As Veterans Day approaches this weekend, and amid concerns that the U.S. civilian-military divide is growing wider than ever, new research from Edelman Intelligence illustrates that fundamental misperceptions of U.S. veterans may be contributing to this gap.
Edelman’s Veterans Well-Being Survey, led by Edelman Intelligence (EI) and now in its second year, surveys U.S. veterans, non-veterans, employers and educators on their perceptions of veteran wellness, workforce readiness and employment. Our 2017 study, unveiled at the Veteran Jobs Mission Coalition Meeting in Chicago, found that employers hold beliefs about veterans’ skills, education levels and health that could potentially be inhibiting veterans’ post-military careers and success.
On the topic of job readiness, our survey found that employers are skeptical about veterans’ soft skills, particularly their ability to communicate. When asked which skills are most important for any job candidate to possess, “be an effective communicator” was employers’ top response. However, just 19 percent of employers feel veterans possess strong communication skills, a contrast to the 64 percent of veterans who believe they are effective communicators.
In addition, the survey found that employers have misperceptions about veterans’ skills and education overall. Only 38 percent of employers believe the skills veterans acquire in the military are easily transferable to the private sector, while 62 percent feel veterans need more education and training before being qualified for non-military roles. In addition, half of employers believe most veterans do not pursue any higher education (a technical or four-year degree) while they are in the service or after they separate. This belief is contradicted by the research by the Student Veterans of America (SVA), an Edelman partner, which found that veterans have obtained 453,000 certificates and degrees using the post-9/11 GI bill since 2009 and are expected to obtain 1.4 million degrees in the next 10 years.
The positive news is that employers and veterans alike are interested in internship and apprenticeship programs that could develop veterans’ job skills and bridge the perception gap. More than 70 percent of employers in our study believe an internship or apprenticeship program would benefit their companies, and almost 90 percent of current service members would be interested in participating in this type of program after leaving the military. For the 76 percent of all employers who say they want to hire more veterans, this could be a viable way to help veterans transition into positions within their organizations.
Finally, our research revealed yet another area where a disconnect exists between how veterans see themselves and how non-veterans see them: perceptions of veterans’ health and wellness. Our study revealed that fewer than 20 percent of employers and non-veterans believe veterans have access to good or excellent mental health care. However, 76 percent of veterans believe they have access to good mental health support, and 74 percent say they know where to go for help. Further, veterans and non-veterans claim to experience mental health challenges at almost the same rate, but veterans are more likely to seek help.
As we approach this Veterans Day, this study reminds us that it is as important to get to know veterans as it is to recognize them for their service. Understanding the people behind the uniforms is essential to overcoming these misperceptions. Continuing to shed light on these disconnects can help us work toward bridging the civilian-military divide.
Elisa Vitalo is a vice president, Edelman Intelligence, Washington, DC.
Stephanie Lesser is a research director, Edelman Intelligence, Washington, DC.