Written by: Lori Volkman
UPS Veterans Affairs manager Patrick O’Leary vividly remembers his first night of Marine Corps recruit training like it was yesterday, even though it was nearly 40 years ago. “When you finally arrive at boot camp it’s late, and I’m sure that’s not by accident. We were finally taken to squad bay full of racks and allowed to lay down. But within 30 minutes the lights came on, a trash can was thrown into the room, and the Drill Instructors were screaming at us to get up” He chuckles before adding, “And that was just the beginning.” Most people know that entering the military can be like landing in a foreign country where you don’t understand the language. Like the time one of the guys in Patrick’s platoon grabbed a blanket on the way out. The Drill Instructor asked what in the heck he was doing he said, “Sir, this is the only cover they gave me.”
When it’s time for servicemembers to make the transition from military to civilian employment, the adjustment can seem just as foreign as the first day of training. But thanks to the efforts of some key leaders like Patrick O’Leary, who directs Veteran and Military Family Outreach at UPS, there are now a handful of companies focusing their efforts on military and military spouse recruitment. And it’s paying off.
UPS was one of several companies that committed to veteran hiring initiatives through our country’s Joining Forces initiative. They’ve committed to hire 50,000 veterans at UPS by December 2018, and as they close out 2014 they’ve already made 20,000 veteran hires. Patrick explains the reason for the commitment. “Listen, we don’t hire veterans out of charity. It’s not about that. Let’s just say that people don’t join the military to get out of hard work. They volunteer for it.”
O’Leary’s team isn’t just hiring veterans for entry level positions, either. The veterans hired by UPS so far have found jobs in operations, management, logistics, automotive and aircraft maintenance, and have been hired as pilots, drivers and The UPS Store® franchise owners. Patrick credits their impressive numbers to an HR team that understands the true value of the veteran population. “We realize that these are people who subject themselves to the hardest training on Earth, knowing their reward is to pick up a weapon and defend our country far away from their home and family in some pretty harsh environments. We want those kind of mission-focused, safety conscious, organized and timely employees involved in our operations. No question.”
There have been criticisms that the federal government’s complicated and layered diversity rules make it hard for employers to comply, and that focusing on veterans could create resentment and disengagement among other employees. However, companies like UPS have worked hard to dispel that perception by exposing the two communities to each other on a personal level. For example, through a partnership with ESGR (Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve), Patrick O’Leary was given the opportunity to fly in a Blackhawk helicopter but passed up the chance so one of his peers could make the trip. “I’d done it many times,” he said, “and this was an opportunity for her to see what people who serve do for a living.” Having her spend the day with active duty servicemembers on an Army base changed her perception of the military.
Studies show that the military-civilian divide is an ever-increasing gap in the United States due primarily to enlistments remaining within families of prior servicemembers, thereby reducing the number of civilians who know of or are impacted by having a family member in the military. But American history shows that the biggest advancements in technology, diversity, education and even life-saving medications have been led by changes in private industry. If more companies like UPS would step forward to focus on veteran and military family employment by creating personal interactions for the civilians who don’t know them, it just might build the bridge that is needed to make it across that divide.
Lori Volkman is a military spouse, attorney, and the CEO of Trajectory Communications. Her company will be making two presentations about law and marketing in the military community to help train Women veteran entrepreneurs at the VWISE National Conference in San Antonio this November. Her husband is a former active duty Naval Aviator, and a reservist now employed as a pilot at UPS.