Why hire a veteran? Why not hire a veteran?

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Ken Beatty and PFC Deluna, his driver in Korea

November 11 marks Veterans Day. Unless you are connected to a veteran in some way, you may barely be aware of this holiday. For the record, Veterans Day has its origin in a holiday called Armistice Day that recognized the end of World War I. It became an official holiday in November 1919 courtesy of a declaration of President Wilson. In 1954, Congress amended the act and replaced the word “armistice” with “veterans”, making it an official day to honor veterans of all wars.

Veterans understand sacrifice. They endure long hours under trying conditions, financial hardship, separation from family, frequent deployments – not to mention combat. Many have also been wounded, suffering physical wounds and PTSD. After they leave the military, they face issues ranging from securing appropriate medical care to unemployment. Let me acknowledge that this is an all-volunteer force. In my opinion, this is precisely why veterans deserve support during and after serving. At some point, they all took an oath, even though they recognized the hardships and the possibility that they or their colleagues may be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation.

I got support when I retired as a lieutenant colonel after a 20-year career in the Army. Someone took a chance on me and now I’m a strategic leader at a world-class advertising agency. There are so many veterans like me who have skills that translate in business.

All it takes is a chance.

Our industry isn’t exactly chock-full of veterans. Vets and associated employment support generally don’t even think of advertising as a career choice, and most struggle with translating military skills into civilian employment requirements under the best of circumstances, let alone in advertising. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), veteran unemployment is improving but continues to lag behind improvements in the overall unemployment rates. The IAVA cites many of the difficulties of transitioning veterans (check them out at IAVA.org). In “Employing America’s Veterans,” a study by Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass, veterans actually possess skills desired by employers, such as leadership and teamwork, character, resiliency, loyalty and the ability to function in a dynamic environment.

Sounds a little like what agencies need, doesn’t it?

I was recently contacted by Brian Lutz, an Army captain who was about to transition to civilian life. Brian graduated from West Point and had served for nearly nine years on assignments to South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. His most recent assignment was with Army recruiting, where he had an opportunity to live in the marketing world, including advertising. I ultimately connected him with the HR team at FCB Chicago since that was where he was assigned for recruiting duty and he and his family wanted to live.

The HR team in Chicago secured Brian an internship at FCB that armed him with the tools he needed to eventually secure a position at Kraft. He recently told me that the things he learned in the internship not only helped him with the interview process at Kraft but also helped to solidify for Kraft that he could successfully transition to “civilianhood.” He also said that the agency’s ability to recruit and retain top-tier personnel makes it a standout in the agency business. We gave Brian a chance. He delivered. And, now he’s well on his way in our business.

The industry needs to stop thinking about why it should hire veterans. Instead, it should think why not hire veterans.

The Chicago office makes a concerted effort to find and recruit vets and works to help veterans translate skills needed to survive and thrive in advertising. FCB Chicago’s diverse group of thinkers bridge the gap between skills and experience. Internships, like the one given to Brian, offer a chance for veterans to get these quick learners up-to-speed on the industry and often lead to full-time jobs. FCB Chicago is testing a professional-level shadow program where vets are assigned to a client team and have one-to-one sessions with all departments. The vets provide thought leadership on strategic initiatives and supplemental support. The teams provide agency exposure and gain diverse thinking.

A win-win for everyone.

I believe most people genuinely appreciate the sacrifices that veterans have made, regardless of their political affiliations or how they feel about the wars America is fighting. While this hasn’t always been the case, most Americans today are largely able to separate feelings about the war from feelings about warriors.

This Veterans Day, ask yourself if there are things you can do to serve those who served. If you are involved in referring candidates or making hiring decisions, thanks for considering vets as viable candidates. And, of course, don’t hesitate to thank a veteran you encounter for his or her service. The recognition is always appreciated.