How to: Assimilate Veterans Into Your Workforce

By Holly Smevog

Tapping into the talent pool of returning military veterans offers one solution to Maine’s workforce shortage. Each year close to 1,000 military service men and women re-enter Maine civilian life seeking employment. Unfortunately, Maine veterans receive unemployment benefits longer than any other state and have a more difficult time finding the right work. Employers seem to be missing out on this group of qualified candidates which offers industry and trade skills, leadership abilities, a teamwork mentality and a proven work ethic.

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Here are some ways employers can tap into this workforce.

1. Recognize transferable skills

Misconceptions and a difficulty translating military experience into civilian skills gets in the way of hiring veterans. According to Guy Langevin of Dead River Co., returning veterans may have never have actually looked for, applied for or interviewed for a civilian job. A veteran applicant has as much trouble translating his or her military skills into civilian terms as employers have interpreting them. Chris McGhee, a decorated Air Force veteran, is now with Veterans Upward Bound, a program based at the University of Southern Maine that works specifically with aspiring or current students. McGhee explained that veterans and employers don’t always speak the same language. Looking for his first job after serving in the military, McGhee bumped into computerized applicant tracking systems which require precise civilian terminology. Now McGhee teaches students how to translate official military achievements into accomplishments that employers understand: “heavy equipment operator” might be a better way to describe work as a “tank crewmember.” Boots2Roots, a nonprofit based in Portland, provides personalized employment preparation and networking connections to active duty military members and their families up to a year before they separate or retire to Maine. Boots2Roots and Maine-Hire-A- Vet are great resources for employers looking to tap this talent pool.

2. Understand the benefit that military experience brings to your organization

The stereotypical image of a veteran is often of a person who is broken or disabled, but the truth is otherwise. Military culture shapes men and women into citizens with a high degree of respect and commitment. Chaplain/Col. Andrew Gibson, director of deployment-cycle support for the Maine Army National Guard, educates Maine employers about military culture. Each rank comes with education and rigorous training. Transferable skills include resilience, responsibility, commitment to the group, attention to detail and safety and excellent coping skills. Veterans have often take on more responsibility and leadership at younger ages than their civilian peers. When men and women first enter military service they may bring an idealistic outlook, but mature quickly as they become exposed to diverse experiences, opposing opinions and unexpected situations. Veterans can offer a sophisticated, open-minded worldview. In today’s military, many service men and women have degrees. For those that don’t, the G.I. Bill affords veteran employees access to education, training, civilian certifications, and professional development opportunities at minimal cost to employers.

3. Create a culture that supports retention

About half of all veterans leave their first civilian job within 12 months. The Wounded Warrior Project recommends that employers explicitly support veterans with programs such as mentoring, on the job affinity groups (with a common interest in military service) or an on-call veterans’ assistance representative. These programs help veterans stay focused on the ‘mission’ and engaged in the workplace culture. Retention improves when issues are identified early and when veteran employees are supported as they navigate the civilian workplace. Organizations willing to hire and support veterans are rewarded with dedicated employees who drive hard to achieve the company mission.

Holly Smevog is vice president of Drake Inglesi Milardo in Portland and president-elect of Maine Career Development Association. She can be reached at

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