Our soldiers are there for us – be there for them (Guest Commentary)

Veterans of Canadian Forces ‘hidden source of talent’ and employers can do a lot more

Two years ago in Afghanistan, I stood among a circle of soldiers at Kandahar Airfield and listened to Gen. Walter Natynczyk, then chief of the defence staff of the Canadian Forces, speak to his troops. Early in his career, he said — before anyone had ever heard of al-Qaida — he never would have expected to see Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Canada would be needed again, the general promised the men and women — and probably soon. When that day comes, the Canadian Forces are certain to step up. That’s what they do — they’re there when we need them.

Unfortunately, we’re not always there for them when they need us. In the next year, about 5,000 people will leave the Canadian military. When they do, they are certain to face an inhospitable employment situation — one that fails to recognize the management or life experience soldiers have developed in the armed forces.

The usual story goes something like this: A captain in his late 20s has spent several tours running combat missions in Afghanistan. The military has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to train him. He has managed and motivated a platoon of 30 to 40 men and women through life-threatening situations. He has seen friends die. And when he leaves the service, he comes home and searches for a job.

The problem is the best positions available to him are entry-level ones. He’s capable of far more — but civilian business managers and HR professionals fail to recognize his management expertise.

Not recognizing that expertise is bad for business and bad for Canada. Hiring a veteran is an excellent business decision. They are a great human resource — brave, logical and effective.

Some employers are beginning to recognize the hidden source of talent represented by our ex-military. The United States is farther along on this than we are. First Lady Michelle Obama leads a White House campaign, dubbed “Joining Forces,” that attempts to encourage the country’s employers to hire veterans.

Companies including Hilton and Hertz have stepped up in the drive. In January, Walmart made waves when it promised to hire any American veteran who left the military in the previous year, so long as the vet wasn’t dishonourably discharged. It believed the pledge, which begins on America’s Memorial Day — this May 27 — could lead to employment for 100,000 veterans.

Canadian companies also have begun to step up. GE Canada, Canadian Pacific and the Royal Bank of Canada all have established programs that specifically target the hiring of veterans. And CN Rail has announced an initiative to hire 2,000 Canadian veterans.

New council formed

Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney is working with our charity — True Patriot Love Foundation — on a Veteran Transition Advisory Council to encourage corporate Canada to better use the talent inherent in our servicemen and servicewomen.

The inaugural advisory council meeting occurred in January at an event in Toronto called “From Battlefield to Boardroom.” Government, military and corporate representatives gathered together to discuss how Canadian companies can help former military men and women.

The True Patriot Love Foundation would relish the opportunity to work with HR professionals who are interested in creating hiring programs that target veterans. After all, military experience has produced Canadian veterans who can think on their feet, make critical decisions and possess a strong work ethic, loyalty and commitment to teamwork. Corporate Canada can do a lot more to help employ these men and women when they leave the service.

We need to reassure our veterans that they’ll be properly recognized for their strengths when they inevitably cycle out of the battlefield. They were there when we needed them in Afghanistan and other theatres of war. Now, it’s corporate Canada’s duty to be there for them when they need us.

Shaun Francis is co-founder of the Toronto-based True Patriot Love Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the well-being of Canadian military families. For more information, visit www.truepatriotlove.com.

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