State of Michigan Treasurer Rachael Eubanks talks with Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency Director Zaneta Adams about the BIG small business benefits of becoming a Veteran-Friendly Employer.
RESOURCES for Veterans, and for Your Small Business:
PODCAST Season 1, Episode 2
Treasury Talk: The Veteran-Friendly Employer Program & Your Small Business
Hosted by MI State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks, with guest MVAA Director Zaneta Adams
Rachael: Today we've got Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency Director Zaneta Adams to discuss the MVAA Veteran-Friendly Employer (VFE) program and your small business.
Before we dive in, I would love to talk a little bit about her background and how she's landed in the position that she's in, because she has such an interesting story. You served in the military, is that correct?
Zaneta: Yes, I did. I actually served eight years between the Army National Guard and Reserves. I exited the military in 2006, medically discharged after an injury, preparing to go over to Iraq. So I didn't make it over to Iraq, but I was definitely interested in the process, but that ended my military journey for sure.
Rachael: We so appreciate your service and especially this week, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us about issues important to veterans. Having somebody in your role with your experience is incredibly valuable to your department, to those veteran stakeholders that you serve, as well as the state of Michigan. I personally am incredibly thankful for all of the service that you have done on behalf of individuals like myself. Thank you!
Zaneta: Thank you.
Rachael: So coming off of your successful Veteran-Friendly Employers Innovation Conference in September, and your recent visit to the White House, I feel you have a lot of good information to share with our small business leaders. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at the MVAA? What does the MVAA director do on a daily basis?
Zaneta: As you know, I'm meeting with stakeholders a lot. We're making decisions as to how to best reach veterans. The MVAA was set up almost 10 years ago – we’re about to celebrate our 10 year anniversary-- as a resource hub. Our job really is to identify the resources that are out there for veterans and their families and bring them all together, so that when someone calls our 1-800 24/7 hotline, they can get connected to whatever resource they need, whether it be housing, whether it be DD214 retrievals, whether it be emergency assistance, mental health assistance, you name it!
My job is to make sure that we are continually bringing together partners and we're looking to make sure that people understand veteran-speak, but also make sure that veterans understand what's out there. That's why the veteran-friendly employer program is a really important piece of what we do at the MVAA.
Rachael: Thank you for that segue, because that's where we're going to go next, which is: what exactly is the veteran-friendly employer program and why is it important? And I will say, leading into this, this was a certification or designation that I felt really strongly about trying to pursue both here at Treasury and in my previous job at the Michigan Public Service Commission. Can you tell us a little bit about why you think that it's important?
Zaneta: Our veteran-friendly employer program is this program where we have different levels of bronze, silver and gold where we actually work with employers in the state to help them with recruitment, training and retention of veteran workforce.
We do that in various ways; there are different things that an employer can do. It's a no-cost program. I just want to put that out there, but there's different things that employers can do to actually become a veteran-friendly employer and it's not that you have to have a specific quota of the number of veterans you hire.
You just have to set a goal for yourself. You have to set a goal for how many veterans you're going to hire, your retention efforts, if you're going to create employee resource groups, those types of things are what gets you up that chain of bronze, silver and gold.
But it's really important to me because veterans need jobs, right? We're trying to bring more transitioning service members to Michigan and we want the ones who are from Michigan to be able to be employed. And veterans don't always know how to translate their skills into a resume.
So when you go into a job interview and you're like, “my MOS and my DD214 was” and you're using all of these acronyms, people are like, “You’ve totally lost me!” You're cut off from this employer with your talents even though you’ve been trained with over $100,000 worth of training in the military, but you've lost a potential recruiter or employer. And now they've lost a great potential asset to their company. So what we're doing is trying to educate both those communities.
We're trying to get employers to identify the veterans within their space, and that's why it's important because we can connect them to resources that way.
Rachael: MOS I know that one, Military Occupational Specialty. I'm trying to learn the acronyms myself. I think it's important because we've got to learn each other's language to bridge some of the lack of understanding between one another. It's a wonderful effort that you're taking on; this has been in place almost 10 years and you have 534 Michigan-based employers participating -- what a tremendous accomplishment. Congratulations!
Zaneta: Thank you. Yes, and we have some folks who are really striving to achieve goals. Congratulations on Treasury’s silver-level employer status as well.
Rachael: Yes, we did get the silver designation.
Zaneta: Congratulations on that! That's no easy feat. For anybody out there listening, you know they could have become gold level, right? But they have to be in silver for a year in order to become gold. So it's not because Treasury just couldn't get to the goal, it’s because they have to demonstrate what they're doing. I have no doubt that you're going to make it to gold level at your next anniversary.
Rachael: I appreciate that we are looking to lay that groundwork and that track record to attract even more fantastic veterans into Treasury. I look forward to also achieving gold level in the near future.
So what do small businesses get for this VFE designation? What are the benefits for a small business applying to become a veteran-friendly employer?
