I didn’t even make it to my first duty station before I discovered how important secrets are in the U.S. Armed Forces. I had made it through 10 weeks of boot camp and my initial six months of training and was ready for assignment to my first duty station when I guess someone looked in my service jacket and discovered I wasn’t an American citizen. That’s right, I’m a foreigner.
There were plenty of non-American immigrants serving in the U.S. armed forces then, as there are now, so citizenship usually isn’t that big a deal but, in my case, there was a chance, however remote, that I’d have access to classified information at some point. So, I had to have a Secret security clearance and, with me being a foreigner, that threw a wrench in the works.
Military service is in my DNA. My father, who was half-responsible (along with my mother) for me being a foreigner, served in the British Army in Palestine and other Middle East hot spots in 1947 and 1948. My grandfather lied about his age and joined the British Army at age 15 and served in World War I with the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in France. My great-grandfather was a Scot and served with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and was wounded twice in battle. He wore a kilt as part of his uniform. I’ve got the pictures to prove it, and when I was a kid, I thought his tartan kilt, dress jacket and cap with the ribbon was the coolest uniform I’d ever seen.
I suppose I felt like I had to somehow continue the family U.K. military service lineage, but my parents decided to leave Britain and immigrate to Canada, where my brother and I were born, before eventually finding their way to California. All this to tell you that when I came of age to serve in the military, I couldn’t find an American service branch that offered a dress uniform kilt, so I had to look at alternative branches. I eventually decided to join the U.S. Coast Guard because they offered me training for the job I wanted for my military career—the job that required the Secret security clearance.
So, I found myself in a classified clearance holding pattern after training, and my choices were to go through an extensive FBI background check that could take months, or become a U.S. citizen. Since it was my intention to become a citizen anyway, I wrote a letter (remember them?) to my Congressman and asked him if he could help me skip to the front of the citizenship line so I could get to my first duty station. Darned if he didn’t do it.
So, I took the requisite tests and, six weeks later, I found myself in Federal Court in San Francisco wearing my crisply creased U.S. Coast Guard dress blues and swearing my oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
Military service was the best thing that ever happened to me. Before I enlisted, my life wasn’t really going anywhere, but military service changed all that. It gave me direction, motivation, discipline, responsibility for myself and for my shipmates, opportunities to prove my leadership abilities and, along those lines, taught me how to take orders as well as how to give them.
Military service also provided me with the G.I. Bill, which got me through college and, three years later, through graduate school. I think my military service also helped get me my first job. The hiring manager was a Navy vet who understood what military service taught those willing to take advantage of the opportunities presented, and he gave me a shot.
I believe the skills I learned in the military have served me well for my entire adult life, including the past 19 years of self-employment, and I believe that other veterans bring those same skills to their employers.
Steven Williams is a Solutions Architect, Advanced Services, in Cisco’s Customer Journey business unit, and a U.S. Navy veteran. “Having served aboard submarines and as a technology instructor, my time in the service honed my skills in the areas of critical thinking, problem-solving and, most importantly, the skills of listening and clear communications,” Williams said. “Aboard a submarine, lives depend on the ability to respond quickly and calmly in any situation and to do so with the confidence derived from hours of training, study, preparation and a solid commitment to crew and the task at hand. I believe those skills have served me well in my career at Cisco.”
Williams’ thoughts about veterans in the workforce were echoed by U.S. Army veteran and Cisco Contact Center Technical Solutions Architect Jeff Hursey. “The U.S. Army did a great deal in preparing me for my role as a Contact Center Technical Solutions Architect at Cisco. Over the course of seven years, I received training in point-to-point troubleshooting, problem-solving and leadership skills—all of which are highly valuable in my current role. Additionally, regardless of military occupational specialty, each soldier learns skills that are conducive to ‘winning together’ in the civilian business world, such as adaptability, commitment, communication, dedication, respect and teamwork—to name a few.”
Greg McCormick, from Cisco’s contact center sales side, also weighed in with how his military experience has also served him in his civilian career. “I’m an Air Force veteran, joining the military in 1983,” said McCormick. “I was able to get into a communications/telephony technical program and, after an extensive training program, I became proficient at understanding most of the telephony protocols throughout the world. The education and training I received in the U.S. Air Force have afforded me a lifetime career in telecommunications. Today, I’m proud to be able to put the training I learned in the military to work in my position at Cisco, helping our customers improve both the agent and the customer experience on a daily basis.”
These are but a few examples of how veterans contribute to their employers’ success, and there is no question of Cisco’s success in the global contact center market. Among the largest of the companies in the contact center industry, Cisco stands, in my opinion, head and shoulders above their competitors.
So, why does Cisco still look toward veterans as key contributors to their success? The answer comes so eloquently stated by Michael Veysey, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Cisco’s Director of Veteran Programs, Cisco Corporate Affairs. According to Veysey, “America’s veterans are a richly diverse group that possess leadership skills and a keen sense of personal accountability. In the service, they have undergone extensive training, are adept at working within teams, often under adverse conditions, are disciplined, dedicated, reliable and mission oriented. Today, the military only accepts 25% of all applicants, meaning these are high performers. Meanwhile, about 250,000 service members are transitioning out of the military each year. This creates an ideal opportunity for employers looking to grow their workforce with talented, qualified employees.”
When I started writing about veterans’ issues in 2011, veteran unemployment was about 7.5% with unemployment among veterans under the age of 24 at 20.4%. Today, unemployment among veterans is around 3.4%, which is about the same as the overall U.S. unemployment rate. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of other good reasons to consider veterans for your contact center industry workforce. I hope the words in this column have contributed in some way to make that clear.
I’m proud to be a veteran, and I’m proud of companies like Cisco that continue to look toward the veteran community for leaders and employees. It’s no secret. Not only is the hiring of veterans a smart business decision, it’s also a great way of saying, “Thank you for your service.”