A growing number of organizations are viewing military veterans as valuable assets to the workplace.
This is not surprising when one considers the unique skills, experiences and leadership qualities that many veterans possess, including a dedication to teamwork, performance under pressure and respect for procedures.
While many businesses are prioritizing the recruitment of veterans, few are succeeding when it comes to positioning veteran employees for success. According to the Veteran Opportunity Report published by LinkedIn, underemployment is the biggest issue for veterans transitioning from their military careers to civilian roles. Underemployment refers to individuals who are engaged in work that does not make full use of their abilities, and the report found that veterans are 15.6 percent more likely to be underemployed compared to non-veterans.
This trend has driven a national dialogue around how organizations can improve their approach to engaging veteran employees, and a few select businesses in the gaming industry are ahead of the curve in creating veteran-friendly workplaces.
AGS IN THE LEAD
One such company is global gaming supplier AGS. The company’s leadership recognized the value that veterans could bring to its operations, so it collaborated with nonprofit America’s Warrior Partnership to develop and implement a customized military affairs program. The goal of the program was to empower veterans working for AGS to thrive in their post-military lives, both professionally and personally in their homes and communities.
The success of the program was recognized in November 2019 when the U.S. Department of Labor honored AGS with a 2019 Gold Medallion Award through its HIRE Vets Medallion Award program. This annual program recognizes businesses across the country for dedication and leadership in recruiting, retaining and empowering military veterans. AGS was the sole gaming supplier and one of only two gaming industry organizations honored by the 2019 awards program.
“At AGS, we recognize that because of their backgrounds and experience, veterans bring leadership, technical skills, and a spirit of collaboration to our company and are valuable contributors to our success,” said David Lopez, president and CEO of AGS as well as a U.S. Army veteran. “We have made a firm commitment to not only hire more veterans, but to provide support and resources to our veteran employees and their families so they can thrive at work and in their communities. We’re honored to receive the Gold Medallion through HIRE Vets and are passionate about further bolstering our veteran’s initiatives through our work with America’s Warrior Partnerships and our focus on hiring and retaining veterans.”
One of the keys to success for AGS has been a commitment to not only hiring more veterans, but also providing current veteran employees with ongoing support to navigate the benefits they have earned as well as identify opportunities available to them, both within their communities and nationally. Gaming industry organizations that wish to create their own veteran-friendly workplace culture should consider these takeaways from AGS and its successful military affairs program:
- Connect with veteran-serving resources. Organizations that lack an internal veteran resource group—or who are starting their own from scratch—should consider connecting with a veteran-serving organization for advice, expertise and access to veteran services that cannot be provided in house.
To get its own program off the ground, AGS engaged the Corporate Veteran Initiative (CVI), a program from America’s Warrior Partnership that provides businesses with guidance and training to engage veteran employees. The CVI helped AGS better understand the unique situations of their veteran employees through a three-step process: assess the current workplace culture, serve veteran needs identified in the assessment, and retain long-term support for veterans to thrive in their careers. With these insights in hand, AGS was empowered to direct its resources towards initiatives that have a meaningful impact on employees.
- Let employees take the lead. An effective military affairs program should incorporate the insights and suggestions of the veterans it is attempting to serve, and the most efficient method of gathering this input is putting veteran employees in the driver’s seat. An employee-led program provides tangible opportunities for veteran employees to feel like they are directly involved in the initiative. By allowing employees to drive the direction of the program, companies are more likely to understand where resources and support services may be needed in the workplace.
This does not mean the C-suite should not be involved; in fact, it is critical for executives to support an employee-driven program. For example, AGS ensures the participants in its program have the bandwidth to meet and discuss key workplace initiatives on a regular basis.
- Offer networking and mentorship opportunities. Military service members often thrive on the tight-knit relationships that they develop with fellow service members; however, this camaraderie can be difficult to foster in the civilian world. To prevent feelings of isolation within the workplace, the AGS corporate military affairs program offers veteran employees the opportunity to network with fellow veterans and find mentors who can help them navigate their professional development.
It is also important to include non-veteran employees in networking initiatives. Bridging the gaps that exist between military and civilian cultures will encourage both veteran and non-veteran employees to work together, be more productive and create a more inclusive workplace culture.
- Thank veteran employees for their service. In addition to recognizing official military and veteran holidays, there are many respectful ways that a company can honor veteran employees for their service. Businesses in the hospitality and restaurant industries, for example, can offer veteran employees the option of wearing special pins or pieces of flair on their uniforms that recognize their service. AGS leadership showed its appreciation for veteran employees by unveiling a Veteran’s Honor Wall at its corporate headquarters in Las Vegas. The wall prominently displays photos and names of employees who served in the military and thanks them for their service.
These clear actions showing appreciation for veteran employees can go a long way towards making them feel included and supported within the workplace.
- Encourage veteran families to participate. Veterans often contact community veteran organizations seeking opportunities for their families to jointly participate in volunteer or networking events. Companies like AGS keep this in mind by making their military affairs program inclusive for veteran spouses, families and caregivers. Providing guidance to a veteran’s entire family on issues such as navigating GI Bill benefits or accessing VA healthcare can relieve a great deal of stress for veteran employees. Opening volunteer outings to the entire family is also an ideal way for veteran employees to feel connected with their workplace and the broader community.
These actions can serve as first steps for companies to start their own military affairs program, but the crucial ingredient for success is an ongoing, long-term commitment to fostering a veteran-friendly workplace culture. AGS has accomplished this by going beyond solitary initiatives, such as its Veteran’s Honor Wall, and dedicating resources to multiple services that empower veterans to thrive in their careers, which ultimately helps encourage them to stay with a company for the long haul.
Even if companies lack the budget to start an in-house veteran resources group, they can start small by starting a private group where veteran employees, family members and caregivers can connect with each other through an internal messaging platform or an external group messaging platform such as Facebook, GroupMe, etc. With the proper support, that group can grow to become a holistic, proactive program for veteran employees.