Corporate America is heeding the call to hire Veterans.  Increasingly, companies are establishing programs to ramp up hiring of our nation’s heroes.  Many organizations have programs geared toward hiring junior military officers, or JMOs.  JMOs are a vital part of the military, simply by virtue of the things they do in uniform and the positions they hold.  They have skills and experiences that can transfer to the corporate world in a major way.

But what about the leaders that helped shape these JMOs as they entered the operational force of their particular services?  What about non-commissioned leaders that helped these JMOs develop into true leaders? Where are the NCO programs for the enlisted leader who has just as much leadership experience, if not more in some cases?

From an Army perspective, non-commissioned officers, or NCOs, have two basic responsibilities: accomplish the mission by taking the Commander’s intent and making it reality and looking out for the welfare of junior Soldiers, professionally and personally.  Additionally, many of these enlisted leaders are also doing the same duties as junior officers. In fact, it is safe to say that most JMOs probably learned how to correctly accomplish these duties from an NCO.  This is apparent by the structure of most military organizations: an officer commands and a senior enlisted leader is the advisor to that commander.  This structure exists from the lower levels of command up to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  So, if these Non-commissioned officers are the ones getting the job done and indeed training these junior officers, who may become “Leaders of Industry” in the civilian world, why do not more non-commissioned officer programs exist in the corporate world?

Part of the problem is that non-commissioned officers are just that…non-commissioned.  They either do not have the college degree required to receive a commission in the military or they do have the degree, but choose not to be officers. The issue with this is that many civilian leadership positions require a Bachelors Degree or higher.  If the concern is that these enlisted leaders are not well-rounded or “formally educated” enough, then this speaks even more to the need for NCO development programs to help address those concerns and fine tune these proven leaders’ potential in a corporate setting.

There are a few companies that constantly looks at this untapped pool of highly qualified candidates. Safeway, a grocery chain in the Western U.S. and Canada, has supported employment of veterans through its JMO/NCO Program.  Safeway has made multiple commitments over the past few years to hire Veterans, for leadership positions in the company’s retail stores.

“We saw an opportunity to recruit new kinds of leaders who will become an important and critical part of our future,” said Larree Renda, Safeway’s Executive Vice President. “Our JMO and NCO recruiting program officially launched in 2010.  We accept applicants who have been officers or non-commissioned officers in the military and place them in an accelerated leadership program.” Graduates qualify for store manager and assistant manager jobs and a range of other manager-level positions in the distribution and backstage departments at Safeway.  Additionally, Safeway’s salaries for these positions are not shabby. According to Glassdoor.com, the average total compensation for an assistant manager is $57,214, while store managers’ total pay averages $88,632.

So, what are the solutions? Yes, “civilianizing” accomplishments and potential on the resume will help separating/retiring enlisted leaders, but only if employers are willing to start recognizing that practical and proven leadership experience should be looked upon in a positive light, just like the college degree. Secondly, enlisted leaders should seek out higher education while serving. The money is there, and best of all, it is free in most cases. Thirdly, companies should continue to hire Veterans into talent acquisition or recruiting positions. Veterans that recruit for a company have an outlook that those who have never served could not understand and know what enlisted leaders can offer a company. Also, establish programs that hone in on those enlisted leaders who can and have led in high-stress situations, but may not have sought out college education.

Hopefully, more companies learn that JMOs are not the only capable leaders leaving the military, nor are they the only educated.  For example, I am a Non-commissioned officer in the Texas Army National Guard with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a Master of Science in Information Technology Management.  Is it fair to say that I have the capacity to handle a management level position in corporate America?

In the Army, Soldiers are often heard saying “NCOs Lead the Way”.  Let’s see if more of corporate America starts to feel the same.

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