The original article was written in October 2013 in preparation for a power point presentation called “The UnAmbiguous Vet” at the Virginia state Workforce Investment Academy in Roanoke, Virginia. The prologue for the title the Unambiguous Vet presentation was that it was actually “a play on words…being a veteran is a complicated process. What we seek is clarity and lack of confusion…a needs based approach with focus and specificity in workforce systems, to help the veteran workforce attain what should be fundamental to them after giving and providing so much sacrifice in protecting the ideals of America…attaining the illusive…job.”
It had been a long time coming…from my early days as a supervisor of military veterans at the Virginia Employment Commission from 2002 through 2004, where the concepts of veteran leak points and leak-through were created, to seeing and understanding some of the turbulence surrounding successful military veteran assimilation. It was in this power point presentation “The UnAmbiguous Vet,” that first introduced the concept of the military veteran triangle for success. I continued to work on the concept and submitted the article below for website publication in March 2014 for a “quick shop” presentation at the National Association of Workforce Boards, in Washington, D.C.
Impassioned Engagement implores and encourages us to stay relevant; and, “to stay relevant, leadership will require the focused involvement and effort of visionaries and innovators, who will embrace and understand change and the continuous improvement of systems, policies, processes, and procedures for optimum efficiency. They should have the spirit of commitment and courage of conviction to connect dots and see things that others cannot imagine, or see, aimed towards knowing when to change and dialed into anticipatory change. Veteran programs will require this kind of review and effort to meet demands in the future.”
The difficulty of military veterans assimilating in the workforce mainstream after service to our county has been well publicized and documented. Within the next four years, approximately one million military members will leave the service. The impending drawdown from Afghanistan provides the time, space, and opportunity to shape the future in a different direction for the employment of military veterans. To continue on the same course will only exacerbate a fledgling problem. There are numerous federal, state, and local government efforts such as grants, veterans, and workforce programs to help military veterans find employment. However, even with these efforts, we appear to not efficiently hit the mark with focused commitment and concentration.
In Virginia, however, in the recent past, encouraging efforts appear to be moving in a positive direction to improve the efficiency of veterans finding employment with a renewed vigor in the transitioning or exiting military veteran, by revamping the transition assistance program (TAP), now called Transition Goals, Plans, Succeed (GPS). Also, there is a relatively new program, expressly focused on the employer called the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Initiative, aimed to certify the employer to hire, train, and retrain military veterans. What would complete this holistic approach would be impassioned engagement/reengagement of the public workforce system, specifically focusing on the benefits, value, and viability of the system in its approach to training and recapitalizing on the talents of military veterans…what is called the military veteran triangle for success, shaped in the graphics provided below. Hence, with this in mind, the focus is on the right side of the triangle…the public workforce system.
As a military veteran who has retired and transitioned, and has worked in the public workforce system for nearly fifteen years, the system may appear to be a morass of services, wholly fragmented and duplicative. Could the public workforce system serve veterans more optimally and efficiently, if it impassionedly made more meaningful changes and strategically focused on real engagement, collaboration, quality of effort, and outcomes with end states tied to employment and genuine partnerships?
Impassioned Engagement Defined
Impassioned engagement does not merely mean making a presence at a meeting. Many workforce veteran counterparts believe that when it comes to helping military veterans, it cannot be a half-hearted attempt; we must be all in or not at all. Therefore, this engagement is of a different mindset, an impassioned dedication, to focus on the completion of a mission or attainment of a goal, which in this case, would be getting military veterans back to work as quickly as possible. This attitude supports and espouses participation, partnerships, and collaboration at all levels. If you missed it, just described, are the two primary characteristics of a military veteran…team and mission focused. It is this impassioned commitment of military veterans that supports the all-volunteer military force which protects America. So…to help veterans, the public workforce system must know the terrain and comprehend and see what military veterans see.
To stay relevant, leadership will require the focused involvement and effort of visionaries and innovators, who will embrace and understand change and the continuous improvement of systems, policies, processes, and procedures for optimum efficiency. They should have the spirit of commitment and courage of conviction to connect dots and see things that others cannot or will not see, aimed towards knowing when to change and dialed into anticipatory change. Veteran programs will require this kind of review and effort to meet demands in the future.
