Including the many military veterans I’ve worked alongside over my career, as well as my family members who have served, I’ve always been inspired by the men and women around the world who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving their countries. Here in the United States, our veterans and their families have made tremendous sacrifices, and at Hilton, we are committed to ensuring they have a great career when they return home from service. This philosophy has always been a part of our DNA, and in 2013, we took our commitment to the next level with a big goal: to hire 10,000 veterans, spouses and dependents over the next five years.
Our logic was simple: we saw that approximately 10 percent of post-9/11 veterans were unemployed and active duty military were transitioning to civilian life at a rate of more than 250,000 per year. We had the chance to welcome these veterans and their family members into our company and to help them build lifelong careers with us, so we launched Operation: Opportunity as our way to be part of the solution.
Today we’re announcing that we’ve reached our Operation: Opportunity hiring goal two years early, and as we look to expand our military recruitment in the years ahead, I want to share five important lessons we’ve learned along the way that can benefit other businesses.
1. Identify Common Ground
We’ve found that veterans don’t always think of a post-military career in hospitality, so we’ve been very proactive in terms of reaching out to them about opportunities in our company. But while a career in hospitality may not always be top-of-mind for veterans, there is significant overlap between our two “industries” – operating a hotel is very similar to operating a battleship or a base. Just like in those military environments, a hotel is a self-contained “village” in many ways, where everything from food to electricity can be produced onsite. By explaining how our business overlaps with their military experience, we’ve been able to help veterans understand that ours is not just an industry worth considering, but one in which they can thrive.
2. Provide Tailored Resources and Support
Just like with any new employee, completing the hiring process is just the first step. We’ve found it’s particularly critical to provide tailored resources and ongoing support for our veteran Team Members who are transitioning to a civilian career, often for the first time. Whether it’s offering reserve pay benefits or creating a dedicated Team Member Resource Group, it’s our responsibility to set them up for success. Even something small, like ensuring every veteran Team Member receives a pin denoting their branch of the military, can help them feel welcome and valued. I’ve been particularly proud of the response from our civilian Team Members, who have welcomed veterans and their families with open arms and deep respect.
3. Veterans Need Short-term & Longer-term Civilian Career Opportunities
Retaining the people we’ve hired through Operation: Opportunity for the long-term is a big priority for us – one we’ve put significant resources behind. But we’ve also learned that a long-term career in the hospitality industry isn’t necessarily what every veteran wants or needs. Some just need a landing spot for a few years: a good job that helps them get settled upon their return from service, or civilian work experience that they can transfer to another industry or role. We believe we should support veterans and their families no matter what they’re looking for – whether that’s a shorter-term opportunity or a lifelong career in hospitality.
4. Family Matters
Of course, veterans aren’t the only ones who have unique needs – the spouses and dependents of active duty military do incredible work supporting their families while their loved ones are deployed, and frequent moves can make it difficult to maintain career consistency. By offering flexible positions, including those that allow for working from home (for example, in customer service positions where the work is primarily conducted by phone), we’re proud that 10 percent of the hires we’ve made through Operation: Opportunity are spouses and dependents of active duty military and veterans. We’ll continue working to ensure these “hidden heroes” have the opportunity to build good careers alongside their spouses.
5. Veterans Are Invaluable Assets
I think it’s important for everyone to understand that veterans are incredible assets for a company, and they bring highly transferable skills, experience and values – things like discipline, organization, problem-solving and teamwork. The most important lesson we’ve learned is the one we suspected from the beginning: hiring veterans is not just a matter of doing the right thing for the men and women who have served our country. As much as we’re helping them, they are doing even more to help us achieve our mission to be the world’s most hospitable company in every way possible.
As we approach Veterans Day this year, I want express our deep appreciation on behalf of Hilton to all our veterans and active duty military as well as their families.