Hiring Veterans and Individuals with Disabilities 2014


The OFCCP issued a final rule for VEVRAA – effecting affirmative action for veterans that impacts all federal contractors.  Labor data for the 2.6 million veterans in 2012 indicated that the unemployment rates for the veterans was 2% higher than the nonveteran workforce.  Worse veterans  who were hired were paid at lower wages than their nonveteran counterparts.  As a result, the OFCCP has increased the affirmative action requirements for federal contractors.

Federal Contractors will:
Use  availability benchmark data for recruiting veteran – either the national average, currently 8% of the workforce, or a recruiting area benchmark based on best available data;

Track numbers of veterans who apply for jobs and the number of veterans hired to measure the effectiveness of recruitment programs;

Provide job listings for state/veteran agencies in an easily accessible format;

Establish formal relationships with organizations that provide recruiting and training services to veterans

Effective March 24, 2014 federal contractors are expected to increase their affirmative actions for the disabled.  The Final Rule establishes a nationwide utilization goal of 7% for qualified individuals with disabilities.  Additionally, contractors must document the number of disabled applicants and hires, conduct a utilization analysis, assessment of problem areas, and establish action oriented programs.  These will be reflected in Plan Year 2014.

Complicating the Final Rule is the invitation to self-identify at pre-offer and post-offer phases, using language proscribed by OFCCP.   I use the word complicating – because employer commentary prior to final passage, indicated the difficulties and/or stigmas that are attached to having a disability and the reluctance of the current workforce to self-identify.

What is really required for federal contractors is an effective strategy to address stereotypes, stigmas, and attitudes toward disabilities.  The DOL has a list of helpful sites on training and approaches to help create an effective strategy.  Here is a slide show on Benefits, Barriers and Strategies developed by EARN – Employment Assistance and Resource Network.   http://askearn.org/docs/2013-10-10_4419.pdf


These two final rules may be directed at federal contractors with affirmative action plans, but recruiting and hiring veterans and individuals with disabilities belongs to all employers.  Stay tuned for additional ideas and strategies to increase the diversity or your workforce.

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21st Century Managers: Guiding Stars

sigh readging

True Story of an Unguided Star  
There was once a bright graduate from Syracuse University who found a full time job with a Name Company in the midwest. Imagine her disappointment to discover that her job required none of her education, none of her intern experience.  She was slotted to routine tasks.  At her annual review her supervisor was pleased with her performance because she “required no supervision and performed so well independently.”   Six months later, the SU grad took her degree and experience to New York where she landed a job in a Small Company that was impressed with the Name Company.  At the annual review, her supervisor explained that he was disappointed with her.  He had assumed that she had acquired more skills working for the Name Company.  Panicked, she asked what she should do, for she had no idea that she was not operating at the expected level.  He told not to worry that “she could learn as she went along.”  The following month, she was laid off.   (Guiding Stars – adapted and amended from my March 2013 Blog)

After all the spilled ink & training, why are managers and supervisors making the same mistakes?
It appears that the Name Company supervisor was glad to hand off routine work to ease her own responsibilities and get a job done.  Why not just hire a Hand? Hand =the nineteenth century name for employee.  Hands ran all those weaving machines and were easily replaced.  Motivation was never an issue.

The 21st century supervisor cannot waste employee skills and talents by ignoring the employees’ need for direction and motivation.  Today’s jobs are filled with more discretionary tasks, that challenge both thinking and interacting.  Sure there are routine parts to any job – but supervisors who fail to use and develop talent and skills rob both the company and the employee.

The 21st century manager cannot expect employees to meet performance needs by withholding feedback and training.  The Small Company manager waited until the annual review to give a negative evaluation.  He hid behind a layoff that cloaked his failure to direct his new employee.  While managers expect certain levels of performance, employees expect honesty and direction. The workplace is more fluid in terms of organization structure and collaborative relationships. New employees need direction in navigating these complexities and guidance in meeting changing performance demands.

In his Forbes blog, Glenn Llopis gives great advice for managers working with aspiring  professionals:    “Never marginalize your young professionals just because you have not taken the time to work with them to truly understand how they operate. Challenge them to perform unconventional tasks and you will quickly begin to recognize their performance capabilities, skills-sets and know-how.”    
(Found at:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2012/03/12/5-ways-young-professionals-want-to-be-led/2/)

21st century managers and supervisors must fully develop their leadership skills so that they can successfully guide and motivate employees.  Leadership goes beyond ‘getting the job done’ and a ‘round of pats on the backs.’ Leaders create environments where employees are curious to learn new skills, to suggest innovative ideas, to collaborate with peers and supervisors. Managers and supervisors, who guide stars, understand the impact their leadership makes and strive to create an open, responsive environment that nurtures employee growth.

