November 29, 2012

Cornell Intensifies Efforts to Recruit Veterans to Workforce

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As part of a University-wide diversity push, Cornell is trying to recruit veterans to the University’s faculty and staff –– efforts that have greatly expanded and accelerated over the past few years, according to Lynette Chappell-Williams, associate vice president of the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity.

“The initiative is moving quickly,” Chappell-Williams said. “We expect that the connections that we are making … will start to have a real impact.”

The University has focused on identifying strategies to help it connect with military talent and ensure that veterans become acclimated to the Cornell workforce once they are hired, said Davine Bey, manager of talent acquisition in Cornell’s Recruitment and Employment Center.

In particular, the University hopes to recruit veterans for non-academic positions –– such as engineers, facility managers and Cornell police officers, Bey said.

One initiative that has aided this effort was the creation of the Veteran’s Colleague Network Group in November 2010. This group brings together veterans with similar backgrounds or experience in order to help them cope with the challenges associated with returning to civilian life, according to Chappell-Williams.

“Veteran culture [and] military life … it’s a different language than civilian life,” Bey said. “There’s often a communication gap.”

Chappel-Williams said the group has proven effective in opening lines of communication about the specific needs of veterans.

“It was when we formed the Veteran’s Colleague Network Group that we got some great feedback about things that we can be doing to both hire more veterans, as well as to create a better environment for those who have served in the military,” she said.

Prof. Daniel Weed, naval science, vice chair of the VCNG, said the group is also focusing on reaching the community. It has partnered with veterans’ networking groups in the area, such as the Southern Tier Veterans Support Group, the largest in the Tompkins County area, he said.

Among the VCNG’s primary goals is helping veterans and other members of the Cornell community understand policies on matters such as taking time off before being deployed and taking care of someone who has returned from the military, Chappell-Williams said.

The initiative to recruit veterans has had to address the stereotypes and misconceptions hiring managers often hold toward veterans, according to Chappell-Williams. In response, the Division of Inclusion and Workplace Diversity has organized workshops within the human resources department “to work with those who are in hiring situations to understand how to translate military experience into civilian experience,” Chappell-Williams said.

When reading over applicants’ resumes, the language used to describe military experience is often hard for employers to interpret, she said.

“It’s hard to understand that if [a veteran] managed a battalion it means that they managed a workforce,” Chappell-Williams said. “It’s the same thing, just a different way of explaining it.”

In order to overcome these challenges, the Recruitment and Employment Center is creating outreach and awareness strategies to educate employers within the Cornell community about the value of of hiring veterans, Bey said.

An additional challenge veterans must overcome is the stigma that many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. To address this, “we are helping individuals understand these stereotypes and how they are not true across the board,” Chappell-Williams said.

In addition to addressing misconceptions, Cornell is undergoing rebranding efforts to send the message “that we are an employer of choice,” Bey said.

“You’re going to begin to see messaging and marketing campaigns that are specifically aimed at hiring veterans,” he said.

Weed said the initiative has already experienced success among both veterans and members of the Cornell community.

“There is tremendous community support for veterans in the area, and veterans here greatly appreciate that,” Weed said.

The University is also trying to take advantage of its location to attract more veterans. According to census data from 2000, veterans have a preference for smaller towns, which puts Ithaca in a great position for recruiting individuals, according to Chappell-Williams.

Weed echoed this sentiment, drawing on his personal experience moving to Ithaca.

“Once I came to Ithaca, I found that the opportunities here were outstanding. The community is exceptional,” Weed said. “So many of us, when we come here, want to stay because we enjoy the community, the people, the lifestyle and the opportunities here.”

Cornell was recognized in September for showing “promising practices” by the Families and Work Institute, who “took it upon themselves to identify employers who are cutting edge in addressing the needs of Veterans,” Chappell-Williams said.

Original Author: Rebecca Friedman