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A Win-Win for Veterans & Companies Requiring Skilled Workers

Government and corporate initiatives are helping companies to utilize the skills of returning veterans to fill their need for qualified workers.

Workforce Q4 2015
In the next five years, between 1 and 1.5 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces will leave the military, according to the Department of Defense. Many of these veterans will be seeking new careers; by a great margin, veterans cite finding employment as their number-one need when returning home.

And here’s another statistic: a 2012 report by the consulting firm of Deloitte noted 600,000 jobs that have gone unfilled at U.S. manufacturers because of a shortage of skilled workers. Veterans need careers, and manufacturers need high-quality employees. Fortunately, in recent years, a number of training programs and hiring initiatives have been developed to address those two needs.

National Initiatives
One of the biggest efforts to train veterans for manufacturing careers is Get Skills To Work, launched in 2012 by four of the largest U.S. manufacturers, the Washington, D.C.-based Manufacturing Institute, and other partners, in order to train military veterans for careers in advanced manufacturing. By earlier this year, Get Skills to Work had prepared or placed more than 100,000 veterans for manufacturing careers. Small, medium, and large manufacturing companies are involved, along with about 50 community colleges, where vets can use their GI Bill benefits to pay for training.

The program brings together manufacturers and educators to train veterans for “a high-tech career track, not just a job,” says AJ Jorgenson, director of Communications for the Manufacturing Institute in Washington, D.C. “Initiatives such as Alcoa’s veterans employment playbook and Cooper Standard’s partnership with Macomb Community College [Michigan] are strategic approaches to help close the manufacturing skills gap, while supporting veterans to train for and obtain in-demand manufacturing careers,” Jorgenson notes.

Manufacturing is such a natural destination for so many young service members, because it provides real, long-term economic opportunity for them and their families. Eric Eversole, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes Another major initiative is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) job fairs. As part of the Chamber’s Hiring 500,000 Heroes collaboration with Capital One, the program surpassed the 500,000 veteran and military spouse hire mark in June, according to spokesperson Susie Schoenberger. More than 2,000 companies have pledged to hire 707,000 veterans and spouses.

Along with stateside job fairs, HOH has also held recruitment events in Germany, Italy, and Asia, according to Eric Eversole, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, and a vice president at the U.S. Chamber. In 2015, HOH also held 17 Transition Summits on military bases across the country and overseas. “Manufacturing is such a natural destination for so many young service members, because it provides real, long-term economic opportunity for them and their families,” explains Eversole.

State and Regional Initiatives
Between 2013 and 2016, 480,000 U.S. Army veterans will leave the military and go through the Army’s Transition Assistance program, based at Fort Knox, in Kentucky. In Louisville, a group of business and government leaders has created the Where Opportunity Knox initiative, a workforce development program that aims to connect veterans and their spouses with employers in the area. The initiative is managed by the Kentucky Indiana Exchange (KIX), an organization comprised of leaders from Kentucky and Indiana focused on creating a regional workforce. KIX and its managing partners — Greater Louisville Inc., One Southern Indiana (a regional economic development organization), and the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce — created Where Opportunity Knox, hoping to connect 10,000 veterans and their spouses with available jobs in the Louisville area within three years.

Since it’s estimated that about 70 percent of jobs are filled through networking, one of its functions is to help individual vets build their civilian networks, according to Eileen Pickett, the group’s economic development adviser. Through the first two quarters of the program’s first year, 1,445 veterans have been hired in the Greater Louisville region. “These jobs span the economy from manufacturing to health to logistics and more,” Pickett says. More than 130 companies are participating employers in the Where Opportunity Knox program, and there are more than 35 Veteran Network Builders in the area who are sharing their civilian networks with transitioning veterans. “We view this as not just the right thing to do for people who have served, but also as an economic development strategy,” Pickett says. “We’re trying to build a pipeline for transitioning vets, and working with local employers to help them understand the potential value vets can bring, and tap into that great talent.”

Another regional initiative is the state of Iowa’s Home Base Iowa (HBI), launched in November 2013 as a public-private partnership to match military veterans with promising career opportunities across the state. To advance these efforts, the Iowa Business Council pledged a goal of 2,500 veterans hired by its member companies and institutions no later than December 31, 2018.

According to Elliott Smith, executive director of the Iowa Business Council, through the first three quarters of its second year, the program had served more than 1,600 veterans or their spouses, with manufacturing accounting for about 20 percent of that total. IBC is less than 900 away from its stated goal of 2,500.

We view this as not just the right thing to do for people who have served, but also as an economic development strategy. We’re trying to build a pipeline for transitioning vets, and working with local employers to help them understand the potential value vets can bring, and tap into that great talent. Eileen Pickett, economic development adviser of Where Opportunity Knox There has been a “noticeable slowdown” in the pace of hiring around Iowa, and in certain manufacturing segments, so Smith expects the numbers to climb at a more modest pace for the next quarter or two. But he still expects IBC will exceed its goal by late 2016 or early 2017. Major manufacturers participating have included HNI Corp., Kent Corp., Pella Corp., Rockwell Collins, Deere & Co., Vermeer Corp., and Wells Enterprises.

Corporate Initiatives
A number of individual corporations have also mounted efforts to train and place vets in manufacturing jobs. Several years ago, Saginaw, Mich.-based Merrill Technologies Group launched the Merrill Institute to train welders for manufacturing. Merrill Institute is located in Alma, Mich., inside of Merrill Fabricators, a Merrill Technologies Group business unit.

Since 2011, the institute has trained 56 veterans, nearly all of whom have found employment with Merrill or other companies, according to Jason North, manager of Operations and Industrial Training at the Merrill Institute. North says, “Vets are wonderful employees. They are a very disciplined and respectful workforce. We don’t have to worry about basic, employee-performance issues like attendance or showing up late.”

The Merrill Institute is working with the Michigan Workforce Development Agency to become approved for the training of Veterans under Title 38 U.S.C. The change will allow Veterans to use their GI Bill for the training and certification program at the Merrill Institute. According to North, “We have several veterans who have been waiting for this opportunity, and we are hoping to announce this and approval before the end of this year.“

In addition, Washington, D.C.-based Siemens PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) USA has developed the Veterans Initiative Program, offering free training in computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, and PLM software. The program provides scholarships to cover the cost of instructor-led training classes executed at its Siemens PLM Software universities. Last year, 26 veterans took
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