Former Army Colonel Spearheads Disney's Approach to Hiring Veterans

Ret. Army colonel Kevin Preston receives award
Retired Army Col. Kevin Preston (fourth from right) receives the ESGR Seven Seals Award in recognition of his efforts to implement proactive Veteran Hiring Initiatives in corporate America.

Disney is a sponsor of the Heroes Work Here conference in Chicago on Nov. 3, which is geared toward helping employers build and implement an effective veteran and military-spouse hiring program. The free one-day workshop is an opportunity for human resources professionals, recruiters and senior-level representatives to listen, learn and network with national thought leaders from various employers, government agencies and veteran support organizations.

For more details on the conference and to attend, see this site. We had an opportunity to talk to Kevin Preston, director of veterans initiatives at Disney, about the event. A retired Army colonel, Preston was director of personnel (G-1) during his service. Can you talk about your company's support of veterans in general?

Kevin Preston: "The Walt Disney Company has three complimentary programs that focus on veterans as a diverse group: Heroes Work here, the Veterans Institute and Heroes Supply Here. The focus of our programs is on veteran employment, not the Walt Disney Company, so we freely coach and mentor veterans and companies to reach our goal of increasing veteran hiring.

"Heroes Work Here is focused on talent acquisition of veterans. We've hired 6,000 veterans across the entire Disney enterprise since the program started in March of 2012. The Veterans Institute is an external facing program that facilitates learning for companies on how to employ veterans. We believe that the best way to increase veteran employment is to teach other companies how to do it.

"Heroes Supply Here focuses on veteran-owned companies as diverse suppliers for the Walt Disney Company. We know that veteran-owned companies are five times as likely to hire veterans than non-veteran-owned companies, so by using them as suppliers, we're positively impacting veteran employment." How did the "Veterans Work Here Conference" come about, and what do you hope to achieve with the event?

KP: "The "Veterans Institute: Heroes Work Here" conference evolved from our conversations on helping companies hire veterans. We decided to be more structured and deliberate in our efforts to train other companies to hire veterans. This is the fourth Veteran Institute conference we've held in the past 2½ years. We hope to impart a realization to human resources and talent acquisition professionals that the veteran community is an exceptional stream of talent for any company." What will an employer or human resources professional gain from this event in terms of relating to and hiring veterans?

KP: "The approach we take in this program is built upon culture. The U.S. military has a very strong culture that is complementary to corporate America, but has nuanced differences. Through this program, we demonstrate the similarities and differences between these cultures.

"The HR community has to realize that these people are coming from a place different from other talent. If you treat veterans like every other talent community, it will be difficult to hire them. We're going to compare and contrast the cultural differences between service in the U.S. military and corporate America. We'll talk about the areas an employer needs to consider to have an effective program." What are some common misperceptions you see from employers about hiring veterans?

KP: "Common misperceptions are that there are a finite amount of skills in the military that transfer to the civilian workplace. There's a perception that our military is rigid, they only take orders and lack creativity. But these are all untrue; our military works around creativity, leadership and independent thinking.

"We're going to demonstrate how compatible the learnings and experiences of those in the military are with corporate America. We'll show that by highlighting veterans' creativity and problem-solving and leadership skills and helping translate those skills to the corporate world." If you had one high-level piece of advice to give to companies who are interested in hiring veterans, what would it be?

KP: "Think back to a point in your life when you did something for the first time, such as tying your shoes. The first time, how good were you at doing that task? Probably not very good. When veterans apply for a job, regardless of their age, it is probably the first time they've applied for a job in their life; the first time they've had to write a resume.

"They have endless skills that you will find nowhere else but the military, but the common tools used to find employment - resumes, interviews and networking - are all new to veterans. But the skills our veterans have are very deep, broad and well-honed."

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