Support for Veterans
With approximately 200,000 servicemembers leaving the military each year, opportunity exists to ensure veterans make a smooth transition to the civilian workplace. On October 17, 2019, during the latest event in Excelsior College’s Nyquist Leadership Series, representatives from military- and veteran-focused organizations, businesses, higher education institutions, government agencies, and economic development organizations brainstormed ways to collaborate for the benefit of veterans and our communities.
The Veteran Workforce Collaboration, presented by Excelsior College in coordination with the Center for Economic Growth and the Mental Health Association of New York State, drew about 50 participants from New York’s Capital Region and beyond. Participants heard from panelists and participated in two breakout sessions to discuss topical issues related to transitioning servicemembers and veterans. Topics included:
- Veteran workforce attraction, facilitated by Karen Wolff, director of investor relations and talent attractions for the Center for Economic Growth;
- Improving resource and service coordination, facilitated by Kenneth Secor, director of Albany County Veterans Service Bureau;
- Strengthening education-workforce partnerships, facilitated by Lisa Romano-Arnold, a regional director of strategic partnerships at Excelsior College;
- Service mental health and wellness in the workplace, facilitated by Joelle Monaco, director of outreach and business engagement for the Mental Health Association of New York State;
- Enhancing veteran training and retention programs, facilitated by David Druzynski, chief people officer at Auto/Mate Dealership Systems;
- Making proper accommodations for veteran workers, facilitated by Javid Afzali, senior counsel at Bond Schoeneck and King PLLC; and
- Igniting communities to recognize and support servicemembers, facilitated by Keith W. Wilson, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and director of the northeastern United States and Europe for the Army’s Soldier for Life Program.
Discussions centered around what is working well, where there is opportunity for improvement, and recommendations for actions steps. A common theme emerged from the breakout sessions: with more alignment and collaboration—as well as some improvements—transitioning servicemembers and veterans will have access to robust and helpful resources when they need them.
An informal network that relies on referrals already exists, but the challenge is in coordinating and publicizing the services available to transitioning servicemembers and veterans. “What we don’t have is a formalized network of some sort where everyone has access to those same services and those same resources,” said Wilson, who has seen some communities find success with creating an established network or hub.
Discussion groups identified the need to reach transitioning servicemembers when they are making plans for their future, not when they are out of the military. There’s an opportunity to let them know about relocating or returning to a community and the services and resources available there. Along those lines, speakers and participants brainstormed ways workplaces, government offices, educational institutions, and communities can support servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
In the workplace, for example, employers and their employees can take steps such as the following to ensure a veteran-friendly environment:
- Building opportunity for veterans to engage with each other in the workplace
- Fostering understanding of the culture, mission, and values of an organization
- Understanding the skills veterans bring to the workplace, including leadership and other soft skills
- Encouraging and providing strategies to destress in the workplace
- Providing reasonable accommodations for behavioral health
- Proactively talking about mental health
- Recognizing and showing genuine appreciation for the service of veterans
Workplaces also need to educate employees who haven’t served in the military, so they understand the cultural understandings veterans bring to the civilian workplace. Druzynski shared examples of the perspectives and approaches veterans bring to the workplace, from differences in communication style and the ability to consider new information and make decisions quickly. “Do all your employees, especially your veteran employees, understand that they have the opportunity to make decisions on the fly, that as long as they are making decisions that align toward your objective and they know what that objective is, that they have the freedom to do so,” questioned Druzynski.
He mentioned a takeaway from his discussion groups was the opportunity to build on the “phenomenal” training that veterans have and their strengths in leadership and teamwork, among other soft skills. “As we’re evaluating resumes of people we’re bringing into our workforce, don’t place so much emphasis on the technical skills. Those are much easier to teach than the things veterans are going to bring to the table,” said Druzynski.
To view highlights from the discussion, visit https://www.excelsior.edu/page/nyquist-leadership-series/
The Nyquist Leadership Series explores New York State’s most pressing contemporary challenges through the eyes of prominent government, education, and industry leaders.
The series honors the late Ewald B. “Joe” Nyquist, a civil rights leader and former New York State education commissioner who played a key role in efforts to desegregate New York schools. The “visionary author” of Excelsior College, Nyquist fought to extend quality educational opportunities to learners of all ages.