21st century managers and supervisors must dedicate time to develop employees.  Leaders understand the importance of developing employees. Employees, willing to share their Shooting Startalents, want to grow those talents and expect professional guidance.  Managers and supervisors need a battery of leadership skills to provide direction and support to transform employees into Stars – Stars who master the difficult, and challenging skills like: decision-making and problem-solving.  Guided Stars will learn to share insights and become leaders in their own right.

21st century business is powered by innovation and flexibility that requires continual learning and mutual collaboration.    The 20th century’s annual performance appraisal has been replaced by continual feedback and ongoing skill mastery.

Are your supervisors and managers guiding stars in the 21st century?

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The HR Interview – Reversed Roles

Recently, my brother, Dennis,  marathon-interviewed at a company in Maine — you know those 8-in-the-morning-till-3-in-the-afternoon talkathons.  When he met with the HR Director, he was in for a surprise.  The Director reversed the roles.  First, he briefed Dennis on his background and experience.  Then he asked my brother to interview him on any aspects of the company and Human Resources that interested him.

Normally, the interviewee is allotted a brief space at the end of the interview to ask questions.  I often find that the person is gum-sore from talking and has very few questions, other than the most basic.   Reversing the roles allows you, the interviewee, to:

Learn more than the company’s mission statement.    You can ask HOW the company achieves its mission.   Probe for company policy and practice in working with its customers/clients/vendors.  Company actions will tell you what the company values.

Learn more about the HR director and values.  You can discover how and why the HR director has the job — Grew through ranks?  Came from outside with new ideas?  Ask about the innovative programs that HR Director has introduced recently to the company and the results so far.  HR values should mirror company values and help company create strong culture.  Innovative programs will tell you whether HR stays attuned to the changing needs in the workplace.

Learn more about how HR functions in the company.  You can ask WHAT the HR department provides, not only in pay/benefits (the usual), but what HR provides for orientation, on-boarding, on-going training and learning.  Find out how HR interacts with your department, with employees and with company customers/clients.  HR programs and policies should support the companies goals and outcomes.  The nature of the programs will alert you to the company’s environment and culture.

For HR practitioners who find themselves in the interviewing rut, trying different formats can sharpen your skills in assessment.  Reversing roles allows you to:

Assess the candidate’s values.  Candidate questions often underscore what is most important or what is valued.  Asks about promotions?  May be tied to personal goals.  Asks about vacations?  May be tied to personal time.   Asks about community involvement? May be tied to commitment.

Assess the candidate’s skills.   Even if  candidates are surprised at being asked to interview you, they still need to demonstrate their communication skills.  Has questions prepared?  Shows forethought.  Listens and paraphrases?  Shows advanced techniques.  Uses positive verbal and nonverbal communications?  Shows poise.

Assess the candidate’s expectations.  Candidate questions also reflect their past work place experiences.  Candidates who use comparisons about employee treatment may be indicating what happened in their last workplace.   Candidates who use oblique examples may be signaling a past bad experience.  Candidates who describe specific processes or policies may expect the same from your company.

As we all know, a good interview is really a good conversation.   Reversing roles is not a trick — it gives the interviewer and interviewee opportunities to learn about each other, about the company, and about the values that drive all.

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Employee development – Day One – Discretionary skills

DAY ONE  I tell my college students that whatever their level of skills may be is okay by me.   My role is to help them:  identify and build on their strengths, improve their thinking skills,  and gain confidence in their intelligence.  Developing students’ discretionary skills is a critical part of my job.   Others often see my job as teaching students how to write for business.  This is narrow thinking.

Business managers can fall into the narrow-thinking trap too.  Often pressed for time and swamped with work, managers simply want to ensure that new employees can do the job.  The training focus:  learning job activities, skimping on discretionary skills.

Why don’t managers include developing their new employees’ discretionary skills as a critical part of their jobs?   The payoffs are enormous – particularly in a service economy where customer expectations are at all time highs, given the technology impact on service delivery.  Managers need to take an active role in the ongoing development of discretionary skills from DAY ONE.

Here are some IFs and WHENs  for managers to consider:

If your company provides a mandated script for new employees to use in greeting, closing and referring problems, when do you expect the employees to master the script so that they sound and act naturally?

If your company expects employees to effectively solve customer problems, when do you expect new employees to start solving problems on their own without prescribed answers?  When do you expect them to offer effective or creative solutions to common problems?

If your company rewards problem-solvers, when do you expect new employees to analyze and identify complex problems?  When do you expect them to contribute to solutions?

If your company promotes team leaders, when do you expect new employees to participate in leadership activities?

