From Service to Career: Transitioning to Civilian Employment

with Wendi Safstrom of the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation

Approximately 2 in 3 employers report that veterans outperform their civilian counterparts, yet challenges persist as vets transition back into the workforce.

Wendi Safstrom of the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation shares how employers are working to bridge the military-civilian divide.

Posted on:

Nov 04, 2019

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: Research shows that 65% of veterans have attained some college education or even higher, outpacing the overall population. While the men and women of our armed forces are more educated than their civilian peers, challenges still remain as they transition back into the civilian labor force. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Paul Lisnek. Joining me to discuss a program designed to bridge the gap between military and civilian work is Wendy Safstrom. She's the executive director of the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation. That's a long name, Wendy, but actually, we can shorten it and call it SHRM, right?

Safstrom: That sounds fantastic.

Lisnek: Okay. That's what we'll do. So, talk to me about the mission. When people think -- Maybe it's a misnomer, it's a stigma] that if people are in the military, they somehow haven't gotten their education, and they're not up to par. And as I just said statistics are quite the opposite.

Safstrom: Exactly, exactly, and I think the real focus for the foundation is to provide H.R. professionals with the tools and the resources they need in order to really develop successful recruitment and retention programs for veterans so that they understand the talent that veterans are bringing to the table, that they understand some of the misnomers that may be out there. All of those resources that we provide through the foundation are free of charge to the 300,000 members that we have worldwide. Lisnek: So you're actually working with the people who otherwise might be the gatekeeper [or the roadblock to those jobs. It's brilliant, because that's what you have to get to. Safstrom: Exactly, and that's kind of our value proposition, right? We represent H.R. professionals, so the folks who are on the front lines of hiring and retaining top talent. And we really, strongly believe at the Foundation and certainly at SHRM that veterans bring so much. They have so much to offer our workforce and our workplace. And so our focus is really helping those H.R. professionals create inclusive cultures, ones where they understand veterans. Veterans feel welcomed. They feel like their talents are being used to the highest and best use of their time, as well.

Lisnek: It's also true that for some of these veterans, it's a second career that's on the way, right? A lot of them were doing something before they went to even serve in the military. It's a return.

Safstrom: Exactly, and, I think, again, one of those misnomers that's out there is that somebody who's coming out of the veterans or coming out of service is a young kid, right, has been in service for a couple of years and isn't necessarily bringing an education as you mentioned earlier to the table or some previous experience that was really relevant, be relevant and resonate within the workplace. And so again, the programs we've designed are designed to get exactly at those types of things that people may have misconceptions about.

Lisnek: So let's pull that apart a little bit, because there's sort of three things I'd like to talk about with you, one of which are the educational resources that are available. I think you've been hinting at it, but be more specific with me about what we're talking about.

Safstrom: Sure. We partnered with a subject matter expert, PsychArmor out of California, and we created an online training suite of courses with PsychArmor directly for H.R. professionals. We also created an accompanying guidebook and then ultimately leading towards a professional certificate for H.R. professionals.

Lisnek: And that's actually the second piece I wanted to talk about, that certificate piece, because how important is that? Is it an image piece? How important is it to get that certificate?

Safstrom: It's an image piece, and it also allows H.R. professionals, many of whom are professionally certified, to receive 10 free recertification credits, which is incredibly valuable to them. And that is an incentive in fact for H.R. professionals to pursue the certificate. But the number one reason they participate in these programs is they want to understand veterans better. They want to create these inclusive places and cultures for them to work.

Lisnek: And another way to improve on that and increase are through innovation grants. Talk to me about those.

Safstrom: I think some of the very best ideas come from the local community level. And so SHRM Foundation in 2018 and again in 2019 offered grants to H.R. professionals through our chapters and state council members, again, 300,000 across the globe. And we said, "Tell us your best idea. Tell us how you can engage with veterans and often their families, caregivers, and spouses, maybe not for the first time across an interview desk but really get to know the veterans in your community. Tell us what that program looks like. Tell us how you evaluate and measure success, and we will invest in you." And so some of the innovation that came out of administering those grants in terms of what came back to us, we leveraged and scaled those ideas nationally for other H.R. professionals to adopt and use.

Lisnek: So I don't know if this is a fair question, but if you were to sort of say the typical response from an H.R. professional when they first get involved [00:04:37.22] in all this, is it more along the lines of, "Well, yeah, I knew that," [00:04:41.04] [00:04:41.04] or is it more of an "Aha" moment, when they went, "Wow, I had some of those same misconceptions"?

Safstrom: I think it's an "Aha" moment. And actually, one of the first videos in the training series that we have is "15 Things Veterans Want You to Know." And often the video addresses things that maybe people were uncomfortable to ask or had misconceptions about. And it's kind of a safe space for H.R. professionals to learn and say "Aha, I didn't know that, or I thought something different." And now they're able to kind of change their mind-set. And so it's a great way to kick off this learning experience for them. Lisnek: Well, Wendy Safstrom, executive director for SHRM, what a really smart approach, going with those gatekeepers, those people who you really need to buy into all of that, makes so much sense. Thanks for the work you do.

Safstrom: Thank you so much.

Lisnek: And thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and all across the country, just visit I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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