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Hilton Hotels use special hiring program to recruit veterans

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For retired Navy lieutenant commander and native New Yorker Jeffry McGrath, leading the engineering department for Hilton’s Casa Marina and the Reach in Key West, Fla. is just like operating an aircraft carrier, which makes his job fairly clear-cut.

McGrath came to Hilton after 20 years with the armed forces through Operation: Opportunity, Hilton’s military-vet hiring program. Launched in August 2013, when roughly 10 percent of post-9/11 vets were unemployed, and active duty military were transitioning to civilian life at a rate of more than 250,000 per year, the program’s mission was for veterans and their families to represent 10 percent of its new hires. To date, the company has taken on over 10,000 veterans, reaching its goal two years earlier than expected.

McGrath first joined the megahotel brand in 2014 as property operations manager for the New York Hilton Midtown, in charge of its electrical department.

Early on, the vet says, “I thought, ‘How am I, a Navy pilot with an MBA, going to fit into a hotel position?’ But, if you laid the NY Hilton on its side in the Hudson River, it resembles an aircraft carrier from an engineering perspective. The more I learned about it, there are a lot of similarities on the business side of hotels and the military.” Plus, “you’re a leader, which transitions well from the military — the ability to work under pressure and time schedules, to problem-solve and make decisions.”

While concerned about entering a new field, McGrath’s transition into his civilian workplace was smooth. “Hilton provides very good training, a welcome-aboard package and a mentor program,” he says.

To execute Operation: Opportunity, Hilton partnered with outlets including Hiring Our Heroes, Joining Forces and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA), says Joe Berger, area president, Americas, for Hilton.

“We focused on educating our recruiters and putting one person in charge of military recruiting. We took time with our partners to understand all of the military positions and mapped them out to our hotel positions across the board, from business and finance to accounting, engineering, housekeeping and guest services. It’s not as intuitive as you would think.”

Hilton also helped fund the online virtual training tool Reinventing Michael Banks, which helps vets prepare for interviews and job fairs, and has a dedicated military careers website and a referral program.

“We feel a real gratitude toward our vets for their service and sacrifice and wanted to make sure as a company that we fit well with military vets,” says Berger.