Changemakers: How Cushman & Wakefield Uses Skills-Based Hiring for Veterans

7 min readAug 21, 2023

Matt Disher helps Cushman & Wakefield’s hiring managers find top talent through skills-based hiring.

“Companies that are not using skills-based hiring are missing out on a lot of diverse, experienced talent.”

Skills-based hiring is growing. Employers eager to find talent in today’s ultra-competitive hiring market are embracing the idea of hiring employees based on demonstrated skills, not just educational attainment. And the change is long overdue.

Starting in the early 2000s, employers began adding a bachelor’s degree requirement to jobs that previously required less education, even when the position requirements did not change. This trend, coined degree inflation, gave employers an easy proxy for employability skills that were increasingly in demand. The downside — millions of qualified workers were suddenly unable to access jobs traditionally open to them. A study by Opportunity At Work found requiring a four-year degree screens out 83% of Latinx people, 81% of rural Americans, and 76% of Black people.

The majority of employers now rely on college degrees when hiring because they believe it is a less risky choice. How can proponents of skills-based hiring get risk-averse employers to try skills-based hiring? Look at veteran talent recruitment. Skills-based hiring is designed to help people like veterans. Veterans come from diverse backgrounds, and they are experienced and mature, but their educational and work pedigrees may appear nontraditional to a civilian. Employers with veteran recruitment strategies use skills-based hiring whether they know it or not.

To understand why skills-based hiring is thriving for veterans and how employers can learn from it, JFF’s Carey O’Connor spoke with Matt Disher, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who works at Cushman & Wakefield as the firm’s Military & Veterans Programs leader.

Cushman & Wakefield is a global commercial real estate services firm that delivers property, facilities, and project management, leasing, capital markets, valuation, and other services to real estate occupiers and owners. It is among the largest real estate services firms, with approximately 52,000 employees around the world and significant operations in the United States.

Tell me about Cushman & Wakefield’s skills-based hiring program for veterans.

Cushman & Wakefield launched an internal veterans hiring initiative in 2017 that started with a small team of ex-military personnel. I was hired in 2019 as a professional with talent acquisition experience in this field, and this initiative has since evolved into our award-winning Military & Veterans Program that has earned third-party recognition from Military Friendly®, VETS Indexes, and others.

When I came on board, we first focused on building awareness within the firm on the value of military experience and educating people about the skills veterans bring to the workforce. There are some common misconceptions about people with military backgrounds that exist in many companies. For example, a common assumption is that anyone who went into the military did so because they didn’t have other choices. That is simply not true. Many join the military because it is a great way to get postsecondary education and skills training without college debt. The U.S. Armed Forces and its veterans represent some of the most educated and experienced people the workforce has to offer.

At Cushman & Wakefield, we also focused on teaching our recruiters and hiring managers how to decode the skills required in different military jobs. We help recruiters and hiring managers understand the job titles and associated skills reflected on veteran resumes so they can match them with our job descriptions and ask the right questions during interviews. By doing this, we built a culture of skills-based hiring.

We also built several initiatives within Cushman & Wakefield to help military talent feel welcome at the firm and revamped our external marketing so that it was military friendly. For example, we are a provider of Department of Defense SkillBridge programs, and we partner with Hiring Our Heroes through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Fellowship Program, which provides veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses with training and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce.

Today, Cushman & Wakefield currently employs approximately 1,300 veterans in the United States, many of whom were hired using skills-based hiring.

Why is skills-based hiring so important for veteran job candidates?

Military job titles and descriptions just do not match job titles and descriptions in the civilian world. They use different languages. Civilian companies do not employ supply sergeants or warrant officers, and they generally don’t understand job duties like weapons system release or aircraft recovery. Service personnel are also often well-educated and highly trained, as the military encourages you to advance your education and professional training. But the education and training may appear nontraditional to a civilian.

This language disconnect is compounded by the fast pace of the recruiting process. A recruiter might have 40 to 50 job requisitions they are managing at one time, with 200-plus candidates for each requisition. The recruiter doesn’t always have the time to study a veteran’s resume and try to translate the veteran’s experience into the job description they are filling. If a person’s resume doesn’t look exactly like what the recruiter is seeking, they often don’t get the job.

