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SHARON DANIELS: How did Prudential get involved with veterans, and how did you choose to prioritize this group over other demographics?
RON ANDREWS: It’s not that we’re focusing on veterans over other demographics; it’s in addition to. Given that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue for some time, our chairmen felt the issue of reintegrating vets was important, especially since we have an all-voluntary military. His view was that our country will continue to rely on our armed services for a while—“a protracted period” was the phrase he used. He also felt that the issues around reintegrating veterans into the workforce will get more difficult unless some changes occur upfront. The advancement of medical practices increases the survivability of veterans, which means you can have severely disabled people who are still alive and capable. Our chairmen identified an imperfect match between what is learned in the military versus the civilian job requirements. There needs to be some effort around veterans in order to prepare them for jobs in society. That’s what started the whole initiative.
How big of an influence did 9/11 have on your decision to focus on veterans?
It had a big influence. The statistics that we are looking at suggest that post-9/11, there is 15-percent unemployment among vets between ages 25 and 29. That is one-and-a-half times what we’re typically hearing. That’s huge. There’s a sense of duty that many of us feel toward veterans—they deserve dignity, respect, appreciation, the best available healthcare, education, training and job opportunities. They deserve the opportunity to continue to make valuable contributions. We feel we have to play our part in making that happen. September 11th triggered a lot of that thinking.
Do you envision that this initiative could help fill Prudential’s leadership pipeline?
We see veterans as an underutilized pool of talent, particularly in the private sector. If we can bridge the gap between what veterans have gained by being in the military and what they need to know in order to qualify for civilian jobs, we’ll do a lot to create a viable, bona fide talent pool. We think about this program having an effect in three ways: There are the needs of the veterans, the skills and capabilities of Prudential as an organization, and then there are programs that we think can easily be applied in different settings. Where those three circles intersect is where the opportunity for us to help veterans really lies. We think we will elevate the overall employability of veterans. We have created tried-and-tested programs that other corporations might be able to adapt and adopt. We think this will do a lot to add a new source of talent for the private sector.
How do you work with other companies that want to implement a program like this, or perhaps augment one of their existing programs for veterans?
Our chairman, and the president and CEO of our group insurance business, have been acting as ambassadors to this idea. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Everybody gets it and feels connected to the initiative. There’s a lot of interest, so we’ve decided to take the lead on creating programs that are fungible, to equip organizations with what they need to get things going. We’re trying to engage people on the front end, and we will continue to do that because we have experience around some of these pilots we’re running.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to train everyone. How do you define the continuum that you’ve set up, and how do you determine who you’re going to help?
That’s a great question. We’ve had to think a lot about this because you can’t help everybody. We’ve adopted somewhat of a simplified view. We look at the veteran population on a continuum from the unemployable, which will be on the far left, to the highly skilled, which would be on the far right. We look at the unemployable, and within that, maybe there’s a group that is severely disabled, for example. They might have challenges that we just have no expertise to help with, so we think they are best served through some other entity. If you move a little bit to the right on that continuum, we have a group called the employable unemployed. These are folks who perhaps were unable to land a job—maybe they’ve been facing employers who are wary of hiring vets—and for example, may be frustrated by their lack of technical training. Somehow they’ve fallen through the cracks. That is a group that we think we can train and employ.
Continuing to move right on the continuum, next there’s the underemployed, folks that are working perhaps in trade jobs or in the first thing that they could get. Maybe they’re unaware of some opportunities that could be available to them. Maybe they didn’t follow through on a plan to go to school. There could be a number of reasons why they’re underemployed. This is another group that we can train and employ. Then if you go to the far right of the continuum, you’re at the top 20 percent. These folks are motivated and leveraging their experiences effectively. They don’t need our help. So we’re looking at that sweet spot in the middle as our target group.
What specific programs are you developing for veterans?
One is the Workforce Opportunities Services program—we call it WOS—which is really an adaptation of something that existed already. The effort began five years ago for high school students in inner cities, with a focus on IT experiences. Founded by Dr. Art Langer from Columbia University, the program provides a full scholarship for a 16-month IT certification program at either Columbia or Rutgers University, as well as an employment opportunity at the conclusion of that program. Successful completion of a six-week precertification course is required in order for students to get into the program. Prudential was the first company to participate in that program, and other partner companies have joined since. Over 240 students have gone through the program, and Prudential is currently sponsoring 37.
Prudential is now working with Dr. Langer to adapt this program for veterans. This past July, we launched a pilot at Rutgers, again focusing on IT. There is a three-week precertification program, and we identified a total of 42 candidates. We have now narrowed that down to a final class of 30, all of who are former enlisted military personnel. In August, we began a 12-month certification program at Rutgers, and in November, the work-study portion of the program will begin at Prudential. They will actually have internships at Pru. These students will transition from work-study interns to hopefully full-time, paid WOS consultants. We will draw from that pool of consultants for IT projects. Hopefully we will eventually convert them from consultant capacity to full time, depending on how well they do and what our needs are. That’s the vision for WOS.
Vet Flex, another of our programs, is basically designed to connect veterans with job opportunities that lend themselves to flexible work arrangements—for example, working from home or working part time. We’re in the initial pilot, which is testing the appeal among veterans. We think it has some potential. We want to focus on GI-bill students because we think a flexible work arrangement will help them fill the financial gap that many of them have. The GI bill, as you may know, covers tuition, books and housing. But there are other living expenses that the bill won’t cover. We also want Vet Flex to target disabled veterans, since maybe a part-time arrangement is more appealing to them, given some of the limitations that they may experience. Finally, we think spouses are a good target, because many spouses had their careers interrupted when their veteran partners went to war. It can appeal to families with young children as well.
We’re planning a pilot with our group insurance business. The group will work with an organization called Teletech, which provides telecommuting capabilities. We’re partnering with them to help screen, indentify and train candidates to use their technology. They will provide software that folks will need to work from home, and help us track and publish key performance metrics. Group insurance business does annual enrollments with its client base, which requires a lot of labor—a lot of phone calls, contacting employees and explaining benefits. We think Teletech can help us identify a new pool of talent to address this cyclical need that we have.
Lastly, there’s a program called Day on the Job. With this, we want to design an opportunity for veterans to actually experience what it would be like to work at Prudential. We’d start with some sort of a welcome—explaining to the veterans our value proposition, how we’re organized, our background, history, benefits available to employees, our talent commitment, our diversity commitment, all of that stuff. This would be followed by a panel discussion, where we’d have some senior leaders talk about what they look for in candidates. That might be followed by a working lunch, where we’d split them into groups, with some doing mock-interview practice and others taking tours of our trading floor. Then we’d have them deal with real Prudential associates, who could talk about their jobs and what it’s like to be an employee of Prudential. It might close with some comments. The idea is to give veterans a feel for what it’s like to work within a corporation.
What led you to partner with Rutgers on the programs you mentioned? Will you consider extending it to other universities?
We will consider extending it to other universities, but Rutgers was on our radar right away because we partner with them on a lot of things. We work together on a think tank around business ethics. It seemed like a natural outlet. They’ve been great partners to us.
Looking to the future, what are your plans for expanding these programs and continuing to develop future veteran leaders?
Our vision is to have this become a national program. We think that if we can begin the process of creating a platform for corporations to do this, it could have national appeal. What’s needed for that to occur is a national sourcing model for veterans. We need a focused effort to get as many veterans in the system as possible, some help around identifying the right people in that continuum I talked about earlier. Our goal is to create more partnerships with other universities, align ourselves with veteran organizations that can help us identify talent, and have a point of management for the entire process.