Now Hiring: Veterans

September 10, 2014 8:39 pm

By Jaclyn Law

Now Hiring: Veterans

Photo by Shutterstock

Men and women with military experience offer a wealth of skill and talent to corporate America. Yet recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate among veterans is high: in 2013, it was 9% for veterans who served on active duty since September 2001, and 6.6% for all veterans. These stats are an improvement over 2012 numbers, but still cause for concern—especially for the 21.4 million veterans living in the US.

The good news is that many employers recognize the potential in hiring veterans and are devoting considerable resources to bringing them on board. Companies that make a well-planned, sustained effort to recruit, train and retain veterans can benefit greatly from their technical knowledge, adaptability and leadership skills.

Merck & Co. has been at the forefront of companies that are making an effort to reach out to veterans. Established in 1891, the company is a global healthcare leader. Among many other medical breakthroughs, its researchers discovered vitamin B1, created the first measles vaccine and developed the first statins to treat high cholesterol. Today, the company offers prescription medications, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer and animal health products. Merck, known as MSD outside of the U.S. and Canada, operates in 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions.

Merck is also a leader in workplace diversity. It has long fostered a strong, company-wide culture of inclusion through progressive policies (including one of the world’s first affirmative action training programs, introduced in 1980). For the past several years, Merck has demonstrated its commitment to men and women who have served, or are currently serving, in the military, through recruiting initiatives and programs that support veterans as they transition to civilian and corporate life.

“When it comes to veterans, Merck is a great place to work. The programs to help veterans learn and navigate the corporate environment are outstanding,” says Kory Robers, a veteran with a disability who joined Merck’s workforce in 2012. “I believe that Merck’s commitment, understanding and support of our nation’s treasures through these programs is world-class, and it’s easy to see why Merck is an employer of choice in the veteran space.”

Across the U.S., Merck employs hundreds of veterans, in areas such as research and development, information technology, finance, sales and marketing, manufacturing, legal and human resources. For employees serving in the National Guard or Reserve, Merck offers full benefits and differential pay during active duty, and credited service under its retirement plans during military leave. It was among the first companies to develop an interactive military skills translator tool (available at www.merck.com/military), and Merck’s recruiters are trained to read military resumes and understand military rank structure and occupations.

Robers served in the Army for over two decades before joining Merck as a staffing consultant in Eastern, Penn. He joined the Army as an engineer in 1992 and spent the first 10 years on assignments worldwide, including deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti. For the last decade of his Army career, Robers served within the U.S. Army Recruiting Command; his most recent title was Sergeant First Class. While serving in the Army, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College, and he is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration from Moravian College, in Bethlehem, Penn.

Robers applied to Merck after researching the cultures of veteran-friendly employers near his home. “Fortunately, my technical skills were very transferable—my experiences in the Army’s Recruiting Command were a perfect fit for my role as a staffing consultant here at Merck,” says Robers. “Additionally, my leadership experience and ability to work in ambiguous environments, both of which the military taught me as well, have been crucial in the civilian workplace.”

As Merck’s Veteran and Talent Inclusion Lead, Robers does veteran-focused project work, developing outreach and strategic plans along with corporate partnerships. His four-person team represents Merck’s divisions: manufacturing, research labs, animal health and global human health.

Robers also regularly interacts with the Veterans Employee Business Resource Group (EBRG), which launched in 2009 under the name Veterans Leadership Network (VLN). (Merck has nine EBRGs, representing groups such as veterans, Native Americans and people with disabilities.) The group, whose members come from departments across the company, helps Merck’s staffing team identify and employ job candidates with military experience, with an emphasis on people who have service-connected disabilities. To help new hires acclimate to corporate life, the Veterans EBRG offers mentoring, often with veterans already on staff. It also educates managers on the benefits of having veterans on their team. The Veterans EBRG has chapters at a number of Merck facilities.

The leader of the Veterans EBRG is John Craddock, who has worked at Merck for 10 years as a program manager and has served in the New Jersey National Guard for 12 years and counting. Craddock assumed leadership of the EBRG in January 2014. “My major responsibilities are to ensure that Merck is not only keeping up with industry best practices in terms of hiring veterans, retaining veterans and participating in various outreach programs, but also to make sure Merck is on the leading edge of those types of things,” he explains. “We don’t want to be doing just as well as everyone else in the pharmaceutical field or any field—we want to be a leader in the field.”