For every When response – 3 days, 4 months, next week – mark your calendar!  Here’s your chance to enact that critical part of your job – ongoing development of your employee’s discretionary skills — with 5 minute coaching that will  a) congratulate progress;  b) provide additional ideas/actions; c) redirect responses…..and/or etc…  [For tips see my blog "Giving 5 Minute Coaching" 2012/06/22.]

Finally, If your new employees complain that their skills and talents are not being used or developed…..  This is a complaint I continually hear from students leaving college for the workplace as interns or as new employees.  This is a generation that expects to be developed.  And a good thing too!  For every business is challenged by customers, technology, global growth and complex problems.

…………………………………………………..so, when do you respond with a plan?

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November Memorials – Researching The Shrapnel Story

Each name on a War Memorial has a life story. Before I joined NanoWrimo, I had written many stories. Here is my story of  how I wrote Shrapnel – a  November story – a Memorial Story for my family to read:

For twenty years or more, I had been lugging my father’s WDad beachWII letters in boxes through a series of moves. After sorting  and scanning them, I was intrigued that his letters home gave more baseball reports than bombing actions.

I had decided to investigate this ‘baseball’ thing and discovered that it was actually an Army strategy to help the men keep sane during wartime, and later, transition them to civilian life.

Poking through what my mother had saved in a bottom bureau drawer I later discovered a leather pocket book.  It contained a small trove of letters sent to my father from the families of his crew – the crew he trained with in Texas, the crew he thought he’d fly with over Berlin, the crew that went down on their first mission with their experienced pilot while Dad watched from his plane – he, the green co-pilot with an experienced crew.

These letters changed everything I was thinking.

The letters were thank you letters.  To a lieutenant who took the time to write, give families hope, information that the telegram did not, and comfort, sorely needed.  The single surviving crewman was liberated from a POW camp — 20 days after the crash and two weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

What the home letters revealed was the range of emotions: confusion, pain, grief, determination, acceptance, denial.   I found that these feelings surfaced in contemporary newspaper reports of the families who lost soldiers in Iraq.  I thought about the contrast and similarities between family grief at the loss of son/daughter and the soldiers’ grief at losing their buddies.

Bombing Mission Target

Bombing Mission Target

I never knew that Dad had written to the families; Mom knew.   Obviously, he had told her a lot about his experiences.   And, for us kids,  Dad, like other WWII veterans, did not talk about the war.

If and when he did – it was a one liner.  Yes, he flew to Berlin. What amazed him was that as he was returning to England, waves of bombers were just leaving.   Yes, he flew prisoners of war to Spain.  They were just bags of bones.  Yes, when he came home, he walked up Edward Avenue and no one knew him – he only weighed 135 pounds.  He was a walking stick.

As a result of those letters, my research for a story changed.  I pulled my father’s flight records and tracked down all the missions.  I read about Grafton-Underwood.  I read whatever I could about the airmen who flew the bombers.  I watched and listened to the documentary by Ken Burns. Particularly to the airmen’s experiences.   I re-read letters from my friend who was killed in Viet Nam. I read fiction authors who wrote about other wars – the Civil War, the Great War.  I clipped out newspaper accounts of the Iraq and Afghanistan casualties, particularly accounts of their families.   I read and recorded reactions of families who received remains of their WWII airmen recovered from the Pacific after 60 years. I toured the insides of the B-17 and B-24 Liberator at the Beverly Airport. I hunted down LIFE magazine articles and photos of the end of the war.  I read obituaries.

I kept thinking about contrasts.  Dad’s letters from two years of training – the idealism, the frustrations, the impatience, the pride.  From the front: thanks, baseball, and home.   I had to find flight reality in books, documentaries, and biographies.  I had to imagine what it might be like and so I created a story about Loot and Maxie and their flying crew based on Dad’s story.

While the family thank you letters inspired me, the crew and family feelings and stories in my story were fiction.  What I found unified families then and now – is dealing with ‘no body.’  In some cases, no body means no closure, an open wound that cannot heal.  In others, no body creates a struggle that the future must heal.

For the airmen, no body is the horror of returning to empty cots.  Some men learned to distance themselves, focus on their jobs, their survival.  Some men waked their losses with humor and stories.  Some never recovered.

Yet, one veteran wrote to LIFE magazine in 1945 expressing his horror that the Army was considering a suggestion that bodies buried in the Pacific be disinterred and returned to their families.  He averred that men who fought side by side and died side by side would want to remain buried side by side.  For the men slogging onto bloody beaches, the War was really about the loyalty, the bravery, and the bond to those fighting beside you.  Those Pacific burial grounds were sacred to the blood shared.

