in the midst of the largest drawdown in the history of our U.S. military,” Engquist explains. “Between now and 2017 we will see our services shrink to pre-World War II size. About 1.5 million active duty service members and national guardsmen and reservists will be leaving the force and joining corporate America. They are joining an existing 2.8 million service members that are post 911 veterans and half of those are the ages 25-34.”
No private company can meet the needs of these veterans by itself, McGarrity says. “There’s not any company out there that’s going to be able to hire 100,000 veterans. It’s something that we can do together as a body of companies. We can band together and help share best practices, what’s working in our local areas and share that information across companies.”
“These men and women, these veterans, have sacrificed a lot for our country,” McGarrity says. “If we can help in any small way to get one more veteran hired … then we have done something to reward them. We have thanked them for their service. It really becomes about doing the right thing.”
And doing the right thing is what fuels Engquist’s passion for helping others transition. “I’m just like anyone else facing the separation,” Engquist says. So he continues his mission to better arm those service members so they can have a smoother transition, be better financially positioned and better prepared to demonstrate why they are an excellent candidate for a career in corporate America.
HIRING MILITARY VETERANS
Event: Military Career and Job Fair Presented by BestCompaniesAZ, Waste Management Phoenix Open, and Birdies for the Brave
What: With more than 30 of Arizona’s best award-winning companies recruiting on site, this event will showcase companies that have earned awards such as Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America, Fortune Most Admired Companies, “Military Friendly” awards, Arizona’s Most Admired Companies, Careerbuilder Top Companies to Work for in Arizona and Best Places to Work in the Valley, to name a few.
When: Monday, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Monterra at WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N, Pima Rd., Scottsdale