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Hiring veterans: They’re mature, up to speed, and ready to hit the ground running

Hiring veterans: They’re mature, up to speed, and ready to hit the ground running

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The Virginia Department of Veterans Services is teaching employers how to hire military veterans — and, more importantly, how to keep them.

The Virginia Values Veterans program focuses on companies that want to boost workforce productivity to improve their business’s performance. The V3 program’s certification process is designed to help employers — particularly the numerous companies with fewer than 1,000 workers — who want to hire and retain veterans but are having difficulty doing so.

In this, its first year, the veterans-hiring initiative has produced employer commitments to hire 3,505 vets, and 1,573 former service members have found positions with V3 companies, said Steven Combs, the Department of Veterans Services’ chief of staff.

“It’s going like gangbusters,” said Paul Galanti, commissioner of the Department of Veteran Services. “Everybody wants it.”

Virginia has a rich trove of military veterans: More than 837,000 vets live in Virginia, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.

The unemployment rate for veterans of military service since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is 7.5 percent, compared with 6.9 percent for non-veterans, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. For all veterans, the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, the bureau said.

V3 teaches companies how to “reverse engineer” an organization’s job descriptions so vets can easily understand whether they meet the requirements. A job description calling for a candidate to have three years of manufacturing experience “disqualifies 99 percent of vets,” said Thomas P. Barto, the V3 program manager with TMG Inc., the state’s V3 contractor.

“We ask employers, ‘What do you really want?’ ” Barto said. “They say they want somebody who can come to work on time, work with a team, work safely, read directions.”

By changing “manufacturing experience” to “operational experience,” Barto said, “you qualify 100 percent of veterans.”

Hampton Roads-based TMG, which runs the Virginia Values Veterans program under a $260,000 contract with the Department of Veteran Services, has trained more than 300 companies in techniques for recruiting men and woman with military backgrounds.

The V3 program shows businesses how to change employee hiring from an acquisition model to a recruiting model such as that used in college sports, Barto said. “We need to use the same model for employers to bring the best qualified candidates into their organizations and make them successful.”

“The other part of the equation is how many stay with the company,” Galanti said. “It they’re still working with the company, that probably means they’re being treated the right way. That’s one of the things the employers are being taught.”

Participating companies pledge to retain their new-hire veterans for at least a year.

Virginia hasmore than 150,000 companies employing fewer than 500 employees, the U.S. Small Business Administration says. Those companies represent the overwhelming majority of the total hiring demand, said Joseph C. Barto III, TMG’s president and an Army combat veteran. Consequently, Virginia Values Veterans has concentrated its resources on the state’s smaller firms.

But the V3 program expects large corporations — those with more than 1,000 people — to lead by example: sponsoring conferences, hosting training for their supply-chain companies and “evangelizing” the V3 effort to their network of companies.

One of those is Dominion Resources Inc. “We’re an active member of the V3 program,” said Matt Kellam, the energy company’s supervisor for strategic staffing and himself a Marine Corps veteran.

In 2012, the Richmond-based firm hired 126 veterans, Kellam said. So far this year, Dominion Resources has hired 39.

“We’ve seen our percentage of … veteran hires increase from 10 or 11 percent in 2010 and 2011, to 21 percent in 2012,” Kellam said. 2013 vet hirings are maintaining the same pace. “So 1 out of every 5 new hires is a vet. These programs really do work.”

The company is a leader in seeking out veterans as employment candidates. In an effort spearheaded by Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion Resources’ chairman, president and chief executive officer, in 2011 the company started a national pilot program called “Troops to Energy Jobs” to link job openings in the industry with troops leaving military service.

The positions most in demand in the energy industry — such as line worker, technician, equipment operator and security official — feature skills that “transition very nicely from the military,” Kellam said.

As an economic investment initiative, V3’s overarching goal is to bolster Virginia’s workforce by making it the nation’s most veteran-friendly state.

“We think that over the next two years, we’re going to reach a tipping point making Virginia the best state to do business in,” Joe Barto said. “We’re going to give employers access to the best talent out there, which are these vets.”

As Galanti pointed out, “Only 20 percent of our youth can qualify to get in the military. If they made it through a full hitch in the military, they’re probably going to be good employees.”

Mike Brandon, 29, of Mechanicsville spent six years in the Navy as an aviation electrician. Now he’s putting that training to work with Entry Guard Systems, an access-control hardware and software company in Midlothian.

A V3-certified firm, Entry Guard “hired me to be a technician because of my (Navy) electrician background,” Brandon said.

Frank Kollmansperger, the company’s president, explained why he likes his military-veteran employees: “Pragmatically, they’re mature, technically up to speed, ready to hit the ground running.”

While working for Entry Guard, Brandon is also studying electrical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I hope we’ll be able to continue the working relationship,” Kollmansperger said.

To qualify for participation in Virginia Values Veterans, companies should have entry-level skills training so newly hired vets can be successful, a structured career progression showing the vets their future, and annual starting pay of at least $25,000 with full benefits.

These criteria do not disqualify employers from entering the V3 certification program, which is voluntary.

Bon Secours Virginia Health System is another company certified by Virginia Values Veterans.

“V3 has been extremely helpful to us,” said William Barrett Jr., Bon Secours’ vice president of military affairs. Bon Secours has four hospitals in the Richmond region and four in Hampton Roads. “We’ve hired 173 veterans. We’re getting ready to hire five more June 1.”

“The veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are more qualified than anyone, and more dedicated and more loyal and more likely to do the job,” the retired Army medical service officer said. “They’ve managed trauma before. … They’ve done it on the battlefield.”

The VCU Police Department is the only campus law enforcement agency in the state to be V3-certified, said Virginia Commonwealth University spokesman Michael Kelly.

“The skill set that we need here at the Police Department overlaps with military experience,” Kelly said. Those skills include being disciplined, working through a chain of command, and staying calm in high-stress situations.

In September, the department committed to making veterans 20 percent of its new hires for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Of the 16 officer who completed VCU’s police academy class in April, five — 31 percent — were veterans, Kelly said. And of the agency’s 88 sworn personnel, 23 have served in the military.

“A lot of police departments, and particularly VCU’s, value military service,” said Michael Cooper of Henrico County, a Marine County veteran and one of the university’s new police officers. “And they’re looking for that in candidates.”

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