Jason Hanson: The benefits of hiring veterans

National Post

When I was serving in the Canadian Forces in Somalia, Croatia and Bosnia, I gave little thought to my career after the military. I had other things on my mind.

I was a rifleman and a light machine gun operator. In my last mission in Bosnia, I served as a Chaplain’s assistant. The uncertainty of not knowing what might happen next was my constant companion, regardless of whether I was out on patrol or lying on my bunk. Anything could happen at any time, and it frequently did. The intensive and constant training was the best protection my fellow soldiers and I had. And it was the most important asset we brought back with us when we finished our time in the military and needed to find a second career.

The vast majority of men and women in the army, navy and air force go on to have second and third careers beyond their military service. I’m one of the lucky ones. I landed a job I love soon after I finished my stint with the Canadian Forces. But others have not been so fortunate. You would think that the intensive training we received in the military across a broad range of disciplines — including leadership, safety, decision-making, first aid, communications, teamwork, security, the list goes on — would be considered valuable by employers looking for new recruits of their own. I wish it were so, but it often isn’t. And that’s not just my anecdotal view.

Research commissioned last year by the Veterans Transition Advisory Council and conducted by Navigator, a public strategy firm, found that most of the 850 employers surveyed had “little or no understanding of the skill set veterans have.” The study went on to reveal that just over half of the respondents thought that veterans’ comfort in high pressure situations (and I’ve been in many of those) would be an asset to their companies, yet only 16% reported that they would make special effort to recruit them. That’s what I call a disconnect.

A different study conducted by Nanos Research and commissioned annually by my own employer, Commissionaires, reveals more interesting findings. For instance, last year, 94% of Canadians surveyed said they believe that we have an obligation to ensure our veterans find meaningful employment when they leave the Canadian Forces. This year, the number stands at an all-time high of 96%. This is encouraging because the study goes on to show that nearly 63% of Canadians believe the support veterans receive after they leave the Canadian Armed Forces is “inadequate or somewhat inadequate,” compared with only 4% who considered it “adequate.” Clearly, there is work to do.

When employers hire veterans, they’re reaping the returns on a significant public investment in training, skills development and personal growth

I found my place at Commissionaires, a leading security company with a very long history of supporting veterans. But my good fortune may well be the exception to the rule. I suspect some employers cling to an all-too-common misconception that veterans are often high school dropouts who couldn’t get “real jobs,” so they joined the Canadian Forces, where they only learned how to march, carry heavy packs, make their beds with hospital corners, absorb drill sergeant abuse and polish their combat boots. There’s no room for that view in the real world. I don’t know any veterans who fit that description and I bet you don’t either.

The rigorous training and skills development of every single recruit is what makes the Canadian Forces successful at home and on missions abroad. Decision-making under pressure, discipline, teamwork, respect for colleagues, operating within the rules of engagement when there are plenty of shades of grey, all give veterans skills, experience and expertise that would benefit almost any employer in almost any field I can think of. When employers hire veterans, they’re reaping the returns on a significant public investment in training, skills development and personal growth. That’s very hard to capture on a resume. But trust me, it’s there.

So as we honour our veterans again this year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I urge all Canadians, but particularly Canadian employers, to do more than observe a moment’s silence. Why not hire a young vet recently back from a stint in Afghanistan? Why not honour veterans for more than one day? I know these men and women. I served with them. I am one of them. I can’t think of any group better equipped and more eager to serve. That’s what we do.

National Post

Jason Hanson is a veteran and a site supervisor for Commissionaires Great Lakes in Toronto.