By Mary Lorenz
Last May, health care company Humana Inc. pledged to hire 1,000 military veterans and/or their spouses over a three-year period as part of President Obama's nationwide veterans hiring challenge. Less than a year later, Humana is already ahead of schedule. "Our estimate was to be at approximately 35 percent by this time. We feel good about where we are," said Kevin Stakelum, talent acquisition director at Humana, in a recent phone interview. Not long after Stakelum, a veteran of the military services himself, began his role at Humana, which already has a rich history of hiring military veterans and their spouses, he was charged with leading this new initiative. Under his supervision, his team works to help educate his fellow veterans about their career options and empower them with the skills and resources they need to create careers in the civilian workforce.
"Whether these veterans use the information and training we provide to take one of the jobs in our company, or whether they decide to take those skills to find jobs in other companies – either outcome is fine with us," Stakelum says. He recently sat down with us to discuss more about Humana's hiring initiative and what it means to both military veterans and the companies that hire them.
Q. How are you reaching out to veterans to recruit them?
A. One of the key platforms of our strategy is the Veterans Talent Network. We decided to create a separate talent network because the message we want to send to veterans is a little different than the one we would send to civilians. They need a different level of information. A lot of these people do not have experience in the civilian job market. The Veterans Talent Network has allowed us to put more information in their hands. Once we had that tool, we then created a strategy around how we were going to get our message out, and how we were actually going to make the hires. We also hired a veteran recruiting specialist to help us determine the right partnerships to form and the right approaches to help us take all the information that's out there and boil it down just a little bit.
Q. What is your particular involvement in this initiative?
A. I lead the initiative. It was given to me in my first week here at Humana. There were a lot of things we had to start on, so I focused most on the basics. Once we had the basics down, we were able to start focusing our efforts, reaching out and establishing key partnerships. Then we were able to start gaining some momentum. That's kind of how this whole thing got started. It's just not me-I'm only a leader of an initiative, an action team. The members of this action team were key in helping to guide our activities, make sure what we're doing makes sense, and that we are continuing to do things that will enable the right things to be done.
Q. When coming out of the Armed Services, did you have an easier time making the transition to the civilian workforce than others?
A. Yes, because I was in the National Guard, so I had a civilian career on the side. The transition process at that time was very different than it is today. The National Guard members today are expected to go overseas for prolonged periods. Back then, it was still a commitment, but our commitment was more around "We'll be activated if the country goes to war," whereas it's a little bit of a different mission now.
Q. How are you creating awareness throughout Humana with employees who aren't necessarily directly tied to this initiative?
A. We're a large company, so there are going to be parts of the company which do not lend themselves to this initiative. That's okay, because we've got plenty of parts of the company that do. The strength of the company is in its careerpathing and in the culture that allows people to grow. Before coming to Humana, I had never been involved in a company that allowed people to move so freely from one part of the company to another. I think that's another thing that attracts veterans to this company: many veterans just want a chance to show what they can do. We've got everything from call center roles, all the way to executive roles. A person can come into a role for which they are qualified, show what they do and be rewarded for it. I think that's something we are leveraging better than many.
Q. Has anything surprised you since you began this initiative?
A. The level of support from the company did surprise me. On one hand, you know there's going to be a lot of support, but the amount of support at all levels has been great to see. And although I had high expectations, I still feel that a differentiating factor here is, we're not posturing. There are business leaders and segment leaders who will come to an event to support this initiative. And I don't mean just show up; they participate. They make the time. The outpouring of support from people throughout the organization has been incredible to watch. As a new employee, it is bigger than I expected. We have more people interested in helping than we can sometimes accommodate.
Q. A lot of companies now have veteran hiring initiatives. What is unique to Humana's?
A. There is such an incredible abundance of opportunities for people to come into the organization and make a difference in real peoples' lives on a daily basis. I think that's the competitive advantage.
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