The Value of Veterans Business Resource Groups

Feb 1, 2019 | Defense Transportation Journal

By Lloyd Knight, Director at UPS and President of VETLANTA

If you haven’t transitioned from the military, there is a good chance you’ve never heard of a Veterans Business Resource Group. VBRGs, also known as a military affinity networks, can be extremely useful for transitioning veterans. Most can offer assistance in a wide range of areas including networking in a job search, finding a mentor to assist with the transition and aiding in navigating a new employer. Some can even recommend and connect Service members and veterans with veteran service organizations. The benefits VBRGs provide to employers including attracting new talent, employee retention, employee recognition and positive brand recognition.

When I retired from the Air Force in 2007, I had an amazing transition. I started terminal leave on a Friday and my new job with UPS the following Monday. UPS and Atlanta turned out to be great fits as I found a new home, got my family settled, and found success in my professional career. However, as much as I embraced UPS’s strong culture and its passion for customer service, I missed the incredibly tight bonds that are formed in the military. That unity is so prevalent in military life, and it’s a part of military culture which Service members often take for granted. It doesn’t matter if you are a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine or Coast Guardsmen, sharing that unique comradeship and devotion bonds us as brothers and sisters in arms, and is something most of us will miss after the transition into the civilian world.

In 2013, I found that comradeship again as I had the honor to start the first Veterans Business Resource Group at UPS’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta. I was hesitant to take on the additional responsibility because of my heavy workload and I had to be “highly encouraged” by one of the Air Force Education With Industry officers who was on my team at the time. It was a great decision as the role gave me a renewed sense of purpose. I quickly found there were many other veterans at UPS looking to connect and unite for the greater good. It also provided a welcome diversion from the stresses of my day-to-day workload.

At UPS, business resource groups are organizations of UPS employees that serve as an extension of the company’s broader diversity and inclusion strategy. They provide a forum where employees can network, participate in professional development activities and gain support growing the business. We have many different focus areas including an African American BRG; Asian American BRG; Hispanic/Latino BRG; Focus on Abilities BRG; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Allies BRG; Veterans BRG; Women’s Leadership Development BRG, Millennials BRG; and the Working Parents BRG.

Veteran Hiring at UPS

One of the central responsibilities of the Veterans BRG at UPS is to help execute our veterans strategy. At UPS we believe hiring veterans gives us a competitive advantage and our strategy is focused on four key areas:

  • Employment – Outreach to key veteran’s groups, with direct connections to the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Soldier for Life, Veterans Administration and Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs).
  • Engagement – Increase the level of employee engagement with military and veteran activities through our Neighbor-to-Neighbor volunteer program.
  • Recognition – Increase the level of recognition of our employees who have served in the military or are currently serving.
  • Reputation – Enhance our reputation as a company that values the training, skills and life experiences obtained by the men and women that serve in the US military.

At UPS, our kinship to veterans is nothing new. One of our co-founders, George Casey, and three of our past CEOs were all veterans. During World War II, we shipped care packages to our employees deployed overseas, and from the 1960s and beyond, we actively and proudly recruited Vietnam veterans. Of our 454,000 employees, 26,000 are veterans or are currently serving in the Guard or Reserves. UPS is committed to being a good corporate citizen and being highly engaged in the communities we work and live in. I’m very proud that over the last five years, our employees have contributed 170,000 veteran-related community service hours.

One of the greatest opportunities I had serving as UPS VBRG Chair was to establish and improve partnerships with VSOs that are providing true value to veterans and their families. UPS partners with great organizations including VETLANTA, American Corporate Partners, Paralyzed Veterans of America, US Chamber Hiring Our Heroes Foundation, Herschel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, TAPS, Veterans Empowerment Organization, Hire Heroes USA, Soldiers’ Angels and the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Today, there are over 40,000 non-profit organizations operating across the country that focus on veterans. This is a mixed blessing as it can be very difficult for a service member, veteran or a family member to find the right organization to provide the right assistance at the right time. And while many of the nonprofits provide true value to veterans and their families, the space is also fraught with groups that focus too much on fundraising versus providing service. VBRGs play an essential role in recommending VSOs to service members, partnering on events, driving volunteerism and facilitating grants with our associated company foundations to those VSOs who truly are making a difference.

Founding VETLANTA

In 2014, I received an invitation that would change my life again—and the lives of veterans throughout Atlanta. The leaders of Coca Cola’s VBRG invited UPS and a dozen other Fortune 500 companies to Coke’s headquarters to discuss what each of our companies was doing to support veterans. We were amazed at the scope and scale of the efforts our companies and foundations were making to support veterans locally and nationally. While we were all doing great things, there was a missing ingredient—collaboration. We discovered our companies were engaged in similar efforts with similar organizations, but with no effective way to connect the dots. Out of this first meeting VETLANTA was eventually born, and I’ve had the pleasure of serving as the President for the last five years.

VETLANTA is comprised of VBRGs, companies large and small, non-profits, academia, volunteers and government employees, all organized to support veterans and their families. Our goal is to make Atlanta the top destination for veterans, and we do this by focusing on collaboration and volunteerism. VETLANTA is unique in that we don’t accept or distribute any funding. Instead, we work through our VBRGs, and align our efforts based on five pillars: employment, housing, business, community, healthcare and education. In five years, we have grown to more than 2,000 members and are truly making a difference in Georgia.

The Fortune 500 companies in Atlanta have been amazing sponsors of our summits, providing meeting space and volunteers to staff our events, which have grown to average 400 veteran advocates. There are many reasons for the strong growth in VETLANTA but one of the most important is at our core, we are a collaboration of VBRGs—veterans and veteran advocates coming together to make a difference. I still miss the intense fellowship and esprit de corps I experienced in the military, but participating in VBRGs and VETLANTA has filled that void.

About the Author: Lloyd Knight is a Director of Global Freight Forwarding at UPS and a retired Air Force Loadmaster and First Sergeant. Knight started the first UPS Veterans BRG in Atlanta and is co-founder and President of VETLANTA. Knight is a two-time recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the 2018 UPS Jim Casey Community Service Award. The Jim Casey Award is given annually to one of 454,000 global UPS employees for demonstrating an exceptional commitment to helping others in their community.