Working with Robers and other colleagues, Craddock’s team does benchmarking to see what other industries do to hire and support veterans and accommodate those called up to active duty.

“Merck is definitely on the forefront in terms of their veteran supports policies, but it’s not just that. Anyone can have a policy and adhere to the letter of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they appreciate the different levels of stress and displacement that can take place either when employees are still serving in the Guard or they’ve just come back from active duty,” says Craddock. “It’s the people who enforce and adhere to the policy, and the culture and the environment overall, that are really accommodating.”

He points out that Merck has veterans in key leadership positions. “They clearly understand and can articulate what it means to be a veteran, and understand that [they] sometimes require different accommodations,” he says. “We have veterans like Kory in place, and his team is primarily made up of veterans who go out and identify and recruit other veterans to bring them on board, and make sure we’ve got a good fit for them from an employment standpoint and that we’re doing everything we can to retain those folks once we’re able to bring them into Merck.”

Veterans further engaged and supported by the Veterans Business Insights Roundtable (BIR). Launched in 2012, the BIR includes an EBRG leader, task force leaders, people who have served in the military and family members of veterans. It focuses on subjects related to talent and inclusion, business insights and corporate responsibility, and it collaborates with the company’s Veterans Recruiting Council (VRC), started in 2010, to present a cohesive approach to recruiting and retaining veterans and people with disabilities. The VRC identifies partnerships with career-link organizations and helps brand Merck as an employer of choice among veterans and people with disabilities. The company also has a dedicated recruiter in each of its divisions focused on veteran recruitment.

Veterans with disabilities can also turn to the EBRG headed by Julie Gerhart for support. (Up next, the Merck veterans and disabilities resource groups will collaborate on the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, put on by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America PVA, in August, 2014).

In addition to resource groups, Merck has other supports in place. The company has made it easier for employees, partners and customers with disabilities to access information on the company website, for example. Merck.com features a downloadable app, from eSSENTIAL Accessibility, which makes it possible for those who are unable use a traditional mouse and keyboard (people who have paralysis or cerebral palsy, for example) to browse the web hands free using motion technology and voice-activated navigation. The tools, which are free to the end user, will work on any site once downloaded.

It’s just another example of Merck execs putting their money where their mouths are. In July 2011, Deborah Dagit, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Merck, addressed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on the subject of employment and disability. In “Lessons from the Field: Learning From What Works for Employment for Persons with Disabilities,” Dagit talked about eliminating barriers. The company continues to address physical and technical barriers, as well as attitudes that can hinder full inclusion.

Merck’s inclusion policies are not static; they are growing with the company. They go beyond minimum requirements dictated by legislation, such as the new regulations in section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that sets out updated affirmative action requirements for employers, because the people at Merck know that diverse hiring is not about compliance, it’s about good business.

The company is always on the lookout for the best hires. Merck has found it helpful to partner with other organizations to increase veteran recruitment. For example, in 2012, the company joined the 100,000 Jobs Mission, which aims to hire at least 100,000 veterans by 2020. Merck also works with Hire Heroes USA, a non-profit that creates job opportunities for veterans and their spouses through free employment training and corporate engagement. In addition, Merck’s attorneys do pro bono work for the Veterans Justice Initiative, a program that helps veterans get legal assistance, access health care, resolve credit issues and more.

These and other pro-active policies and programs have earned the company numerous accolades, including a spot on G.I. Jobs’ list of Top 100 Military Friendly Employers. Merck has also made the Military Times EDGE “Best for Vets” Employer List; earned a Network and Affinity Leadership Congress (NALC) Above and Beyond Award for “Outstanding Contribution to Workplace Diversity and Inclusion”; and was honoured with a Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the U.S. Government’s highest recognition for employers who support staff members serving in the National Guard and Reserve.

The company is currently working on a program to help veterans’ spouses find jobs—an important goal, since 26% of military spouses were unemployed in 2013. “Sometimes it’s even more difficult for the spouses of veterans to find employment because the spouse is travelling or deployed a lot, so there are childcare and educational decisions to make,” says Craddock. “We’re not just helping the veterans—they’re just like anyone else, they have families who need help as well.”

Robers says that working at Merck has had a very positive effect on his own family. He offers advice for other veterans with disabilities who are seeking employment: “When looking for a job post-military, do not ever think that because you have any type of disability, you are less hirable than anyone else. The skills you bring to the workplace, and the fact that you’ve served your country, make you highly sought after in any professional environment.”

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