Conversely and status quo, disengaged workforce systems operate on assumptions that may be outdated or may not be true, because change has made them irrelevant; they espouse the creation and continuance of silos; they despise and fear change; are intimidated by collaboration and partnerships; and, exacerbate disconnection points to establish and maintain legitimacy and sustainability, becoming many subsystems disconnected within a larger system.
If we really want to be serious about assimilating veterans in having success in attaining viable employment in the workforce mainstream, we must have meaningful discussions, validate assumptions, and willing to be courageously visionary and innovative. We must make real, strategic, and fundamental change based on substantive, supportive, and empirical data. We must make real connections become realities by developing continuous and far-reaching strategies to stay relevant and to help exiting military veterans navigate the institutional turbulence they may encounter in the public workforce system as they attempt to attain employment success after military careers.
We must minimize, mitigate, or diminish turbulence…disconnections, duplication, fragmentation, and silos, and plug system leak points and prevent leak through. Leak points are when the military veteran or dislocated worker cannot be helped, or benefit from the public workforce system because of policy or procedural incongruence that cancel each other out. Leak-through is when the military veteran or dislocated worker makes contact with the public workforce system, but is so dissatisfied with procedure, process, and lack of quality that they leave and will not return or the leaking sieve effect.
The Prudential Insurance Report on Veteran’s Employment Challenges in 2012, expounded upon some of the greatest challenges military veterans face transitioning to civilian life and provide the foundational framework and legitimacy for the public workforce system. 69 percent were concerned about finding a civilian job; 62 percent were concerned about the current economic situation; 60 percent were concerned about how military skills will translate to civilian jobs; and, 50 percent were trying to figure out what to do next.
The public workforce system is a service delivery platform. Keeping the phrase “trained as quickly as possible” in mind, perhaps we should rethink how we target the veteran community by giving all programs an impassioned look and review.
For brevity sake, listed below are three of several disconnection points discovered through impassioned engagement and involvement in relevant workforce issues centered around military veterans where, visualizing and understanding the modest application of efforts by the public workforce system, can make fundamental improvements and substantive change in support of hiring veterans. It does not always require new brick and mortar, but a fundamental change in mindset.
Current Turbulent Disconnections
Direct and Immediate Career Pathways Ineffectual Alignment Disconnection-Per the Department of Labor Training and Employment Guidance Letter (TEGL) 22-04, exiting military are considered dislocated workers, if they meet length of service and characterization of discharge criteria. United States Code of Federal Regulations 665.300 provides the framework to deliver services to enable dislocated workers to transition as quickly as possible back into the workforce mainstream.
Considering this, do we really know the skills of those veterans deciding to leave the military before they exit out? Generally and historically speaking, public workforce education systems access current and future needs of employers via skills gap analyses and then pursue the exiting military population with a targeted broad-brush or the assumption that one size fits all approach in career pathways to fill employment gaps and shortages or a strategy of hope. We hope they will show up to meet outcome measures and fill requirements. For example, the focus of a veteran grant or program may be to have outcome measures and numbers targeted at a career in cyber-security, but the majority of the exiting military force targeted, were logisticians and the supply force, which is not a good fit for a career in cyber-security. This is ineffectual alignment of career paths which waste valuable time, effort, and resources.
There was no pre-survey to ascertain the best career fit and model for those deciding to leave the military. The aim is to have effectual alignment…direct career paths based on the skills of the impending veteran employee and the needs of the impending hiring business or employer, which reduces training time and resources. The focus would be on the skills deficit. The process would work better if the public workforce system coordinated and partnered with the commanders and the chain-of-command of exiting military to ask five basic questions of those enrolled in their transition assistance course: (1) What did you do in the military? (2) What do you want to do as a career out of the service? (3) How is experience in the military assessed for any credit? (4) What skills are transferable? And, (5), do you intend to remain in the area or relocate?
From these questions, the public workforce system can practice immediate effectual execution by making appropriate assessments for just-in-time training and courses to up-skill and increase credentials, certificates, and employability with focus and specificity, commitment, and resources, hopefully so aligned, that upon completion of training, if required, the quality outcome or end state is that there is a job to be filled by the hiring employer.
