Federal contractors are hiring veterans
Companies that do business with the federal government employ a big chunk of the U.S. workforce — and if you’re a veteran looking to join their ranks, federal law requires that they give you a leg up.
How can you take advantage?
The local One-Stop Career Center should be one of your first stops, according to government and private sector officials.
Thousands of these Labor Department offices, also called American Job Centers, are scattered across the country, offering information and job openings posted online at www.careeronestop.org.
Big federal contractors must list their available positions with the centers, which establish relationships with local contractors and even offer training and intensive one-on-one help for vets who are having trouble landing jobs.
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In addition, your vet status gets you first access to many of the available services and programs.
“Every veteran gets priority of service in an American Job Center,” said Teresa Gerton, deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Labor Department. “There’s a tremendous amount of support for veterans available for free.”
Gerton also suggests taking advantage of the Hiring Our Heroes job fairs for vets, conducted around the country by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Established by law
The advantages for vets with private contractors are different from the preference and other special hiring authorities that vets enjoy with federal agencies. But, as with the federal agency hiring guidelines, they are established by law and official policy, hiring managers must follow them, and they can give vets a significant edge.
The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, updated about a year ago with a new federal rule, requires contractors to set affirmative action plans to hire and promote vets, report to the federal government on their progress and not discriminate against former service members.
The Labor Department says that about one-quarter of U.S. employees work for companies doing business with the federal government. Companies are subject to different rules depending on whether, since December 2003, they have entered into or modified federal contracts of $100,000 or more, $25,000 or more, or less than $25,000.
The rules focus on “protected” categories of vets who: separated within the past three years; served on active duty during wartime; received a service medal; or have service-connected disabilities.
Donna Andrews served more than 21 years in the Air Force, honing her skills in logistics before retiring as a master sergeant. She credits the Labor Department One-Stop Career Center with helping her land a job with UPS. Among federal contractors, UPS hired the third-most recently separated veterans during its 2013 fiscal year, federal data indicate.
Without the support of that center, the skills she learned in the military would have gone to “waste … just being a cashier or something, whereas I can actually give something to UPS,” Andrews said. “Logistically, this is exactly what I used to do. I just used to do it in foreign countries.”
The company, familiar to just about everyone who has received a package, has many jobs that may not be obvious as “military” but could actually fit well with various military skill sets: pilots, aircraft engineers and mechanics, plant engineers, accountants, and information technology specialists, said Patrick O’Leary, UPS’ veterans affairs manager.
That said, most UPS openings do involve loading and driving those familiar brown trucks, he noted.
A welcoming environment
O’Leary said that with their training and life experience, service members and vets “make really good employees” for UPS, so the company tries to make itself an attractive place for them — for example, by offering greater flexibility to reserve component members.
“You have to have that environment that welcomes veterans and then meets their needs once they arrive,” he said. “We work hard at that.”
That’s also a priority at Allied Barton Security Services, where Jerold Ramos, director for strategic recruiting and military liaison, said he sometimes gets midnight calls from troops in Afghanistan who are planning their transitions but have to dial in at odd times because of the time zone difference.
“I feel like those are important to answer,” Ramos said. “It’s very important to me that I connect with them one-on-one.”
The company, which provides security services for private companies and major federal facilities, also has an employee group just for people with military backgrounds, through which mentoring relationships often develop, he added.
Ramos said the Labor Department, other federal agencies such as the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, and veterans service organizations are important to his company’s vet recruiting.
Advice for vets
While many organizations and initiatives focus on giving vets a leg up in the job market, vets still must be qualified for a job in order to land it, noted Donna Savarese, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman.
“Federal contractors are bound by strict compliance regulations regarding hiring,” Savarese said.
She also advised vets to make sure they have things like security clearances up to date before jumping into the job market.
O’Leary, of UPS, and others recommended that vets start preparing for their transition well before it’s scheduled to happen — and avoid timidity in the job hunt.
“You have to be aggressive,” he said. “Some folks get out, and they’re like, ‘Now what?’ And that’s really a shame, because they really need to prepare themselves.”
Andrews said one of the hardest parts of her transition was learning to explain her military skills in a way that civilian employers could understand. She said vets should not be afraid to ask for help on that.
“They need to find someone in the civilian side that can help them with the translation of their résumé,” Andrews said.
Another important component of the job hunt: social media, which hiring managers say can be a double-edged sword.
O’Leary said social media can be a critical networking tool. But the wrong kind of social media post can quickly sink your chances of landing a job, added Ramos.
“There is nothing worse than getting onto someone’s Facebook account to check them out and seeing off-color pictures,” Ramos said. “You need to watch what you’re doing well in advance.”
Getting an inside edge
Federal law and policy require contractors to give veteran recruits and employees special treatment, especially those who fall into “protected” categories, including vets who separated from the military within the last three years. This includes:
■ Vet hiring benchmarks. Federal contractors must set vet-hiring goals. Typically, the proportion of vets that contractors hire should be as large as their proportion in the civilian labor force, as tracked by a branch of the Labor Department. But contractors also may use a different, set calculation method to establish benchmarks that better reflect their industries and locations.
■ Job listings that give vets the first shot. Contractors’ job openings must be listed with the Labor Department’s One-Stop Career Centers, where veterans get priority. Federal officials also encourage contractors to reach out to local veterans groups.
■ No salary reductions based on pension. Some companies may want to pay employees less if their incomes are supplemented with a pension. Contractors are not allowed to do this with veterans who receive military retirement pay. They must be paid salaries similar to those of employees doing the same job who do not receive a pension.
■ Accommodations for disabled vets. Contractors must make a “reasonable accommodation” to allow veterans who are disabled to work for them. Disabled vets can’t expect contractors to overhaul the essential duties of a particular job, but they should expect flexibility on schedules, locations, equipment and materials when possible.
■ Nondiscrimination rules and reporting. It’s illegal for contractors to discriminate against certain categories of veterans, including those who recently left the military, because of that status. This applies to hiring and firing decisions, promotions and demotions, and salary levels. Vets who think they have been discriminated against can report it to the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, and their employers are barred by law from retaliating against employees for doing so.
■ Vet applicant and employee tracking. Contractors must allow veterans to identify themselves when they apply for jobs, collect annual information on their vet hires and employee population, report this information to the Labor Department and allow Labor to inspect the company records on which the information is based.