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Veterans, Military Members are the Answer to the Construction Industry’s Labor Woes

Dec. 13, 2023
Here are six simple, effective ways to recruit them.

There are more than 800 jobs across branches of service in the United States military, many of which require the same training and certifications that apply to construction workers. Though their specialized skills transfer seamlessly between these types of jobs, only 6.2% of male and 0.7% of female veterans work in construction. These stark numbers indicate contractors are not doing enough to tap into the potential of the veteran population to combat industry-wide labor woes. 

A simple remedy is to leverage construction-specific human resource software solutions to attract veterans. In my experience as an HR technology professional and a soldier in the Iowa Army National Guard, it all comes down to how you market yourself as an organization and an industry.

Know Your Audience

First things first, it's important to differentiate between inactive and active members of the military. Veterans can benefit from assistance easing the transition from military service to the trades. At the same time, reservists may prefer special accommodations and benefits specific to their needs, including paid time off for monthly drills, military schools, and annual training. 

Here are a few ways construction business owners can improve their offerings and optimize HR software to bolster recruiting efforts for these two populations:

1. Customize and leverage applicant tracking

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) prohibits civilian employers from discriminating against veterans based on present, past, and future military service. It also entitles service members, such as National Guard members and reservists, who leave their civilian employment to perform covered military service to prompt reemployment with their pre-service employer following the completion of their duty. When prospective employees apply for jobs and disclose their military or veteran status, that information is captured in a company’s HR software. 

Hiring managers can filter applicants based on their veteran or military status and even invite those flagged to apply for other vacant positions. They can take it one step further and add prompts to any given data set to determine, for instance, who among the veterans applying for a given job has a specific military training certificate or commercial driving license needed for that role. Another way to utilize advanced analytics in applicant tracking is to organize a veteran-specific job fair and invite those your system flags as veterans and service members to attend.

2. Partner with veteran-specific nonprofits for recruitment

Many national, regional, and even local chapters of organizations provide training and job placement for transitioning active-duty military service members, veterans, members of the National Guard or Reserve, and their families. Contractors can partner with prominent organizations like Helmets to Hardhats and Hire Heroes USA, which often provide helpful recruitment and hiring resources.

Local chapters of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the American Legion are integrated into local communities and can function as important strategic partners to extend your immediate network. Business owners can also contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or their state’s workforce development offices to connect with veterans seeking trade opportunities. Each state typically has an online job board where companies can promote their vacant positions.

Another fantastic resource for employers is the HIRE Vets Medallion Program. Established in 2018, these awards honor companies or organizations committed to hiring transitioning service members, veterans and wounded warriors. Award recipients receive a certificate with their award year, a digital image of the medallion to use on their marketing materials, and are recognized on the program website. Their stamp of approval can help you attract top recruits from the military’s expansive talent pool.

3. Develop or restructure your employee benefits to meet the specific needs of veterans and reservists

Pay differential programs for National Guard members and reservists can help employers stand out when recruiting. While the law entitles military members to leave their civilian employers for covered military service—like monthly drills and their standard two-week annual training—it doesn’t require companies to pay them while they’re gone. 

Some employers pay service members their full wage while absent for these trainings or provide an allotment of paid time off specifically for military training. Others allow them to use standard paid time off to cover their absence or permit them to take unpaid days. Another option is to pay Guard members and reservists the difference between their military and civilian wage since the military wage is typically lower. Supplementing their service pay with a differential wage or paid time off is a strong incentive to attract and retain the soldiers who already live, work, and serve in your community.

Offering a health insurance opt-out arrangement is another way to attract veterans and active-duty military members while reducing your company’s medical benefit costs. Under these arrangements, contractors pay service members to opt out of their insurance program in favor of TRICARE, the military’s health care program. TRICARE offers generous coverage, so many soldiers prefer it over private insurance policies, but few are compensated for doing so. It’s a win-win because these annual incentives generally cost employers significantly less than paying their share of an insurance premium.

Another valuable benefit you can offer to help attract veterans is a robust employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs give employees and their families free access to licensed counselors and can be especially beneficial to those who have PTSD, which is common among veterans. These programs can help former military members cope with the stress of transitioning to civilian life. Evaluating the employee benefits in your HR portal through the lens of a service member can increase their appeal to this demographic of potential employees.

4. Revamp your learning management system’s offerings

When a service member is transitioning to civilian life, support from their employer can influence their success. While the US military has a robust training and certification system, you will want to offer all new hires refresher courses on activities pertinent to their job. Consider even adapting a course geared toward the veteran population. Veteran-specific training allows you to show respect for their accumulated skills and experience and help them transfer that experience into your workplace and processes.

Your HR software’s learning management system is a critical workforce development component. It should include training on Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and EEOC compliance, job site security, sexual harassment training, and more.

5. Start a veterans resource group

Creating a veterans resource group (VRG) led by senior members of your staff who have served our country can make the transition to the civilian workforce less daunting. VRGs can recreate the sense of camaraderie many find in the armed forces. They also demonstrate a company’s values and commitment to supporting veterans. Since construction operations are often spread out across a state or region, you can incorporate a virtual portal for the group to meet remotely.

6. Employee referral programs

Employee referral programs are generally an effective way of pre-screening job candidates, as referees are more likely to have the skills and qualifications you seek. It can save companies time and money sourcing the ideal candidate. 

Military camaraderie often translates to the civilian world, which means veterans have deep ties to other veterans. This esprit de corps can compel them to recommend employment with your company to other veterans if they find a supportive atmosphere within your organization. Setting up a way for your employees to refer qualified candidates within your HR portal can make referring friends and family more seamless and encourage engagement.

Additional Considerations

In my experience, servicemen and women are more likely to support businesses that support soldiers and their families. There are many deliberate policies contractors can adopt to appeal to veterans and service members beyond the scope of HR software.

Corporate giving is a generous and strategic way to appeal to this demographic. By supporting organizations like K9s for Warriors or the Wounded Warrior Project and their causes, you send a message that your organization values military service.

Supporting veterans should also extend to their families. Military families make great sacrifices for our country, relocating frequently when their active duty family members are reassigned to a new military base. Contractors can offer military spouses priority for work-from-home opportunities to make relocating easier. Offering them the option to work from home shows your appreciation for their commitment and sacrifice.

Veterans typically possess the technical, teamwork and leadership skills and experience we value in construction. Build a framework within your organization to attract these candidates and help them transition to civilian life, and you will fill your ranks with highly qualified workers, effectively combating the construction industry’s workforce shortage.

Mark Meier is the Director of Customer Success and Services at Arcoro, a provider of HR and management solutions for the construction industry. He leads multiple operations teams responsible for ensuring Arcoro’s customers have efficient workforce management processes and get the most out of their software and services. Mark is also a member of the Iowa Army National Guard, where he has served for 14 years. Contact him at [email protected].

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