Skills-based hiring allows companies like Cushman & Wakefield to translate the skills, experience, and education of veterans into a language that a civilian recruiter understands. Companies that are not using skills-based hiring are missing out on a lot of diverse, experienced talent.

Does Cushman & Wakefield use skills-based hiring for nonveterans?

Cushman & Wakefield joined the Business Roundtable’s skills-based hiring initiative in 2020 and is working on expanding the success of its military skills-based hiring to include other groups.

Does skills-based hiring work better for certain jobs or job families?

Using skills-based hiring, Cushman & Wakefield has successfully placed military and veteran talent in human resources, operations, information technology, accounting, and many other types of roles across job families. Through our C&W Services business, we also hire for a lot of equipment maintenance and property management roles, which are a good fit for veterans as people with military service often have experience maintaining property and equipment.

Why do you think skills-based hiring has taken off for veterans?

The military has been working on this for a long time. After the 2008 financial crisis, there was a public push to help veterans get hired. Veteran unemployment in the United States was quite high (13.9%. for younger veterans and 7.9% for older veterans). The Department of Defense started a program called SkillBridge to help the 200,000 people who transition from U.S. military service to the civilian workforce every year. Around the same time, several companies, including Cushman & Wakefield, launched the 100,000 Jobs Mission, which aimed to hire 100,000 veterans. These efforts created many corporate veteran hiring programs. Today, companies can participate in programs like DOD SkillBridge, which Cushman & Wakefield is applying effectively and teaching other companies how to use. This program takes the skills and experience of service members and allows them to plug into a company prior to their full exit from the armed forces. If you have a veteran hiring program, you have a skills-based hiring program.

As you are speaking, I hear the passion in your voice for helping veterans. What drives you?

I had a tough time finding a job, any job, when I transitioned out of the military.

I served as a combat engineer in the Marines for four years. As a sergeant, I led a team responsible for tactical demolitions alongside infantry — we could take bridges down, knock hinges off a door (without taking the building down), detect hidden improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — basically blow stuff up in a highly controlled, safe manner. My job in the military gave me experience managing teams and plans in large-scale operations. I also gained strong critical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills. But my skills were not readily apparent to someone who did not understand military jobs. My experiences would make great action stories or video games but didn’t align so well to corporate America.

After my military career ended, I applied for hundreds of jobs in the civilian world but could not get anyone to call me back. It was demoralizing. After several months of looking, I was hired as barback at Jeff Ruby’s steakhouse in Cincinnati. I was grateful for the job but was frustrated that I was essentially starting over in an entry-level job after having gained global operational experience.

I kept applying for other jobs and eventually moved to being a 911 dispatcher and trainer on the night shift at the Cincinnati Police Department. Around this time, my wife had our first child. After four years in the Marines not sleeping through the night, I decided to do four more years and went to college during the day while continuing to work at night. I finished my degree and moved into military recruiting at a logistics company and then managed Cintas’ military recruitment program. I joined Cushman & Wakefield in 2019.

My personal experience and my hardships motivate me every day to help others have an easier transition into a civilian career.

What advice do you have for someone interested in starting skills-based hiring at their company?

If you want to start a skills-based hiring program at your company, think about starting with veterans.

In my opinion, what holds companies back from using skills-based hiring is that hiring managers are inherently risk averse. They are accustomed to relying on a person’s educational pedigree as a proxy for job fit, and change is difficult. Offering them another reliable proxy, like military service, can help them see the value of hiring people with diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Hiring managers may also push back on skills-based hiring because it requires changing a company’s job descriptions, but it’s worth the extra work. Plus, many companies have been using skills-based hiring for veterans for some time, so much of that work has already been done.

You won’t regret hiring a veteran.

The Changemakers series is produced as part of JFF’s Corporate Action Platform, which features stories of Impact Employers. Visit for more information about Impact Employers. This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.




Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.