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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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.