With alignment and execution, all partners within the public workforce system would expressly benefit from these efforts and they present the best uses of funding and resources. For example, employment offices could develop job matching strategies to help attain job placement goals. One Stop Career Centers would be able to make better funding decisions and training based on specific needs and requirements. Economic development directorates would be able to use the data for inclusion in its business retention and attraction strategies. And, these criteria could be tied to a viable regional rapid reemployment strategy and system. Knowing who is actually getting out and what they did and want to do, provide the framework for direct (effectual alignment) and immediate (effectual execution) career pathways.
The Veteran-Mindset Funding Step-Down Disconnection– Consider the marketing strategy to the military veteran… that the community college is a viable option over the four year university or proprietary schools, because it is less expensive. Perhaps, this is a realistic strategy if one is paying for their education outright and resources are limited. However, it may be an unrealistic strategy, if you are targeting military veterans eligible for the post 9-11 GI Bill or vocational rehabilitation funds. This group may not be as concerned about the cost of education, because they are not paying for it. The only veteran that the inexpensive education strategy would benefit is the veteran dislocated worker who had a job and lost it through a layoff and their GI Bill has expired. Funding for education for them could be an issue.
When it comes to preparing a strategy for exiting military veterans, the public workforce system should conduct a bottom up review and plug all leak-points relating to policy and procedure. Additionally, they should focus on the quality of effort, quality enhancers, and quality of outcomes and prevent or diminish leak-through. Remember, leak-through is when the military veteran makes contact with the public workforce system, and leaves and never return because of a terrible or bad experience. Hence, every employee of the public workforce system becomes the face of their respective organization, espousing the strategic, operational, and tactical mindset, vision, values, goals, and mission of the entire system.
Some questions to ask to prevent leak-through: (1) Are we really veteran friendly and what does that mean? (2) Are veterans helping veterans seeking an education? Being an American military veteran is like being a member of the world’s largest fraternity or sorority and is a connection for life. Veterans have a bond of shared experience and feel comfortable and are protective of each other. (3) Is your veteran approval of courses, admission requirements, financial aid and planning process synchronized with the Department of Veteran Affairs to prevent problems and misunderstandings? In the Prudential Report, 53 percent of veterans were concerned about the difficulty of navigating veteran programs and benefits. Remember that the veteran is leaving his or her world and coming to your world and he or she is hoping and believing that you know what you are talking about and what you are doing. (4) Do the people in charge of veteran programs speak the language and understand the veteran culture? Is there a place for veterans to assimilate on campus? Do internal customers know and understand that they serve each other?
Many in the workforce system focus on numbers without an extension or measure of quality of end state. For example they may say…we had a veteran job fair and 1500 people showed up. Well, that all sounds good, but it is not the fundamental reason for having a job fair. The real question is… of the 1500 people who showed up for the job fair, how many got jobs? What is important to understand is that the veteran population has a logical step down in thought based on what funding they qualify for; so, the focus should be to attract the veteran with the highest perception of quality, recognition of experience, and quick credential and training turnaround, and hopefully, employment as an end state, which meets the dislocated worker mandate of returning to the mainstream as quickly as possible. Finally, it is necessary that the public workforce system engages, aligns with, seeks to understand, establishes a dialogue, and partnerships with military commanders; that they espouse a strategic agenda to maintain credibility with employers…avoiding over-promising, overstating, and under-delivering workforce services.
What is a Veteran Disconnection–There is no official definition for the term veteran! Most would be surprised to know that “whether one is considered a veteran by the federal government depends upon which program or benefit one is applying for.” This misunderstanding is so important that Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Initiative included this disconnection as an integral part of their informational brief to employers. Merely serving in the military does not make one a veteran or does it? The V3 Initiative uses the broadest and most far-reaching terms to recapitalize the workforce in defining a veteran as “any person or direct family member of a person who has served or is still serving in the armed forces.” Contradiction and ambiguity exists from this, for section 38 of the US code states that a veteran must be discharged…stating the term “veteran” means “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released there from under conditions other than dishonorable.”
Equally, it is important to note that the US code definition provides no timeframe, which leads to further confusion. Consider the following definition which infers that there may be a minimum of five definitions of the term veteran in the public workforce system in the Department of Labor’s priority of service protocol. “It is important to note that the definition of veteran in the Jobs for Veterans Act (JVA) (1) , The Priority of Service Regulations (2), and TEGL 10-09 (3) differs from the definition of veteran reporting to Wagner-Peyser services (4) and services for a DVOP and LVER programs (5). Most priority of service requirements use one day of active military service as a veteran qualifier. So…what is a military veteran?
