We had the chance to connect with Patrick Beharelle, the president and chief executive officer of TrueBlue and a huge proponent of hiring veterans. He’s not only managed to empower veteran candidates within TrueBlue and its subsidiaries, but has also helped many of TrueBlue’s Fortune 500 clients create sustainable veteran hiring practices within their organizations. We spoke to Patrick to learn more about these initiatives and get his advice on how staffing leaders can institute similar programs.
RIX: Why is this issue so close to your heart?
PB: I never served in the military, but my father did two tours of duty in Vietnam and I come from a military family. As a child I was exposed to some of the challenges my father had, and saw the challenges that a military family experiences.
RIX: What are some of the challenges that veterans have in finding work?
PB: Translating their skills is probably the hardest part. I go to a lot of job fairs for veterans as part of the Hiring Our Heroes program, for which I sit on the board. Sometimes veterans struggle to understand the value they could provide in the private sector. For instance, I was talking to a veteran and I asked him, “what do you want to do?” And he said “I’ll do anything.” I looked at his resume and saw that he had a CDL and had driven big rigs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those jobs pay $60-$90k a year if you want to drive big rigs, and there’s a shortage of qualified drivers in the United States. You shouldn’t be taking a job that pays $12 an hour when you can make five times that much. Another challenge is that a lot of companies say they want to hire veterans; and I sincerely believe that leadership wants that, but at the hiring manager level, the rubber hits the road. That’s the biggest challenge. Often hiring managers don’t have the training or experience to determine what constitutes a meaningful military accomplishment, looking at military resumes almost like they were written in a foreign language. For instance, they may have no idea what a silver star signifies. PeopleScout, which is part of TrueBlue, has been very involved in helping veterans translate their military skills into a private sector resume and understand what they can bring to the private sector. We’ve also helped companies with their hiring process. A lot of companies say we want to hire more veterans but they don’t know how to do it. We’ve helped drive up their veteran hiring stats by up to 400%.
We’ve done that by changing how we source candidates. We source in veteran-rich environments like military job fairs, military bases. We work with job boards for veterans and military spouses. We fill our pipeline with veteran candidates. Next, we’ve changed the hiring process for many of our clients to flag veterans at the beginning of the process. We can’t give them preferential treatment, but we can give them priority treatment. We’re not going to move someone along who isn’t qualified – that would not be appropriate. But we can give qualified veterans priority access, so they’ll be the first ones called back for an interview. We do this internally and help our clients mimic this process. We hire 350,000 people on behalf of our clients, who have outsourced their recruiting to us, so we are responsible for making sure our clients have achieved their hiring objectives.
RIX: Is it more a lack of knowledge that holds back veteran hiring? Or misconceptions in the marketplace?
PB: It depends on the client. Everyone has their own opinions and biases. Some people worry about PTSD or things of that sort, or they view people with a military background as rigid and not necessarily creative. You get misconceptions for sure. But if you think about the amount of training and readiness for leadership that they receive in the military, it’s disproportionately high compared to someone of their age cohort in the private sector. At 20 years old, you’re handling equipment worth millions of dollars. You’re put in a high-pressure environment in a warzone. Your responsibility, leadership, ability to collaborate, at such a young age is unparalleled. A lot of people that age are fresh out of college and haven’t had any work experience. But a 22-year-old veteran who has served for four-to-five years have leadership skills that are valuable to the private sector.
RIX: Are there industries/sectors better suited for veteran hiring? Or leading the way?
PB: Generally, it’s across the board but certain clients of ours have been very interested in veterans. In financial services, we’ve had success placing veterans as fraud analysts, claim analysts, working in call centers working on investigative work. Driving big rigs is another area in which veterans can bring value to the private sector. One of the partnerships we have is with Walmart, whohas committed to hiring 250,000 veterans. We’re a key partner to them to make sure the 250,000 hire objective is achieved by placing veterans in every area within Walmart. We also see easy transitions in mechanics, construction, and waste management. These are all sectors well-suited for people with a military background.
RIX: How much does your program require integration with government programs? Like military outplacement or hiring incentives from the government? Is there a partnership there?
PB: There are some government tax credits and programs like the WOTC – workers’ opportunity tax credit – which provides tax credits for hiring veterans. There are returning heroes and wounded warriors tax credit programs that require a lot of admin and paperwork but there are real dollars to be saved there. End of service dates are considered protected information by the DoD so you can’t get a list of people who are ending their military tours, but relationships with military services centers are valuable because they provide consulting to military personnel ending their tours. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a Hiring Our Heroes program that is very active and helpful. JP Morgan also has a big initiative. There are definitely a lot of groups willing to help.
RIX: What is the level of commitment that a staffing company should have in hiring veterans? Sometimes “veteran hiring programs” are lip service? What does it take to make these programs viable at staffing agencies, and helpful to veterans?
PB: It depends on what the staffing company is trying to accomplish. Margins in staffing are pretty low, so the courage it takes to invest in military hiring is large. You have to make a commitment or it won’t have an impact. We have hired veterans to be recruiters, because they understand military lingo and understand who were the real performers in their military service. We hired dozens of recruiters, all of them veterans, because we wanted veterans to speak to other veterans for our military hiring programs. We offered customized career counseling to veterans applying to Walmart; we gave them mock interviews to help them adjust to civilian processes; we helped translate their resumes. We also set up what we’ve branded as the Veteran Talent Exchange (VTE). Companies like Walmart, Delta Airlines, Covance, TrueBlue/PeopleScout, Avis Budget Group, American Airlines and others participate in the VTE program. It allows companies to share veteran candidates across the pool – so if I’m a veteran who applies for a job at one of the participating companies, I also have a chance to be considered for a role at all these other companies. More than 11,000 veterans who have been hired through the Veteran Talent Exchange.
There is no one-size-fits-all rule so I can’t say what a staffing company should or should not do.
RIX: Any last thoughts on staffing companies looking to hire veterans?
PB: One thing to reiterate is that a lot of time executives at hiring companies will say they want to hire more veterans and they mean it, but pulling that off is harder than it sounds. If you’re a hiring manager you’re making one hire. You’re interviewing four candidates. You’re not necessarily looking for a veteran. And therefore it’s very hard to move the needle down the organization. This is unfortunate because hiring veterans shouldn’t be viewed as charity. These are trained leaders who can offer incredible benefits to businesses at a young age. You can institute a veteran hiring program by studying and leveraging what other companies like TrueBlue/PeopleScout or Walmart or Chase have done to be successful. Don’t reinvent the wheel – learn what others have done and don’t’ be afraid to ask for help.