Transition to Tech: Veterans Seek Meaningful Civilian Careers

Larry McAlister
Transition to Tech: Veterans Seek Meaningful Civilian Careers

The transition from the military to the civilian workforce can be daunting and difficult. Research indicates veterans in the civilian workforce often feel underutilized, out of sorts and searching for inspiration. These and many other problems can be overcome, but it takes awareness and effort by both the veteran and employer.

The appeal of military veterans to potential employers is rooted in the depth, diversity and quality in their training. A 2.7 % U.S. unemployment rate for veterans – well below the overall rate – indicates plenty of companies are eager to hire veterans. But there are other numbers related to veteran employment that aren’t as encouraging, including the fact that just 14.9% of veterans are still at the first job they took after leaving the military, according to a Syracuse University veteran job retention survey.

What are some challenges slowing a successful transition by veterans into civilian jobs? And how can companies more quickly address these issues and maximize what veterans have to offer?

A global talent pool

There is a rich and growing pool of job seekers among ex-military both globally and in the U.S. An estimated 230,000 to 245,000 veterans are expected to leave the U.S. military annually between now and 2019, according U.S. Department of Defense projections. Surveys indicate many will face some common issues.

Selling their skills:

The nature of many jobs in the military requires veterans to be extremely adaptable and competent in multiple tasks, but they often downplay their versatility. Gordon Solomon, engineering manager at Equinix’s LD3 and LD9 data centers in London, oversaw his ship’s electrical operations during 15 years in the Royal Navy. But it was just one of many tasks that he and vets like him have mastered. Still, when he interviews ex-military for jobs in his data centers, they consistently undersell their skills: “I’ll ask these guys what they did in the military, and they’ll say something like, ‘I looked after some boilers.'” Solomon said. “But these guys have so many transferrable skills, it’s ridiculous.”

U.S. Air Force veteran Carin Sendra, writing for Talent Economy, says veterans often oversimplify their resumes to highlight skills they think that an employer wants. Then, they end up in unsatisfying jobs below their capabilities that don’t last.

Looking for meaningful work

Patricia Cole, an Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) site engineer in Dallas, was ready to leave the Air Force National Guard after six years in the services squadron, tending to various everyday needs of military personnel. But then during a mission to Louisiana during Hurricane Katrinna, she worked closely with the engineering squadron as they helped people find safety, power and shelter. She re-enlisted to work with that unit. “They were doing so many neat, inspiring things, and I wanted to be part of that,” Cole said.

Surveys indicate the opportunity to do meaningful work outside the military is a priority for veterans, but not always easy to find. In an iCIMS survey, 58% of respondents said their work is less meaningful than in the military.

Overcoming uncertainty

Even veterans who’ve done difficult duty in hostile environments still get rattled by a transition to the civilian work force. “It is quite a culture shock,” Solomon said.

Steven Tapia, a former nuclear Navy engineer who’s now a senior IBX facilities engineer at Equinix’s Houston data center, said he was worried about various, seemingly minor aspects of the transition, like whether he could joke with co-workers in the same way he related to Navy buddies. And he’s still thrown by the lack of written procedures for every task: “In the Navy, everything is done by a written procedure, even for something as simple as throwing out trash.”

Company culture matters

What worked for these veterans? They found a company with a culture that valued their military experience, supported their transition, and empowered them to take charge of their new careers. The uncertainty veterans face about their transition is greatly eased when they feel their prospective employer understands their unique perspective.

“When I meet with a military applicant, we work to determine main areas of strength, so we can find the right fit from the start, and make sure they have room to grow,” said Todd Frey, Equinix’s head of military recruitment.

It’s also easier for veterans to find meaning in their new work when the company pursues challenging and clearly defined missions. At Equinix, for example, our business is a built on a non-negotiable pledge to keep the power on at our IBX data centers, no matter what. That included water pouring into our Houston data center during Hurricane Harvey. Tapia was among the employees eating and sleeping there for days so they could pump out the water and keep the power on. The successful effort was rewarding for Tapia, and he’s been recognized for it, as well as other good work he’s done. “That’s new to me,” he said. “I’m putting in effort, and I’m getting recognized for it. It means a lot.”

Finally, when veterans find companies that truly value their work ethic and skills, they are much less likely to find themselves trapped in unsatisfying jobs that don’t fully engage them. Cole said the team approach at Equinix is similar to what she experienced in her military squadrons. Her colleagues are committed to doing whatever it takes to help get the job done, and Equinix is committed to maximizing their abilities. “Equinix is going to take what you learned in the military and really use it,” Cole said. “One skill leads to another, and then another. There are just so many options.”

Equinix’s push to bring military veterans onboard is global, encompassing the Americas, Asia-Pacific and EMEA. It’s also essential as we expand our global workforce across 180+ data centers in 44 global markets. And it’s straight from the top. Our CEO Steve Smith is a West Point graduate and our Chief Product Officer Brian Lillie was an officer in the U.S. Air Force. The fact that in the Americas approximately 30% of our new IBX hires in the last year are veterans shows how serious and successful our efforts are.

If you’re a veteran and interested in learning more about opportunities at Equinix, please take a moment to visit out Equinix Veterans Career page.

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Larry McAlister Former Vice President, Global Talent Management
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