Cover: More Research on Veteran Employment Would Show What's Good for Business and for Veterans

More Research on Veteran Employment Would Show What's Good for Business and for Veterans

Published Aug 22, 2016

by Caroline Batka, Kimberly Curry Hall

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Research Questions

  1. How is the landscape for veteran employment evolving, and what programs are in place to support veterans' transition from military service to the civilian workforce?
  2. Where are there gaps in understanding of the experiences of veterans and employers, how veterans use available employment resources, and veterans' career outcomes?
  3. How can research address these gaps, and how would more information facilitate program and policy development?

The federal government and the private sector have invested in a range of initiatives to help improve employment opportunities for veterans and to support service members as they conclude their military careers and transition to the civilian workforce. However, the impact of these efforts is unclear. To date, there has been little research on their effectiveness, the experiences of veterans and their employers, or veterans' employment outcomes and satisfaction over the long term. RAND hosted two workshops that brought together key stakeholders, including representatives from federal agencies, private-sector companies, and research organizations, to collaborate and share ideas for improving veterans' employment opportunities and to identify remaining research gaps. Stakeholder discussions revealed the need for a longitudinal study of veterans' civilian career trajectories and the outcomes of subgroups, such as disabled veterans. There is also a shortage of research connecting veterans' participation in specific programs and their career outcomes, limiting the ability to identify and potentially expand or replicate successful efforts. Finally, there are many tools available to veterans who are transitioning to civilian careers, but it is unclear how well they align with veterans' interests and high-demand career fields. Understanding how veterans acquire and use this information would help programs tailor education, training, licensing, and certification processes to meet both veteran and employer needs.

Key Findings

The Landscape for Veteran Employment Is Evolving, but Data on These Trends Are Limited

  • While initiatives to hire veterans may have initially been motivated by a sense of patriotism or a desire to participate in a charitable endeavor, many companies have come to view veterans as a valuable talent pool and an asset to business.
  • Veterans do not necessarily prefer civilian careers that are similar to their military specialties. It is unclear to what extent existing veteran employment programs support veterans who wish to pursue training and jobs in unrelated fields.
  • Data on veteran employment rates, retention, career satisfaction, and other factors are limited and sometimes conflicting. Employers do not apply veteran status consistently and do not always link employees' performance with veteran status, which could demonstrate the business case for hiring veterans.

More Research Would Inform Innovative Approaches to Veteran Employment

  • The ultimate aim of veteran employment programs is to help veterans have successful civilian careers. However, existing data have not provided a baseline for assessing veterans' career trajectories or shown how program participation may affect key outcomes.
  • While stakeholders contend that hiring veterans is good for business, evidence supporting this claim is lacking. Research comparing veteran and nonveteran employees' performance and retention would quantify and demonstrate how veterans add value as employees.
  • With limited data on program effectiveness, it is difficult for stakeholders to determine which efforts are working, how veterans use available resources, and which programs could be replicated to fill needs in high-demand career fields.


  • Policymakers should encourage longitudinal data collection to determine veterans' long-term career outcomes, as well as their job satisfaction and needs throughout their civilian careers.
  • Employers, with research support, should consistently track veteran status alongside performance metrics to better understand veterans' value to their organizations.
  • Veteran employment efforts should support transitions to career fields that are similar to veterans' military specialties while also supporting veterans who wish to pursue training in new career fields.
  • Current programs should track veterans' participation and use of specific resources alongside civilian career outcomes to determine which initiatives are successful and could be replicated in other high-demand skill areas.
  • Researchers should collect data on veteran subpopulations to enable more accurate comparisons between veterans and their nonveteran counterparts, as well as to determine whether veteran employment programs are meeting the needs of specific groups, such as disabled veterans.
  • Veteran employment efforts should look beyond simply matching veterans with available civilian jobs and support the establishment of longer-term careers.

This project was conducted by the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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