By Pinnacol Assurance President and CEO John O'Donnell
Published by The Denver Post on Nov. 12, 2023
As a veteran myself, I have often been thanked for my service. During my eight years as a U.S. Marine, I served alongside some of the most dedicated, courageous, and loyal men and women I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
But not only were they brave and committed to serving a larger cause than themselves, they were also extremely talented, adaptable, collaborative and persistent leaders. The kind of people that operate with integrity and make any team or organization stronger. That's why this Veterans Day, I would remind all Colorado employers and small business owners, that the best way to thank someone who has served is to hire them.
I attended the U.S. Naval Academy and was proud to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps at graduation. After training at Quantico, I chose to head to Pensacola for flight school, where I became an attack helicopter pilot. I deployed overseas twice, spending most of that time in the Middle East, and finished my service as an instructor pilot flying Cobra Helicopters.
I can tell you firsthand that serving in the military provides you with unique skill sets that are invaluable both in the field and in the office.
For example, the ability to work as a team, the way pilots have to work seamlessly with the troops they are supporting on the ground to ensure everyone's safety and the success of the mission. The instinct to put your team first to put others first.
In the Marine Corps it was tradition to let junior enlisted men eat first and officers ate last. The military brings together people from different races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and regions of the country and at the end of the day everyone has to operate with mutual respect and work as a team.
Service members also possess a unique ability to adapt and persevere. When you are out in the field, every challenge must be met with a flexible and resilient approach. If one solution doesn't work, we must adjust and we must find a way, because in a military environment, you know you can't accomplish something alone. Study after study has borne out what many employers already know veterans' adaptability, resourcefulness, and ability to perform under pressure make them indispensable team members.
The good news is, the Colorado unemployment rate for veterans is actually lower than the overall unemployment rate. That doesn't mean, however, that thousands of talented veterans, with valuable, transferable skills, aren't returning home every year looking for meaningful employment. It also doesn't mean that there isn't more we can do to help employers recognize the benefits of hiring those who have served.
For example, sometimes looking at a veteran's resume looks like a foreign language, full of unfamiliar acronyms and certifications. The reality though, is that many of these skills are directly transferable and adaptable for the private sector. In addition, while some may not have attained a traditional degree, often their years of service have more than prepared them to excel.
To address this issue, many employers are now recognizing the importance of having hiring managers who understand the value of military experience and how to translate it to maximize military skills in a civilian setting.
At Pinnacol, we have instituted the Veterans Support Employee Resource Group so that our veteran employees can find community and support each other. We also offer a special paid leave option. After we learned how much talent we were leaving on the table, we adjusted our hiring practices to actively recruit veterans and have stopped requiring formal degrees for many technical roles.
No matter what branch of the military someone served in, or for how long, or where in the world, or in what capacity you can bet veterans are proven leaders with unique skill sets that have direct experience overcoming adversity. This Veterans Day, while we should always thank people for their service, there is more we can and should do. Consider hiring a veteran, your company will surely benefit.
-John O'Donnell is the president and CEO of Pinnacol Assurance.
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