Zaneta: You get access to a recruitment tool. You have this statewide agency that places our veteran-friendly employers not only on our free ‘Why Michigan’ app, but readily available to any person looking for a job. It also gives you recognition through that goal. I've seen people place the VFE designation on their LinkedIn when they're posting for jobs, and on Indeed and on their websites. Being a VFE also provides you with additional training.
Not all veterans come with “challenges”, but we've all been through something and so understanding, for instance, that a veteran may not just leave your company after two years because they just don't like you. It may be because they're used to leaving their base every two to three years.
So perhaps you can utilize that person in the same company by maybe switching them into a different job that seems like it's a new thing, but it's still within their skill set. We provide that type of training and insight.
From the biggest employer to the smallest employer, I think everybody can benefit from hiring a veteran.
Rachael: I think that's a great point that you serve both veterans and entities looking to hire veterans, and I'm not sure I realized that until we prepared for our certification process. I appreciate you getting the word out about that. What does that process look like? What is the process for a small business, who wants to become this veteran-friendly employer?
Zaneta: There are several different criteria and you can check out our website at https://www.michigan.gov/MVAA and go to our veteran-friendly employer section. But employers must meet certain criteria to be awarded initial certification, and then they must meet all those stated goals and criteria within 12 months of that certification to be elevated to the next certification level. You can start right out at silver level if you get there, but you can also start at bronze.
You can go to our website: there's a veteran-friendly employer application there.
Once you become a veteran friendly employer, we encourage you to submit your logo which we use to display on our MVAA page, and it's also on that app that we talk about. We're sharing this app information when we go out to bases, so that when they look it up, they can see your employer status on there.
Rachael: Excellent. So for all of these small businesses listening out there, the web page is listed here in our show notes, so please go out and apply or at least peruse the page to find out how to become a veteran-friendly employer, and what benefits are available to you through that process.
This has been a learning process for all of us, and for me as well. My journey started at the Michigan Public Service Commission, and I’d like to share a brief anecdote about what that looked like for me when I was looking to hire a veteran.
We had a woman who was applying to become a gas safety engineer and on her resume, she just listed something very brief – concise and to the point. I think that's probably how you're taught to be in the military, but it sounded like it was she was just putting gas in vehicles. That's all she said she was doing.
As I was trying to dig a little deeper and learn about really what this was, it turns out she wasn't just taking a nozzle and putting it into some sort of vehicle. She was organizing, executing and implementing a multi-continent supply chain in the Middle East to deliver critical fuels so that they could continue to carry on with their mission. Really, she was talking about a very complicated position.
You know, commodity and resource management, and supply chain management through multiple countries in war-torn circumstances was incredibly impressive.
Once we got to talking about that, we realized that actually she was a fit for the position and not just somebody that was pumping gas.
I think it's really incumbent on all of us as employers to take that extra step with our veterans, to ask questions to get through some of that modesty and figure out what does that person's experience really look like? And what could they potentially be bringing to this position that doesn't necessarily show up immediately on paper?
Zaneta: That's great insight and that's a great story -- and a great reminder that we do need to ask questions especially when we have a military person. We're trained to have a certain mindset in the military, but then when we come out, we're not really programmed to think like a civilian. You have to remember, too, some individuals went in at 18, so they didn't have work experience with interview experience to be able to come out and articulate that.
I attended an event for transitioning service members a few years ago and one of the things I remembered from it was really remembering to sell yourself. We've trained to be a team. So when we leave the military, we don't talk about our strengths, or what are our strengths. Those are the types of things that we can provide training and insight on through the programs that we have.
We also have this Michigan Veteran Connector initiative which we've connected to our veteran- friendly employer program, which really starts to dive in on how we're asking these questions.
It allows you to get into that space and really be able to access a veteran’s experience, like you talked about this individual. That veteran had over $100,000 worth of training and then the hours behind that to be able to do a job effectively – what employer doesn't want that?
Rachael: I could not agree more! I will say the veterans that we have at Treasury always really impress me with their desire to see a mission through and to serve the state of Michigan. So I'm sure it will be no different with small businesses.
Thank you so much for sharing all this great information. I know that Friday is your big day coming up, which is Veteran's Day. Are there any plans or events that you would like to point any veterans to while you've got their ear?
Zaneta: There are a lot of events going on. I would just say look into your community and get involved. And if you're not claiming your veteran status, I would pose the question to you, have you served? And if the answer is yes, then you need to proudly waive that veteran flag, wear that veteran hat, wear that shirt and get out and start to learn more about what we do. We’re a resource connector. So if you’re a veteran and need anything, please give us a call at 1-800-642-4838.
If you want to learn more about our veteran-friendly employer program, visit our website. You can also e-mail MVAAstrategy@michigan.gov for more information.
I appreciate you having me on the podcast, and I thank you for your commitment to veterans. From day one, you've been committed to identifying and working with veterans, and I can't wait to see where you go from here.
Rachael: Director Adams, always a pleasure. Thanks for spending time with us today.
RESOURCES for Veterans, and for Your Small Business:
· Resources for Veterans: CALL 1-800-642-4838.
· Learn more about the Veteran-Friendly Employer Program (VFE)
· Questions about the VFE? Email MVAAstrategy@michigan.gov