Harris Morris, vice chair for the Military Strong & Allies business resource group (BRG) at ADP (No. 3 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list and No. 14 on the Top Companies for Veterans specialty list), and Jared Merlie, chair of the Veterans’ Team Member Network (TMN) in Northeastern Pennsylvania at Wells Fargo (No. 13 on the DiversityInc Top 50), discussed bridging the military and civilian divide during a panel, moderated by DiversityInc senior editor Casey Musarra, about military employee resource groups (ERGs) at the DiversityInc ERG Festival on Nov. 12 at Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott.
Referring to veterans as a cross section of America, Morris, who is a veteran, said that everyone has a connection to the military but not everyone understands what veterans face on a daily basis.
Merlie piggybacked off of Morris, saying there seems to be a disconnect between transitioning veterans and their civilian colleagues.
“It’s all about encouraging the conversation,” he said. “There is a lot that each side doesn’t know about the other. Whether it’s the experiences that a serviceman and woman have gone through and what that does and how they work through things, or whether it’s a civilian’s understanding of how that fits into the workplace.”
According to Merlie, one problem that veterans face when entering the workforce is they don’t know how to leverage the unique skills and talents they have developed in the armed forces.
“Veterans may not have that clear understanding of what separates them from the rest and where their skills and strengths really play into an individual organization,” Merlie said.
Both Wells Fargo and ADP are examples of companies that have intricate programs to support veterans from the time they get hired through their career progression. One of the early career programs for Wells Fargo is their Military Apprenticeship Program, which gives veterans a hands-on experience through a number of job functions, starting as a teller. The goal through the 18-month program is to prepare the veteran to take over a leadership role managing their own branch.
Similarly, Morris said one program ADP has implemented matches veterans with potential mentors.
“Our BRG is absolutely critical to be in that initial touchpoint for the veterans when they come into the company and just having somebody to talk to.”
Morris said veterans often pick other veterans who are more experienced in corporate America to be their mentor. This gives them someone to lean on who understands their experience.
But Morris said it’s also important for veterans to have allies. Morris said veterans make up 35% of ADP’s military BRGs. The other 65% is made up of civilians allies.
“Sometimes we can be secular as a veteran community, and I think it’s absolutely critical to have others who understand the business world who can help the veterans see this new place and educate them,” he said.
Merlie, who himself is an ally, said it can be a struggle to get participation from civilians, and it is important for military ERGs to build the civilian membership.
“How do we encourage membership and participation in the events to gain deeper levels of exposure? A lot of times, it’s in encouraging civilians to become more involved in something like a veterans ERG,” he said.