Giving vets a job is only the start

Tony Earley
Tony Earley

Far too many men and women who have served our country in the armed forces struggle to find jobs after they leave the military. It’s worst among the 2.6 million veterans who served after 9/11.

To address this, government leaders, advocacy groups and businesses have been working hard in recent years to create avenues to promising careers. At Pacific Gas & Electric Co., we’ve trained more than 250 veterans through our PowerPathway program. The good news is that our collective efforts are making a difference as veterans unemployment is trending in the right direction.

But we also have to realize that getting veterans in the door is only half the battle. The private sector must go even further, focusing just as much on retaining and developing veterans after they’re on board.

The reality for many veterans is that the transition to civilian jobs is not easy. Many experience a sort of culture shock as they adjust their routines, expectations, interactions, even clothing. I recall having similar feelings after I returned from service aboard a Navy submarine in my 20s.

But veterans should not have to cope with this transition alone. At PG&E, we’ve established an employee resource group to help with this. Since its inception on Veterans Day two years ago, the group’s membership has grown to more than 1,000 of our 22,000 employees. About 60 percent have military backgrounds or serve as reservists. The others have joined because they’re passionate about supporting veterans.

The group has been effective for several reasons. One is that it simply connects veterans with other veterans –sometimes in mentoring relationships, other times just as friends. Those connections can provide the guidance veterans need in navigating their unique challenges.

Another reason is because members rally together around community service, such as volunteering at food banks or raising money for college scholarships. Serving together forges a bond among themselves, and with the larger community. It provides veterans, who are hard-wired to want to make a difference in people’s lives, with an outlet to continue doing so.

Perhaps most important is how the group works to communicate veterans issues beyond its members – in particular with company leaders. If businesses are going to hire more veterans, then their leaders need training of their own. They need to understand how military skills translate into civilian jobs; it’s not always apparent. And they need an education on the barriers veterans often face in the workplace. An employee resource group such as PG&E’s can provide that insight.

In the end, focusing on retaining and developing veterans is all about giving them a real shot at success. And it’s a win from the employers’ perspective as well, as veterans bring technical skills, discipline and leadership qualities that make them highly valued employees.

In the Navy, “commitment” is one of three core values instilled in everyone who serves. The same value needs to apply in the business world when it comes to our support for veterans.

Tony Earley is chairman, CEO and president of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.