Las Vegas Sun

August 25, 2019

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Don’t underestimate the skills that veterans can offer after their service

As a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and current city councilman, I am proud to call Las Vegas home and to work on initiatives that will enrich our community. To that end, one of my goals is to elevate the conversation about veterans.

Instead of focusing solely on how to get our homeless vets off the street, we must start talking about ways to enhance the viability of our valley by leveraging our military human capital resources.

When I talk with community leaders about the needs of the 225,000 veterans in our state, most conversations almost immediately turn to veterans who are experiencing homelessness, have unmet health care needs, or need a job — even though these problems affect a small minority of veterans, and as of last year, veteran homelessness was down by 40 percent since 2011.

This misperception is mainly due to the “civilian-military divide,” the term that describes the gap in the understanding of military life and military families among civilians. It is a growing phenomenon in this country because the U.S. military is now an all-volunteer force and no longer has a draft, and fewer than 1 percent of U.S. citizens are currently serving in the military.

As a result of the divide, I find that the majority of civilian employers assume transitioning service members are solely qualified for or interested in lower-level jobs. Civilian hiring managers, and our community at large, don’t understand the full scope of expertise and leadership capacity that exists among veterans and transitioning service members.

Veterans are not a homogenous community. Some have a short time in service, while others have decades of experience and advanced education. All veterans have specific training and education that is beneficial to employers but sometimes not captured on an academic transcript. Their skills can be directly translated into civilian corporate functions such as management, strategy, finance, human resources, security, contracts and more. Many of them have been trained in advanced technologies, specifically in STEM fields. Moreover, veterans, no matter how long they have served in the military, have served in leadership roles.

A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “The Seven Skills You Need to Thrive in the C-Suite,” and all seven of those skills are strategically cultivated and developed during military service.

In no particular order, the skills cited in the article include: leadership, strategic thinking and the ability to execute, technical and technology skills, team and relationship building, change management, effective communication and presentation skills, and integrity. That last “skill,” I would argue, is actually a trait, and one that is invaluable to any company’s executive leadership team.

The National Skills Coalition estimates that 49 percent of the open jobs in Nevada by 2020 will be what are called “middle skills” jobs. These jobs require training beyond high school but don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree. Our veteran population brings expertise that our state has identified as high-need areas to Las Vegas and Nevada. In this New Nevada economy, it would serve us well to ensure we are leveraging these skill sets.

Southern Nevada is home to two of the Air Force’s most strategic bases, Nellis and Creech. Nellis is home to the most advanced training and testing in the world, annually hosting the Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise, and Creech is the home base of remotely piloted aircraft systems, flying combat missions around the world on a daily basis. This means we literally have some of the most skilled, most intelligent and well-developed leaders in our nation living in our backyard.

When it is time for our local service members to exit the military, the Las Vegas Valley should be their first consideration. Some employers in our valley, such as Aristocrat Technologies, have recognized the value of veterans and have hired transitioning warriors from Nellis and Creech for important mid-level and executive-level roles. Our community would benefit from more of that kind of recruitment.

In 2019, I look forward to advancing the conversation in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada about the multidimentional assets that veterans, transitioning service members and their families bring to our community and how they should be considered in our overall economic development strategies. I am excited to continue working with the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program hosted at Nellis and to partner with the Vegas Golden Knights to host a veteran employment event in April.

On this Veterans Day, remember that our veterans are victorious — and are a great asset to our community’s progress.

Steve Seroka is a Las Vegas city councilman representing Ward 2.