Military Times has unveiled the annual “Best for Vets: Employers” rankings for 2020, offering a comprehensive look at how companies nationwide have greatly expanded in recent years their support to recruit and retain former service members into the civilian job market.

You can find the list of this year’s rankings here.

A total of 144 employers participated in this year’s survey, which is the most prominent annual public rankings of its kind. Military Times conducted this year’s survey in partnership with ScoutComms, a marketing and research firm focused on veterans and the military community.

The firms responded to nearly 100 questions detailing their policies and practice related to things like the recruitment and retention of veterans, support for the men and women who continue to serve in the reserve components, and efforts to foster a corporate culture that helps veterans to grow and succeed.

“There have been huge leaps-and-bounds improvements made by corporations,” said Mike Bianchi, a retired Army officer who is now the senior director for education and career training for Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, also known as IVMF.

For example, companies these days are more aggressively seeking out veterans at job fairs and recruiting through apprenticeships. ”They are understanding that they have to meet the veteran talent where the veteran talent is and not waiting for the veteran talent to come to them,” Bianchi said.

The success in recent years is evident in veterans unemployment figures, which have fallen steadily from their peak a decade ago. Even with this year’s spike in joblessness due to the coronavirus, unemployment among veterans remains lower than among their civilian counterparts.

In recent years, more companies are focused on not just hiring veterans but making sure the veterans who are hired succeed in the long term.

“It’s not about a job. It’s about a career. It’s about fit,” said Rosalinda Maury, who serves as IVMF’s director of research and analytics.

The companies at the top of this year’s Military Times rankings — including Comcast NBCUniversal, the energy firm Southern Company and U.S. Bank — illustrate how employers across the U.S. private sector have implemented ways to improve how they seek and support veterans.

For example, Comcast NBCUniversal has developed an internal e-book called the Military Community Roadmap that is distributed across the company. Southern Company offers structured training programs to help veterans translate the technical skills learned while in uniform into essential civilian credentials. And U.S. Bank provides retention support for a variety of veterans groups, including women and minority veterans. The bank also has programs to support military spouses, giving them special consideration for job transfer requests and paid leave if their spouse has to move to a new duty assignment or deploy overseas.

A key factor in the success of many veterans individually and the reduction in veterans unemployment at large has been training programs offered by the Defense Department for outgoing service members as well as philanthropic groups that support them after separation.

In many cases, it’s the cultural differences that can be the biggest barrier to success. Military career paths are typically very straightforward and linear, but veterans moving into the private sector have to understand that they’ll have many more choices to make and alternative paths to consider for a career after the military.

Training programs help veterans get past some military-style cultural instincts that can make job hunting difficult. For example, Bianchi said, many service members emphasize the word “we” and are quick to ascribe their personal success to their team. Yet veterans looking for jobs must get comfortable with using “I” and promoting their own unique skills and achievements, he said.

“We use the term ‘we,’ ‘us,’ ‘together,’ as sort of a mantra in the military,” Bianchi said. “It’s one of the cultural things that we’re trying to break down — the hesitancy to really accept credit and not say it was the team that did this, not me.”

But despite the progress, Bianchi warns of a potential “veterans fatigue” that has begun to take hold in recent years as the urgency of the post-9/11 wars has faded in the minds of many Americans.

“If there is fatigue in assisting this population — given where we are today politically and all the other populations that are underserved — how do we sustain these efforts?” he said.

Bianchi said he worries that public funding and philanthropic efforts supporting veterans transition may suffer without continued attention.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Bianchi noted that there’s more at stake than simply lowering the unemployment numbers and finding jobs for one cohort of veterans. Successful transitions are key to sustaining the all-volunteer force and making sure that Americans continue to see examples of young people who come into the service, obtain skills and move on to find meaningful employment as civilians.

“It’s a continuous cycle,” he said.

In the coming years, many advocates hope that companies will better understand that veterans are not a monolithic group. The needs vary depending on whether veterans are former officers or enlisted service members, whether they are female or minority, or if they continue to serve in the reserves.

“What we are learning now is that the needs are not equal for all veterans,” Maury said.

“There are still underrepresented populations. There is a huge diversity in the veteran population, and we’re starting to see a lot of improvements there.”

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