Veterans flock to federal jobs but don’t stay long

Agencies are doing a better job of hiring veterans than keeping them, according to a new report on the subject.

The share of jobs going to veterans has increased steadily each year since President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2009 to focus efforts on veterans’ employment. One out of three new federal employees has served in the military, according to fiscal 2014 statistics that the Office of Personnel Management published last month. It’s especially notable considering that 2014 was the first year under the directive that the government increased the number of new hires overall. It hired 180,000 employees, of which 59,000 were veterans.

Agencies have become better recruiters over the past five years. At the same time, veterans are more likely to consider the federal government as a potential employer, said OPM Director of Veterans Services Hakeem Basheerud-Deen in an interview with Federal News Radio.

“We’ve been trying to educate veterans that there is more to government than just the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs,” he said. The departments of Homeland Security and Justice have emerged as major employers of veterans too.

It’s clear that special hiring provisions that give veterans an advantage in job competitions also have had an impact, although Basheerud-Deen is careful not to quantify their effect.

“I’d like to think vets are bringing a skill set that is competitive for federal jobs,” he said. “When we look at the money spent on training of men and women in uniform, it’s natural that the federal government try to get a return on their investment by bringing veterans on that meet their mission-critical needs.”

Yet the report shows veterans are more likely to leave their jobs within the first two years than other new hires.  At some agencies, the percentages vary wildly. In the most extreme example, the Small Business Administration retains 62 percent of veteran hires, compared to 88 percent of all new hires. Only a handful of agencies buck the trend, notably the departments of Defense and State.

Each agency has its own culture, mission and required skill set so it’s difficult to explain the difference between agencies, said Basheerud-Deen. This is the first year that OPM has compared retention rates between veterans and non-veterans. It did so based upon a request by the inter-agency Council on Veterans Employment. While fiscal 2014 served as a benchmark, agencies will be rated at the end of this fiscal year on how well they closed that gap, he said. The change marks a maturing of the veterans’ employment initiative. Agencies will also be evaluated based on how well they hire disabled veterans compared with others. Another new criteria requires agencies to track whether those new hires actually come on board.

A year from now, Basheerud-Deen said, he hopes the veterans employment initiative is so well embedded in agencies that it can survive the transition between presidents. He also hopes that agencies work to balance their directive to employ more veterans with another to diversify their workforce. Men were 81 percent of veteran hires but 46 percent of non-veteran hires in fiscal 2014. Veteran hires were also slightly more likely to be white than people of color.

The employment initiative has focused more of its efforts of late on recruiting women veterans.

“When you look at women veterans in government, they’re actually well-represented when compared to their representation in the population at large,” Basheerud-Deen said. “We want to look at their situation to ensure they have opportunities. That goes for other diversity issues in the federal government too.”

Through more targeted outreach, he said, agencies can diversify their workforce while still increasing the share of veterans in them.

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