For the first time in U.S. history, the number of job openings last quarter essentially equaled the number of people who are unemployed in the United States.

This, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Job Openings and Turnover Survey. The BLS has tracked this data for more than two decades and it’s the first time that the U.S. has achieved a ratio of 1.01 unemployed workers for every available job.  Heading into the recession of 2009, that ratio was 6.65.

That’s good news for people looking for a job. But its bad news for those hiring or retaining talent. By almost every conventional hiring/retention metric, we’re in an employee bull market—especially for Millennials—the largest demographic wave of professional talent.

As someone who’s been helping military veterans transition into civilian employment for almost 20 years, I’m seeing that what’s been true for Millennials over the last five to eight years is also true for veterans:  it’s challenging to consistently retain talented people if you’re not built to do so. In that sense, veteran Millennials are no different than their civilian counterparts.

At Lucas Group, we’ve written extensively about Millennials and have helped to shatter some of the stereotypes about them. Yes, they’re hard to retain.  But it’s not because Millennials are skittish, or irresponsible, or slackers living in their parents’ basement.  They’re hard to retain because they understand from older friends, family, and peers that there are no job guarantees anymore.  You must be must be talented, informed, and impactful to succeed.  They understand that to be heard, they must speak; to have a seat at the table, they must ask for one; and to make the world a better (and more profitable) place, you must have the opportunity to impact it.

Those are wise lessons for employers as well.  Because just when you thought that all was well you’re your military hires destined to become your next generation of company leaders, they leave for other opportunities.  Why would veterans, renowned for discipline and loyalty, leave?

  1. They’re human. They’ve sacrificed for country and family and it’s time for them to consider their own quality of life.
  2. They find greener pastures through better opportunities. Sometimes it’s about more money.  Often it’s about more impact and a more direct route to the top (or at least the upper echelons) of the org chart.
  3. They’re moving. Maybe it’s to a more hospitable geographic region.  Maybe it’s to be closer to family.  Maybe it’s time for them to get away from they’re extended family and blaze a new personal trail for themselves.
  4. They’re returning to school. Veterans are thirsty for knowledge and they know that the learning process is never complete.  Perhaps with some savings in the bank, an enhanced G.I. Bill, and a clear connection between an advanced degree or certification, the time may never be better than now to pause before leaping over the competition on the career ladder.
  5. They’re changing fields. I always stress to employers considering hiring military veterans that one of their most valuable traits is their maturity and adaptability.  It was true in the service and it remains true in their civilian careers.

They may also be dissatisfied with your company’s culture.  With the hiring and retention market so tight, how Millennial veterans perceive your company is increasingly important.  They know what’s happening and they share what’s happening with their peers.  Based upon the feedback I’ve heard from veterans I’ve placed; these signs are strong indicators of company cultural problems and can hamstring your ability to retain top talent.

  • A lack of purpose. They’re making you money.  They’re bringing home a decent check for their family.  But their work no longer inspires.  Time to find something that does.
  • A lack of value. “The Network” continues to dominate.  Promotions seem more tied to golf scores or club affiliation than to important and demonstrable metrics.  Time to move on.
  • A lack of financial incentives. It could be a clubby work environment.  It may be a hangover from the last recession.  But it only takes about 30 minutes of web searching to see the financial rewards of new employment.  It’s time to explore.

Millennial veterans don’t expect to be CEO in three years.  But they do expect to have the opportunity to advance their careers via such avenues as consistent client engagement, meaningful team assignments, interaction with senior executives, and a culture free of restraints on upward career trajectory.  This is especially true for veterans who have families.  Opportunity and advancement—just as with Millennials—are critically important for military professionals seeking to maximize their careers.

The recipe for keeping military veterans in your organization is not substantially different than it is for keeping their civilian counterparts.  They are, after all, Millennials and they constitute the future of the world’s workforce.  But there are some subtle tactics employers can do to ensure that military Millennials opt to stay with their company.

  1. Train your managerial group to help veterans adapt to corporate culture. Doing so can help minimize or erase barriers to success.  When placing veterans into civilian employment after leaving the military, one of their first things I work with them on is jettisoning “Army-speak”.  Commonly-used words and phrases in the military often puzzle their peers in the corporate world.  Help them adapt to your company’s culture and ways of communicating.
  2. An extension of that is a specific onboarding program for new military employees. Teach them your acronyms; explain your promotion strategy; introduce them to other veterans in the company or firm; discuss the importance of teamwork and collaboration; and be as transparent as possible about compensation.  Most importantly, consider a mentorship program that can truly help them adapt and thrive.
  3. Tie your corporate strategy to their professional aspirations. Help them understand how their desire for opportunity and impact meshes with your strategic objectives.

In today’s economic environment, employers face greater challenges than ever to retain top talent.  That’s true of Millennials in general and Military Millennials as well.  While the differences between these two groups are far from substantial, understanding the nuances of veteran retention can give your company a competitive advantage in the talent marketplace.

I would be interested to hear about what your company is doing to retain veteran talent.  If you’ve got a story to share about marketplace success, I’d love to hear from you.  Drop me a note at JLose@LucasGroup.com and tell me how you recruit and retain veteran talent.