Q&A: RETHINKING VETERANS’ EMPLOYMENT FOR OFCCP COMPLIANCE

Understanding how military skills can transfer over to the civilian workplace may help federal contractors meet new hiring benchmarks from the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, says Lisa Rosser, chief executive officer and founder of  Value of a Veteran, a human resources consulting firm.

The benchmarks are part of new regulations under the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act. Federal contractors will have to comply with the regulations March 24. The rules require government contractors, for the first time, to establish quantifiable hiring benchmarks for certain protected veterans.

Contractors can set the hiring benchmarks for their written affirmative action programs by using either "the current national percentage of veterans in workforce," which is about 8 percent, or "their own benchmark based on the best available data," according to the rules.

The hiring benchmarks for the VEVRAA regulations are "aspirational" and are not "quotas," the OFCCP said. They're not the same as the hiring goals for minorities and women under Executive Order 11,246, according to the agency. Contractors with AAPs in place on March 24 under the current rules may delay compliance with subpart C of the VEVRAA regulations until the beginning of their next AAP cycle.

On Feb. 14, the OFCCP updated its Q&A guidance on the VEVRAA rules to address equal opportunity clauses and other implementation issues.

Bloomberg BNA: The VEVRAA rule introduces a new data collection requirement, calling for contractors to begin collecting certain data annually regarding protected veterans. From a compliance perspective, what practical advice would you offer to a contractor about inviting job applicants at the pre- and post-offer stages to voluntarily self-identify as being a veteran? 

Rosser: Employers must understand that the OFCCP's definition of "protected veteran" is a very narrow definition of "veteran." There are many people who have served in the military who do not meet the OFCCP's definition.

So when you start asking people to self-identify, first ask the question as broadly as possible. As in, do you currently serve, or have you ever served in the U.S. military? And once that gate has been passed through, you can then ask if they meet the OFCCP's definition.

Next, review your HR system and determine if there is an easy way for service members to self-identify before or after the hire. As in, does your HR system offer a way for someone to update their profile to indicate their status? I'd also recommend employers make an effort to determine their baseline number of veterans employed. [That is] all veterans, not just protected classes of veterans.

Bloomberg BNA: The VEVRAA sample invitation to self-identify is in Appendix B to Part 60-300 of the final rule. The VEVRAA form is a sample form and not a mandatory form. Do you think contractors will revise this form or use the form as is? 

Rosser: I would hope they would modify the form to include all the classes of veteran status, and then just pull out the numbers for the protected classes.

Bloomberg BNA: What can contractors do to prepare for the benchmark goal requirement?

Rosser: Figure out a process on how you will routinely gather data on the number of outreach events conducted.  Outreach can be military career fairs attended, employer panels on military bases, and conducting webinars with the military community. It is activities conducted by recruiters, veteran employees, and business unit leaders.

If you wait until a desk audit is announced to gather data, you will be scrambling unnecessarily and you will miss many details that should be in your outreach report. The OFCCP has not given a format for this report, so figure out what is easy for you to use; for example, a spreadsheet or database. 

Try also to determine what results you achieved for doing that event, as you will eventually be asked to "assess the effectiveness of your outreach events." As in, yes, you are doing a lot of activities, but are those activities actually resulting in veterans applying?  And if they are applying, are they being considered?

Bloomberg BNA: The final rule does not include the "linkage agreement" provisions, requiring contractors to enter into formal agreements with various veterans' organizations for recruitment purposes.  How do you think the elimination of such a requirement will affect contractors complying with the new rule? 

Rosser: Hopefully, that will make it easier, as it removes one more administrative requirement.  Although, I have seen linkage agreements that were basically a form letter with the service organization's name on the "to" line, and those were considered acceptable. 

Bottom line, though, is that you need to broadcast far and wide your opportunities so that veterans are aware of them, and remove some of the barriers for them to be considered.  

Barriers such as recruiters and hiring managers not understanding how to read a military resume or understanding how to interview veterans in order to pull out the information needed to make a hiring decision. 

Bloomberg BNA: Any final thoughts on the final VEVRAA rule?

Those who have served in the military have learned tremendous skills and have valuable experience that is tough to teach in a classroom, so we should not look at this effort as being forced to hire people that we would not otherwise deem acceptable for our jobs. 

However, the process to recruit successfully from the military demographic is different than the process for recruiting recent college graduates or other populations of experienced hires. So, since this rule does exist, make an effort to learn more about what the veteran has to offer and how to adjust your recruiting and hiring processes to be more successful, and the numbers will take care of themselves.

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If you're interested in participating in a Q&A on enforcement actions, legal developments or news related to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, or you have a suggestion for a Q&A topic, send an e-mail to lbridgeford@bna.com.You can also follow me on Twitter @LCBridgeford.