Giving Back

A New Conference Helps Soldiers Reenter the Workforce

The first-ever ATD Values Vets conference aimed to help employers recruit and train soldiers who are reentering the workforce.

Many big companies that have embraced veterans as a feel-good cause haven’t committed any resources or developed specific programs for them, as the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found when it held its inaugural ATD Values Vets conference earlier this year. Dawn Baron, president of Passion Profits Consulting, who does strategic-marketing and special-projects work for ATD,  said managers have been told, “‘Hey, pay attention to this issue. But it’s not your job.’ And, ‘Make it happen, but there’s no real strong process behind it.’”

Which only underscored the need for ATD Values Vets, which took place at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 24. Its mission, according to the event website: “to discuss the approaches and processes, challenges and successes of getting veterans back to work.”

“There are only going to be more veterans in the upcoming months and years who are going to need jobs in the workplace,” Baron said. “And we feel it’s our job to make sure that organizations are prepared to develop those people and make them as successful as possible.”

ATD targeted professionals working in training and development, human resources, and recruitment at Fortune 1000 companies. About 40 people attended, and while ATD originally had hoped for 100 to 150 attendees, the smaller group offered “a great opportunity for our participants to engage directly with our subject-matter experts,” Baron said. “A lot of great conversations happened there.”

ATD worked with TMG, a Spotsylvania, Virginia–based performance-improvement company whose founder and president, Joseph C. Barto III, is a U.S. Army veteran, to develop the program. ATD Values Vets began with keynotes by Brian Parks, founder of USAA’s VetNet internal social-networking program, and Brian May, acting director of the Veteran Employment Services Office in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Sessions included an overview of veteran affinity groups by Barto and a best-practices panel with veterans who work for companies such as Whirlpool, USAA, and Hilton Worldwide.

Reinventing Michael Banks, a video program that takes a choose-your-own-adventure approach to the scenario of a veteran interacting with job-fair recruiters, was a program standout. “It’s a great learning opportunity for veterans who are trying to prepare for a job in the workforce,” Baron said. “But it also helps the employers to understand the veterans.”

Moving forward, ATD is creating free virtual programs that spotlight companies with successful veteran-recruitment and -training programs. “Our goal is to make it much more mainstream to hire a veteran,” Baron said. “As some of our speakers said, when World War II ended and the veterans were coming home and they were asking for jobs, they were preferred, because it was almost like a giveback kind of thing…. That’s not at all the case of what we’re seeing now. A veteran can come to apply, and sometimes HR will look at them and say, ‘This person is going to be too difficult for us,’ so they just get passed up instead of being preferred.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.