Skip to main content

Greenville Business Magazine

Veterans, Those With Disabilities Can Help Rebuild Workforces

By Laura S. Bogardus, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, Employment Consultant, Greenville CAN 

& Brigham Berthold, Employment Program Manager & Army Veteran, Upstate Warrior Solution

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected most aspects of life. The workplace is facing challenges unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes. These drastic changes, coupled with reduced or altered demand for products and services, have forced unprecedented numbers of businesses to reduce employee hours, furlough workers, or outright lay off their most critical asset - their talent. 

After addressing immediate crisis mitigation, businesses are dusting off their continuity plans to develop and implement new approaches to both workflow and employee management. Companies are leveraging new work-share arrangements, expanding remote telework indefinitely, enacting task-based management as opposed to time-based management, and emphasizing a laser-focused approach to talent match and performance.

When faced with steep challenges, employers are noticing those individuals who have learned to excel despite the adversity. It has never been more apparent that organizations need employees who are resilient. Those who can exceed the standard in the face of obstacles will continue to add value in good times and bad. As business looks to rehire workers, there are a few groups that, generally speaking, stand out in terms of overcoming barriers and thriving over the long term: our nation's veterans and people with disabilities.

Veterans and our National Guard and Reserve are trained to face adversity with a level head and as part of a team. Despite high levels of leadership and responsibility, self-sacrifice, dedication, and commitment to achieving organizational goals, they are the last to call themselves out for heroism. Yet it is this very characteristic - hesitance to talk about one's own accomplishments - that impedes their employment prospects. Indeed, a higher percentage of veterans are underemployed than the general population, meaning they are more likely to work in jobs well below their levels of previous or ongoing military responsibility.

People with disabilities have been, and continue to be, misunderstood and underestimated in terms of work productivity. But the fact is that people with disabilities - from physical to developmental to health-related - are just as productive as the general population while at the same time displaying higher levels of dedication and job retention. People with disabilities have found ways to navigate a world that was not necessarily built for them with sheer determination and innovation, often on a daily basis. 

Many veterans and people with disabilities have experience teleworking or job sharing. They have learned to adjust to new circumstances and thrive in changing environments. As certain types of businesses expand due to workplace changes and others pare down or eventually rehire, think about the personal qualities that people with disabilities and veterans have acquired as opposed to the misconceptions that make unemployment or underemployment high for these groups. Educate yourself on military skills translation at and job accommodations at Better yet, enroll in the free SHRM Foundation certification courses on Veterans at Work and Employing Abilities @Work and require those in your organization with hiring responsibilities to do the same. Both courses are designed to equip employers with a better understanding of how to leverage these groups at work for greater return on investment. Both courses are well worth the effort and are backed by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation. 

The American qualities of innovation, work ethic, teamwork, opportunity, and overall confidence in large part determine how we emerge from crisis. We can enlist the skill sets of veterans, members of the Reserve and Guard, and people with disabilities as we rebuild our organizations and workforce. They are often the very individuals who have already learned to navigate challenging environments to achieve their goals.