Traits such as an affinity for leadership, collaboration and top-line performance should make veterans desirable employees. However, roadblocks such as the lack of a bachelor's degree and residual health issues/injuries frequently make the transition from military to civilian life a challenge. By providing targeted training to veterans, organizations can find valuable employees in these individuals.
Prudential Financial, No. 16 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity and DiversityInc's recently named Top Company for Community Development, is turning to veterans to fulfill some of its talent needs.
Last year, the company launched its veterans program, called VETalent, in collaboration with Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS). WOS is a nonprofit organization that partners with local universities and businesses to train veterans for corporate work and full-time employment. Managed by WOS in partnership with Rutgers University, Penn State University-Abington and the University of Florida, VETalent recruits, trains and employs veterans along two professional tracks: information technology and business operations.
Ray Weeks, vice president of veterans initiatives, oversees the program at Newark, N.J.–based Prudential. Weeks has a personal interest in the program, as he is a veteran. (He was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps and retired from the Reserves in 1998.) "My heart goes out to those who have lost a loved one [in the service]. But I have to ask what I can do to help those who are still living," says Weeks. "VETalent is a way I can contribute; my background and experience internally drives me to help those I can."
Prudential's leaders first identify where they have a need for expertise. Weeks and his staff then detail the open roles to WOS and they create educational tracks to develop talent (in Prudential's case, an IT or business-operations expertise). A West Point graduate on staff at WOS recruits the veteran potentials and screens them on various skills, from showing up on time to problem solving. Those who are the most interested and most promising are chosen; a class is formed.
The tracks are driven specifically by the needs of Prudential's business operations. This flexibility is key to the success of the program, according to Weeks. "We didn't give WOS a lot of specific job information. We didn't necessarily want to target veterans with IT experience but those with a genuine interest and merit," he says. "It gives us the ability to design the tracks around what's working and what's needed as the company grows." The result is an influx of targeted, workforce-ready talent. Each VETalent program lasts a little more than a year. Once successfully completed, graduates are hired by Prudential as consultants (WOS is the official employer) and later can be considered for full-time positions. The first class of veterans began training at Rutgers in early 2010 and graduated this July with IT certifications. Another two classes, one IT and one business operations, are currently under way. In total, 65 veterans are involved.
Additionally, all veterans in the program are encouraged to join Prudential's internal veteran employee-resource group that provides mentoring, coaching and other support for any of the company's veteran staffers or those who wish to lend their support to veterans. "We think it's an important part of overall retaining of new employees to give a sense of community," he says. The resource group is coordinating a number of Veterans Day events throughout the company to honor veterans this week and next in honor of the holiday. (Sixty-six percent of DiversityInc Top 50 companies have employee-resource groups for veterans, compared with 37 percent of all 535 participants.)
While Prudential knows it alone cannot solve veteran unemployment, the program provides a guide for other organizations in any market. "We believe our VETalent program will have a lasting, positive impact on the lives of veterans and their families. In the end, it's a win-win—both for the employer and for the individual," says Weeks.
He continues, "Our goal is to inspire more companies to hire veterans and invest in programs that, if implemented across the country and across industries, will allow us as a nation to benefit from the talent of the people who have served and continue to serve."
Prudential currently employs approximately 550 veterans out of an estimated 38,000 global headcount and has a process to confirm that its veteran suppliers are at least 51 percent owned or operated by veterans.