After serving on active duty, veterans often discover unforeseen challenges returning to the civilian workforce. Balancing the search for camaraderie and core mission values with career flexibility and ownership, the transition from military to civilian is one of the most stressful times in many veterans’ professional lives. General Electric has a long history of bridging this divide by hiring veterans and enriching their professional lives through dedicated assimilation programs, mentorship, training, networking, and formal and informal educational opportunities.
In 2009, GE codified these initiatives through the creation of GE’s Veterans Network, whose threefold mission is to support, hire and grow veterans, both within and outside of GE. The vision is to make GE the employer of choice for veterans while creating a community of leaders to support and encourage each other’s career development. GE has exceeded its own stretch veteran hiring goals, where now 8.9 percent of all U.S. employees at GE are veterans, compared with 6.8 percent of the general U.S. population. GE currently employs about 8,500 U.S. veterans, which means about one in every 11 U.S. employees at GE is a veteran.
To support, hire and grow its veterans, GE focuses on three key components: self-directed career progression, targeted leadership development and executive sponsorship.
Self-Directed Career Progression
Within the military, there are more defined paths for career advancement than in civilian life, and there is better awareness of the development and skills needed to advance. A clearly defined career path can blur after leaving the service. In civilian life, veterans often must find their way toward a successful career path and advancement opportunities.
At GE, we created the Veterans Network Academy, comprising resources to help veterans own their development journey and assimilate to the civilian workforce. GE worked with e-learning provider Skillsoft to curate learning material specifically geared toward the veteran community’s needs as they transition into corporate environments. By appointing a veteran as the organization’s content curator, we can ensure the content is appropriate. GE created learning paths mapping out the competencies and skills and positioning veterans for success in their new roles.
Military leadership requires a level of respect for rank and a strict chain of command for following orders. Once they’ve left the military and enter a corporate environment, many veterans need support rediscovering how to manage relationships with peers, teams and leaders where the chain of command is not so clearly defined.
GE delivers innovative programs in career and employment education for veterans of all generations and levels in the organization. The learning material is specifically curated and geared toward the veteran community’s needs as they transition to corporate environments. Our participating veterans say they feel their career benefited significantly from the program.
It’s important for organizations to build curated content paths that help learners address the common problem areas in management and leadership across multiple learning modalities. GE’s content library provides advice delivered by subject matter experts on a wide range of leadership challenges and opportunities, which learners can view anywhere, anytime. The scenario-based business skills and leadership video courses, for example, are carefully deconstructed into short segments paced to enable a leader to learn quickly and efficiently. The course material is grounded in pragmatic, highly realistic business situations which allow veterans to learn and immediately apply leadership skills.
Working within the corporate environment comes with new rules on how to interact with coworkers and leaders. Part of the transition from the military to the civilian workforce involves helping veterans navigate this new environment. One fundamental way that GE has helped veterans assimilate into the company is through mentorship.
The connections within the network are invaluable. Military members who have just left the service can connect with others who have been in the corporate environment. Moreover, this network has enabled members to reconnect with those they served with in the military.
Another way GE encourages mentorship is by hosting lunch-and-learns within local offices. These events allow the veterans to connect with colleagues in more informal settings.
GE also works to recruit non-veterans from all levels of the organization through its Veteran Advocate Program, which provides ways that non-veterans can participate in supporting veteran initiatives, assist in hiring veterans, and help sponsor and develop veteran talent. Creating a community of veterans and non-veteran advocates helps ease the transition and provides valuable insights into how veterans can establish successful careers.
Executive sponsors support the Veteran Learning Journey program. Each Learning Journey is kicked-off and concluded with an executive sponsor. The senior leader sets the expectations and goals and opens the conversation around topics that will help veterans gain the skills they need. This transparency and access to senior leadership help empower veterans to ask questions to understand how to succeed.
A Blueprint for Others
Each of these initiatives is possible for any organization and can serve as a blueprint for other corporate training programs. Military service creates employees who have leadership experience, discipline, strategic thinking and valuable expertise that is unmatched. By guiding career paths, GE has been able to help veterans grow and advance into new roles as well as elevated roles.
Providing the resources for navigating a new working structure is invaluable to creating a support network within the company. These men and women have made enormous sacrifices for our country. As global corporations, we must provide them with the tools they need to adapt and hone the skills that are important to their corporate professional careers.
Sara Ley is digital learning and technology leader at General Electric. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.