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Hiring Vets: Service Doesn’t End After the Military

November 9, 2018

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

three female correctional staff standing behind a table with tablecloth that states department of corrections

Correctional staff representing the agency at a military recruitment fair. (Photo Courtesy of DOC)

INFOGRAPHIC: Veteran Friendly

Often, veterans leaving the military encounter challenges finding work when they return to civilian life.

As an Army veteran himself, Department of Corrections (DOC) Human Resources Consultant Nathaniel Reed takes pride in helping fellow veterans navigate the job application process and find work.

“They’ve given a lot to protect our country,” Reed said. “They’ve sacrificed a lot and I really appreciate that. Some of them stress out about what they’re going to do afterward. I like helping them know it’s not over when you get out of the military.”

Approximately 14.7 percent of the department’s workforce—or 1,254 people are veterans. Government work is among the top industries in which veterans find employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25.5 percent of veterans seeking work find jobs in government.

One of the reasons for that, according to Reed, is because government allows veterans to continue to have a sense of duty.

“Starting with a state agency means you are a civil servant now,” Reed said. “You may not be helping the whole country anymore, but you’re helping the state you live in and your community. And that’s especially true with DOC. You help keep your community safe. The person that’s in prison, when they get out, you want them to be part of society. I think we have an advantage over a lot of other agencies when it comes to recruiting veterans.”

Veteran Appeal

A large part of Reed’s job involves recruiting correctional officers. He says veterans are usually a great fit for the correctional settings because the structure is often like what they’ve experienced in the military.

“The prison environment has structure and order; they’re used to structure and order in the military,” Reed said.

Veterans are often accustomed to working long hours. A typical day in the military might involve waking before dawn for 4 a.m. formations, working all day, followed by more formations in the evening.

“A lot of times correctional officers have the opportunity for overtime, so it could end up being a 16-hour day,” Reed said. “A lot of times in the military that’s a normal day.”

Veterans bring other strengths to the jobsite, according to Reed. The military lifestyle makes them sticklers for punctuality and many tasks require them to stay calm under pressure.

Helping Vets Overcome Obstacles

Helping veterans in their job search sometimes involves overcoming perceived challenges, Reed said.

For example it’s not uncommon for someone who served many years in the military to have never had a job interview. When a soldier enlists, they take an Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, which determines types of jobs they’re assigned.

“Some have never had a job outside the military,” Reed said. “Someone can be employed for a long period of time in the military and when they come out, interviewing is a skill they don’t have.”

Veterans have also told Reed they’re uncomfortable applying for jobs because they fear their skills are irrelevant to the civilian world.

“There’s people out there who are like ‘I’ve driven a tank for 20 years, and I’m a tank commander now. But there’s no tanks anywhere in the civilian world. There’s no ‘department of tanks,’” Reed said. “Those are the people that need help, especially when there’s no direct correlation with a civilian job. But what they don’t realize is they also have leadership and other skills.”

When he meets veterans with those concerns at job fairs, Reed asks questions to get them to pick out their marketable skills.

“We (human resources consultants) help them evaluate what their leadership skills are,” Reed said. “I ask things like ‘Do you have people who work under you?’ and they go ‘Yeah, I have 14 people who report to me,’ and I tell them we have people here who are managers that don’t have that many people report to them!’ Sometimes they (veterans) don’t realize their own value.”

Reed says hiring managers can find it hard to understand veterans’ work experience. When a soldier leaves the military, the U.S. Department of Defense issues them a DD214 form. It chronicles a person’s military service. It’s often complex and confusing to the average layperson.

“It’s all in ‘militar-ese,’” Reed said. “A hiring manager says ‘There’s this person we might want to hire, but it says this on their 214. What does that mean?’ I’ll tell them to send a copy to me so I can interpret that for them.”

Career advancement can also be hard for veterans. He says many times they’ll hold back from applying for advanced positions because they don’t think they have enough civilian work history.

In the military, soldiers must remain in their job assignment for a defined amount of time. Then they take intense exams before they can approach a promotion board to advance in their careers. They don’t often realize they can apply for advanced jobs at any time in the civilian world.

“You have to explain to them that it’s a little different in the civilian world,” Reed said. “It’s a big change for them.”

Corrections' Supports Veterans

The department and other state agencies take measures to support veterans in state service and veterans looking for state jobs.

Staff attend weekly lunch hour “mini-job fair” events at the Transition Assistance Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They also stay actively involved in the military community, often speaking at American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) posts.

Reed and members of the department’s recruitment team have served on a panel of state human resource consultants who go to the military installation once a quarter for career forums. Soldiers on the base can ask panelists employment-related questions on topics like using veteran’s benefits, building resumes, filling out applications and interviewing. Corrections also alternates with other state agencies at on-base recruiting stations where soldiers can ask state employees questions specific to their agency.

Reed says human resources staff also work with correctional officer job candidates on active duty to reschedule job interviews and testing appointments within a hiring period if they conflict with a veteran’s active duty dates.

Corrections, as well as other state agencies, allow employees who are active duty National Guard or Army Reserve members an additional 16 days off for drill weekends. Drill weekends take place one weekend per month and for an annual two-week period. During this time, reservists resume their military service. Duties can include physical and/or specialized training or other work related to their military job.

The agency also participates in an annual Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program hosted by the state Department of Veteran Affairs. The program offers a structured, individually designed case management plan to assist homeless veterans become more secure and employable. The program holds various outreach events throughout the state aimed at connecting homeless veterans with community resources to help them receive their state identification cards, access to shelter, food, clothing and transportation.

Reed attends the annual event at the National Guard Armory in Olympia each November. During the Olympia event, homeless veterans share their resumes, receive employment skills assessments, and get a new sleeping bag. Last year, the Seattle Seahawks brought a bus and gave veterans a Thanksgiving dinner.

Additionally, Corrections is also working on becoming an agency that participates in the Veterans Fellowship Program. The Office of Financial Management (OFM) is restarting the program, which allows various host agencies to offer veterans transitioning out of the military a chance to job shadow employees working in careers based on their individual interests. OFM created the fellowship following the governor’s Executive Order 13-01 (pdf), which outlines directives for agencies to boost their rates of hiring veterans.

DOC’s efforts to support veterans working in its prisons has even resulted in awards. Last year, the Washington Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve gave Larch Corrections Center Superintendent Lisa Oliver-Estes a Patriot Award for her work in supporting employees who have served in the military. Examples of support include flexible work schedules, time off before and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence when needed.

Reed says there’s no magic formula that guarantees a veteran will get hired on their first civilian job interview. He says most state jobs are highly competitive and even the most experienced candidates can apply for many jobs before getting an offer.

“Every employer has their own things they’re looking for and questions they want answered,” Reed said. “Candidates need to not give up and keep applying. Not giving up is something all veterans understand.”