Posts Tagged ‘Veterans’

The Veteran’s Dilemma is Our Country’s Dilemma

After a 15-year career with IBM, I had the good fortune to be one of 12 founding members of a Joint Venture.  Success for the company came fast and furious. My years with IBM provided excellent tools, but I learned more in the first couple of years with the new venture than I thought possible.

About the time of my three-year anniversary I found myself in a meeting with an IBM executive with whom I had a close professional relationship. In a candid discussion I asked him, “If I were ever interested in re-entering IBM, what weight would my current experience carry in opportunities afforded me?” His response was immediate and revealing. He said, “Your time away would be viewed as nothing more than a gap—it would count for nothing.” Even though I had developed important skills in this new company, it was completely discounted by my former employer.  From his perspective I might as well have been in a coma for three years.

That is how I believe many veterans feel when they leave the military looking for ways in which they can put their hard-earned skills to productive use. We are bombarded daily with platitudes regarding how veterans should be honored for their service. Our politicians admonish us to take care of them; many employers create HR programs to do just that. So what’s the problem?

The problem, first and foremost, is that the loci of these programs cater to the least common denominator. If there is one thing the Washington Elite should have learned from this last election cycle is that this is a flawed approach. Republicans and Democrats in Washington offer rhetoric regarding the need to help the “middle class”, but their policies and actions are aimed at the least common denominator. For example, we hear about raising the minimum wage as a way to help the middle class. Last I checked, our middle class typically makes more than minimum wage. Their problem isn’t minimum wage. There problem is ever diminishing opportunities to succeed.

Similarly, employers and politician too often view our veterans as victims looking for a meets-minimum job, so we can “help” them assimilate back into the civilian world. Our veterans weren’t in a coma while serving! The vast majority of them were developing highly coveted, and much needed hard and soft skills that translate exceedingly well in civilian life. These talented young men and women are looking for opportunities to put those skills to work as productive citizens. They do not want our “help”. They want to be honored for what they have to offer. Anything less is at best ignorance, and at worst arrogance, on our part.

So, the next time we thank a veteran for his or her service, maybe we should ask how he or she is now serving, and whether our collective investment in his or her personal and professional development is being put to good use.  Our veterans are not museum pieces to be put on a shelf and admired.  They are valuable assets that this country needs in order to remain an innovation powerhouse.

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