Consider the Chart (A) below, which came from the public workforce system and demonstrates the lack of clarity and understanding in what is a military veteran. Chart (B), which revised Chart (A) and is recommended to understand and ascertain more accurate data pertaining to military veterans and the priority of service. Based on your knowledge, which one is the most correct when attempting to glean data concerning military veterans? If you are with the public workforce system and you do not know, then therein lies a potential problem. If you are a military veteran and you are confused, then these are problems needing to be addressed with clarity, training, and education. Should there be a standardized definition between the military and the public workforce system as to the meaning of the term veteran? Military veterans need to know what being a veteran is and means, so they know what they qualify for in funding, grants and programs designed to benefit them. They disconnect when they don’t know what they don’t know. The public workforce system needs to know to ensure all qualified veterans have a chance at successful outcomes and not become procedurally part of the disconnection through policy and a lack of knowledge and misunderstanding.
All Roads Will Lead to the Public Workforce System
The failure to see what is in front of us diminishes or stops momentum and this significantly impacts our results and outcomes. And, as seen by the three examples, the only way to see what the military veteran sees is through impassioned engagement, involvement, and understanding connectivity and intra and interrelationships between policies, processes, and procedures of workforce partners and their resources. We must engage the employer because they are the gatekeepers of an invaluable workforce and they provide the present and future requirements. The bottom line is whether it is the exiting military veteran requiring training, job matching, career coaching, helping with job searching, credentialing, testing, up-skilling, certifications, and seeking directions for in-demand career pathways; or, whether it is the veteran who initially got a job after service and became a dislocated worker. Or, whether, it is the life-long-learner, who wants to continuously stay relevant by upgrading skills, all roads will eventually lead to the public workforce system.
In closing, the bottom of the triangle represents success and relevancy through understanding dynamic change. The delta or triangle of success represents fundamental change in mindset as a different or new way of thinking in an ever-evolving, dynamic workplace. This triad thinking embraces the exiting military veteran, the public workforce system, and V3 Initiative, by applying Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion to certain and constant change…if we overcome inertia or the resistance to change, we create action and momentum, and from this momentum, we should understand that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, representing change, and even unintended consequences. Because of this fundamental change, the public workforce system must be committed to strategic input and involvement and must become and remain impassionedly engaged to understand its mission, position, the relevance of change, and must be ready to respond to it (the ripple in the pond effect).
How will the public workforce system respond to changes made within the military’s new transition assistance program? How will it respond to the changes made by the V3 Initiative in expressly working with employers? And considering those two questions, how will the public workforce system stay relevant for the future and for an eager to serve transitioning military workforce. Finally, can the public workforce system reach the point of impassioned engagement for continuous improvement, efficiency, and self-correcting to stay abreast of or in front of change. If impassionedly engaged, we can only see future change by being visionary and having the innate ability to connect-the-dots and to see what others cannot imagine or see. So, to help the transitioning military veteran to attain employment success and successful career paths, the public workforce system must in all cases… stay impassionedly engaged to stay relevant!
Chief of Naval Operation’s Email Message. “Transition Goals, Plans, Succeed.” 09 September 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.
Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Conference Pamphlet. Virginia Beach: Department of Veteran Services, 10 December 2013. Print.
Prudential Financial Inc. “Veteran Employment Challenges, Perceptions, and Experiences of Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life Report.” May 2012. Web. 16 Jan 2014.
United States. Department of Labor. “Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 22-04.” Emily S. DeRocco, Assistant Secretary of Labor. 22 March 2005. Print.
Eregulations. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration “Title 20 Code of Federal Regulations 665-300.” 01 November 2011. Web 16 Jan 2012.
About.com US Military. “Do You Qualify for Veteran Benefits?” Rod Powers. Nd. Web. 15 October. 2013.
Training Modernization Group, INC., Koenig, Ross. Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Initiative “Defining “Veteran” Lecture Brief, p 10. 10 February 2014. Print.
Cornell Law. 38 U.S. Code Section 101 (2) Definitions.” What Is a Veteran? Web. 23 October 2013.
United States Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration and Veterans Employment and Training Service. “A Protocol for Implementing Priority of Service for Veterans and Eligible Spouses.” Nd. Print.