From Cabs to Hotels: Veterans as a Talent Pool

By Susan Tinnish Advisory Group Chair, Vistage | April 05, 2015

Many companies are promoted in ads, articles or reports discussing their focus on hiring veterans. For example, a new program is helping veterans find jobs as taxi drivers in New York City. Vets Drive Yellow NYC connects taxi garage owners with veterans. The seven taxi garages that are affiliated with the program help vets by paying for their hack license (Santia, 2015).

It is innovative programs like this that help drive down the high unemployment rates among veterans and assist veterans transitioning into civilian life. Yet still the unemployment rate for Gulf War II veterans-defined as those who served after Sept. 11, 2001 stands at 7.2 percent in 2014 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported on March 18, 2015 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). In 2014, the entire US veteran population numbered 21.2 million men and women, or 9 percent of the population age 18 and over.

This article will help hoteliers understand how and why veterans are well-suited for the hospitality industry. The article will explore how hotel companies are or can support veteran hiring. Finally, the article offers tips to expanding hiring of veterans -especially at an individual property.

One reason for higher veteran unemployment figures is that veterans have difficulty translating their military skills to civilian jobs. This is a multi-faceted challenge. First, veterans typically have less civilian work experience which naturally makes them appear more risky than a civilian applicant (Plumer, 2013; Sumser, 2012). Second, veterans speak a "dialect" of English specific to military life and may have difficulty translating their experience into civilian life (Sumser, 2012). Third, veterans may not interview as well as non-veterans. Derek Bennett, chief of staff for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America references job interview difficulties, "You have to talk about yourself and for some vets, that's tough to do. For years they were worried about the team, not the individual" (Watson, 2014). Veterans have a different standard for "professional presentation." Thus certain elements of their interviewing style like eye contact (eyes forward), language ("yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am") or a lack of smiling may be different from the way civilians interview. In an industry where interpersonal skills are paramount, a veteran may be perceived as cold, distant, unapproachable or lacking social skills because of their typical military demeanor (White House Business Council, 2012, p. 8).

Yet, our nation's veterans bring an extraordinary array of skills and training to any position. They possess general employability attributes like attention to detail, the ability to follow through and meet deadlines, and the capability to work under pressure. Veterans are comfortable with the complexities of decision making in a high stress, high data, and highly ambiguous environment (Sumser, 2012; US Department of Veterans Affairs, n.d.).

Some specific military skills that will help veterans succeed in hotel management include a service mentality, leadership, and the ability to think on their feet, ability to deal with interpersonal issues and the ability to put in emotional labor (Stone, 2014). The latter skill is a requirement that employees display specific outwardly emotions toward customers. In the military, people are trained to operate at their best level despite how they may be feeling on any given day. Military veterans often have experienced exceptional levels of accountability. Shouldering the responsibility for the lives and safety of peers provides a special level of maturity (Sumser, 2012). La Quinta's President and CEO, Wayne Goldberg summarizes the attractiveness of veterans, "At La Quinta, we want to hire veterans and military spouses because they have demonstrated leadership qualities of discipline, training and a passion for service. They are quick learners who work well as part of a team" (Franchising.com, n.d.).

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.