Veterans Helping Veterans: EY Network Streamlines Transition to Corporate World

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By Deanna C. White

Since 2012, Ernst & Young LLP has advanced its commitment to supporting veterans by joining the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a coalition comprised of leading corporations committed to hiring 100,000 transitioning service members and military veterans by 2020.

To date, EY has made good on that promise by hiring approximately 215 veterans since joining the Mission, and supporting all the men and women who have so selflessly served their country by encouraging other industries to hire veterans as well. 

"The men and women who serve in the military never hesitate to give more, inspiring EY to continually seek new ways to strengthen its support of veterans and honor their commitment to our country", said Nancy Altobello, EY Americas vice chair, Talent. "Our business benefits tremendously from the leadership skills, work ethic, mission focus, and teaming abilities veterans bring to our firm."

But EY knows that simply bringing veterans in the front door isn't enough. EY also believes it's critical to support veterans as they make the transition from the "battlefield to the boardroom." That's why, as EY continues to strategically bring more veterans into the fold, it has also redoubled its efforts to strengthen its existing support networks for veterans and their families.

The cornerstone of that network, EY officials say, is the EY Veterans Network, a professional network created by EY veterans to help them connect, support one another in the organization, and build personal and professional bonds over their ultimate bond: their service to their country.

It's a program that has earned praise from transitioning veterans and their family members at EY and has been an example for other companies that want to show their gratitude for those who have served by making the transition from military life as seamless and successful as possible.

And the anchor of the Veterans Network, many EY veterans say, is the Veterans Peer Mentoring Program – a program that pairs veterans with veterans to help them recognize the parallels between their military skills and the corporate playing field. 

"Our first goal was to make sure a veterans organization existed, and then to create a formal peer mentoring program to allow current EY employees who are veterans to reach out to new veteran hires and help them make the transition", said Joe McHugh, executive director of Advisory Services at EY, US Navy veteran, and a cofounder of the EY Veterans Network and the Veterans Peer Mentoring Program. "There's something special about a veteran bond; it's a lifelong connection because of what you've been through. We wanted to give our veterans a safe haven, a comfort zone, where they could ask questions and get advice from someone familiar with their experience as they make the transition to their civilian career."

Today, just three years after the Veterans Network was formalized, McHugh said it has helped make the transition from the military to the civilian workforce a little easier, and a lot more seamless, for more than 400 EY veterans and their families.

It's a transition that is critical to master, McHugh said, because of the invaluable skill set and tested leadership abilities veterans bring to the organization.

"Veterans are adaptable. They are leaders by trade. They are trained to solve any problem, and that works very well in our consulting environment. Many of them also have global experience so they can easily adapt to different cultures", McHugh said. "We give them the technical training, and in return, we are able to take advantage of their maturity, their leadership skills, their work ethic, and their ability to take on any task."

Veterans Mentoring Veterans

McHugh said EY veterans have always sought each other out informally for guidance and advice, but in 2010, with the uptick in EY's veteran hiring, EY decided to formalize its efforts.

EY, in conjunction with its existing veterans, developed the EY Veterans Network (see sidebar) and the Veterans Peer Mentoring Program to help newly hired veterans successfully plug into the EY culture.

Veterans who were already part of the EY "family" said they knew the Veterans Peer Mentoring Program would be a critical piece of the transition puzzle and fall naturally into place with EY's existing firm-wide mentoring process.

"We felt we could complement our existing mentoring from a veteran's perspective", McHugh said. 

Today at EY, in addition to peer mentors and counselors that all new hires receive, new veteran hires are also paired with a veteran peer mentor who mirrors their military experiences as closely as possible. Veteran peer mentors are veterans who have recently completed their military service; have been hired by EY in the last three to six months; reside in the same city as their mentee; and, if possible, come from the same branch of service.

McHugh said",We want new hires to have support from someone who is as familiar with their experience as possible. Someone who can say 'I have the same pedigree as you; here's how I transitioned.'" 

Navigating New Terrain

Monte Babington, retired US Army captain and current manager of FSO Advisory at EY, knows firsthand how critical peer mentoring is to helping veterans translate their highly specialized military expertise into a skill set that will benefit the civilian workforce.

Babington learned to navigate that new terrain largely on his own when he first joined EY in 2010, and he has since served as a veteran peer mentor for EY's new military hires.

Babington said one the greatest challenges in helping former military members adapt to the civilian workforce is "breaking down the barriers in the minds of the new military hires."

"When I think of the specific skills I came here with as an army captain coming out of a reconnaissance unit, at first glance, they would seem to have nothing to do with business. I could lead a platoon, maintain a dozen vehicles, teach marksmanship, and navigate at night over mountainous terrain", Babington said. "But as a newly separated veteran, it wasn't clear how that would translate in business. However, if you abstract those activities, you can draw parallels to general management skills . . . managing a team, teaching and mentoring, problem solving, reporting back to your superiors . . . once you draw those connections you learn to adapt those skills to the business world."

Another challenge for military hires, Babington said, is learning the language of corporate America. Military jargon is deeply ingrained in veterans, and when they transition, one of things they need to do is "unlearn" military speak and learn the dialect of their new environment. Babington said "it's like learning a whole new language", but once one of his mentees begins to blend military jargon into industry lingo, it's also his most rewarding moment as a mentor. 

That subtle clue, he said, is also the greatest indicator of the beginning of an authentic transition to the civilian workforce for veterans.

"When they're able to merge the language you can see they've made the connection. It's really a memorable turning point because at that point, you know you're getting the benefit of their full cognition", Babington said. "Until then, you see people who have potential, but now they can really take off. They're in command of what they're doing. They're able to make decisions. That's something only a veteran peer mentor would recognize."

McHugh said military members transitioning to the civilian workforce also often need advice adjusting to the tone, tenor, and temperament of leadership and teamwork in an office setting, assimilating the technical aspects of the job and the subtle nuances of working with clients.

"From veteran to veteran, we can say we know this is done differently, but this is why it's done differently and why it's positive", McHugh said. 

Peer mentors can also help new military hires and their families adjust to the "everyday ground readiness", as Babington says, of life in a new state or city. Tips on taking the subway or finding the best playgrounds and grocery stores in the neighborhood make every family feel at home.

The Long-Term Payoff

Ultimately, both McHugh and Babington say, the Veterans Peer Mentoring program is an incredible asset to EY, because it helps smooth, streamline, and accelerate the journey to an invaluable payoff.

Because of the Veterans Network and the mentoring program, EY is able to hire veterans who are able to fully integrate the technical skills and unsurpassed leadership abilities they developed in the military for the good of their team, their clients, their organization, and themselves.

It allows EY to access a deep and wide talent pool that can bring a unique set of skills to clients.

"The commonality with all my top performers is that they are all former military people", Babington said. "I think from a management perspective, it's important to understand that it might take someone from the Navy or the Marines longer to adjust to your organization's culture, but helping them do that is a long-term investment that will definitely pay off in the end."

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