When Abie Chong exited the military after more than 20 years of service, the veteran unemployment rate was in the double digits. Like many fellow veterans, he faced a sea of challenges while navigating the civilian job market and readjusting to civilian life. His first job out of the U.S. Air Force required him to live in another state, away from his family. After 30 months of making the weekend commute and trying to maintain two households, a fellow veteran encouraged Chong to apply to Hilton Worldwide. Chong is now a recruiter for Hilton’s military programs, a role that aligns with his previous experience acquiring, developing, and retaining top talent.
Chong is one of 10,000 veterans and family members hired across the country by Hilton Worldwide’s corporate offices, owned and managed hotels, and franchisees in the last three years. Military veterans are a natural fit for the hospitality industry because they possess core values like integrity, ownership, leadership, and teamwork, says Matt Schuyler, chief human resources officer at Hilton Worldwide. “Returning military personnel have developed skills that are highly transferable and valued, including communication, the ability to work under pressure, self-confidence, cultural and generational awareness, team leadership, decision-making, and problem solving,” he explains.
Hilton reached this hiring milestone two years ahead of schedule as part of its Operation: Opportunity program, which launched in August 2013 via partnerships with Hiring Our Heroes (a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation), the White House’s Joining Forces initiative, and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. At that time, 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. Hilton has since received an award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for effective and sustained efforts to find post-9/11 veterans and transitioning service members to meaningful employment.
“Hilton has been strongly committed to supporting veterans and their families since our founding nearly a century ago by Conrad Hilton, a U.S. Army veteran, and we saw Operation: Opportunity as a chance to build on a strong foundation,” Schuyler says.
Moving forward, the company aims for veterans and their family members to be 10 percent of new hires in its corporate offices and owned and managed locations in the United States.
Veteran hiring programs in the hotel industry recognize the great sacrifices veterans have made in the service of this country, and ensure they have solid careers when they return home. But hiring veterans is only part of the solution, Schuyler stresses. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently published a study that examined the challenges in creating long-term employment opportunities for veterans.
The study found that while veterans are now considered a top target demographic for corporate recruiters, there is less attention paid to veteran employee retention, he explains. “Specifically, the study found gaps in veteran recruiters’ knowledge about military service and related skills; a lack of specialized training to help civilian employees relate to veterans; and a lack of ongoing training and career pathing for veteran employees.”
To address these challenges, Hilton has created a military friendly work environment within the company, offering military specific training for its recruiters, hiring managers, HR professionals and team members, and continuing to expand apprenticeship and development programs for veterans.
The program’s hiring data shows that the most frequently filled positions require strong leadership and managerial and operational skills. The top five areas where veterans have been hired within the company are food and beverage, work from home, guest services/operations, housekeeping and laundry, and call center.
National Park Service concessioner Forever Resorts is another hospitality company that has received accolades for its efforts and dedication to hiring unemployed veterans. One of its properties, Callville Bay Resort & Marina, which is located within an hour of Las Vegas, was recently named Partner of the Year for 2016 by the U.S. Veterans Initiative Workforce Department. The property worked directly with U.S. Veterans Initiative to hire seven employees for the summer 2016 season.
Last spring, General Manager Kim Roundtree and her team members traveled to U.S. Vets’ local career center, about 40 miles away, to give a presentation on the property’s available jobs and conduct interviews with interested veterans. They made an agreement with U.S. Vets to provide rides into town once per week for veteran employees, since the marina is in a remote location without public transportation, but otherwise used the same onboarding process as they do for all new employees, Roundtree says. “We do not treat veterans any different than the other employees we have—they want to be right in there with the norm.” When it comes time to hire more employees next spring, Roundtree will return to the career center, this time with a couple of veteran employees who can share their experiences with job seekers.
Roundtree agrees with Schuyler that military personnel bring many strengths to hospitality roles. But most important, “Absolute discipline,” she says. “They are very self-motivated, they’ve got a good work ethic, and are just very disciplined in their regimen.”