While those of us who have never experienced War, yet know loss, we can understand the shrapnel that cuts into Life.  That explodes and hurts us, changes and strengthens us,  gouges and defines us.

And, I think as scarring as losing his crew was, those letters to their families helped my Dad.  My mother understood that.  I wonder if she also saw God’s hand…Dad was shocked by the bombing destruction, the impact on the ordinary people.  He stayed for the occupation – one year in the south of France.   When he returned home, he continued that rebuilding; he spent 32 years providing public housing and housing programs to the poor, disenfranchised, the disabled, the veterans.  God works in mysterious ways!

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November – Month for Writing and for Remembering

IT’S  NOVEMBER:  NanoWrimo sparks over 300,000 writers to start their new novels.  War Veterans gather at cemeteries and memorials to remember past sacrifices.  Both seek to engage us in stories that matter.  I paired these two groups and their twined purposes when I read:

” Little Valley, a town in upstate New York plans to demolish the Cattaraugus           County Historical and Memorial Building — its Civil War Memorial. “Mark Dunkelman, historian for the 154th New York regiment, (http://www.hardtackregiment.com/) conveyed this news to Damian Shields, an Irish archeologist who researches the stories of the Irish who fought in the American Civil War.    You can read the details on Damian’s blog site:  http://irishamericancivilwar.com/2013/11/06/civil-war-memorial-in-cattaraugus-county-new-york-under-threat/

Why should you or I, or Damian for that matter, care about preserving a Civil War memorial?

Well, it struck a chord with me – for my NanoWrimo story is about a veteran Irish Sharpshooter, whose journey through the Berkshire Hills begins his healing from the horrors of the Civil War.     As I have read about that war, and other wars, I have begun looking more closely at War Memorials.  Most towns place these memorials – often marble or granite slabs – in a visible place to remind its community of those sacrifices, of those lost, of those with no gravestone to mark their passing.

Whether it is the Civil War, the Great War, World War II or following conflicts, what is most important are the individual names, representing the individual sacrifices, telling the individual stories.  These are not memorials to the wars but to the men and women who fell.  Their stories matter.

Newburyport Civil War Tablets listing 1500 names

Newburyport Civil War Tablets listing 1500 names

First, we share the family feeling of pain that comes when no body comes home for burial.  Bodies that were dismembered by cannon fire at Gettysburg, that were buried in the mud of Ypres, that lie in the island sands of the Pacific, that rotted in fetid jungles or disintegrated into fragments with a roadside bomb.

Second, we share the community loss of their gifts and potentials had they lived to contribute to our cities, towns, villages.

Third, we share the results of their sacrifices – both positive and negative.  For after every such conflict, don’t we question ourselves, our country, our meanings?  Don’t we search for new paths? New solutions?  And, just as likely, don’t we fail and fall into the morass again?

As Siegfried Sassoon wrote in his poem Aftermath, March 1919:
Have you forgotten yet?
    Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

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Novel Writing Month is Here — AGAIN!

It’s November – and it’s National Novel Writing Month!   Again!

I’m joining the 300,000+ writers in writing my novel.  This is my third year participating in this venture. Besides having fun and writing 45,000 words last year,  I renewed my belief in: Everyone has a story to tell!   And developing stories need listeners.

NaNoWriMo prompts writers to write at least 50,000 words in one month toward completing a novel.  NaNoWriMo has organized regions throughout the country and encourages you to join Write-ins.  Write-ins are held at Starbucks, Libraries, Parks, Schools  — just about anywhere the regional rep can find.

It’s at the Write-ins that writers collaborate by listening to developing ideas and stories.

It’s always fun to meet the Newbies – those who have never attempted a novel, much less join a group of seeming pros!  Rapport is always key to welcoming the Newbies – once they hear a few stories, they feel at ease.  Guess what? They learn: these writers aren’t pros – just folks with a good story to tell.

What  writers share with the newcomers is Energy — Food is always important!  Eating and talking around the table break down the barriers and creates a convivial atmosphere.  Encouraging words, coffee refills, cranberry muffins – all the ingredients to give First-Timers courage.

Does every NaNoWriMo writer get to 50,000 words at the 30th day of  November?  No.  And that’s okay.  Some  writers simply wanted to write. Some need encouragement from others to work up backbone to finish.  Some like to compete in Word Wars  – as the  means to finish that novel.  Others just like the fun of it….even if it’s their 7th year and they are still trying to find their way.

NaNoWriMo sets up such a framework  that encourages and supports any willing writer.  They also work to  engage and encourage youngsters to write through  educational support and fundraising efforts.  This is a unique experience that any one can enjoy — and succeed.

Why not try it?  You can join at: www.nanowrimo.org


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