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Why Veterans are Ideal for Manufacturing Careers

by Rodrigo Garcia

Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs

For those of you who've seen the classic film The Graduate, you probably got a kick from the sage advice given to Dustin Hoffman's character at the start of the movie... "Son, I just want to say one word to you: plastics." As influential members of the plastics industry, I now want to say just one word to you: veterans.

It's well-established that plastics businesses – as well as many other manufacturers in America – are facing a major shortfall in available skilled workers, with a particular need for machine operators and engineers. Experts estimate that there are over 600,000 open advanced manufacturing jobs across America. In my beloved home state of Illinois (Go Bears!), manufacturers have over 30,000 job openings.

While this is a complex issue that requires multiple approaches, more and more manufacturers are realizing that military veterans are a great choice for the in-demand, high-skilled positions they have available.

A talent pool with advanced technical training

This quote from General Electric (GE) sums it up quite well: "We don't hire veterans because they're veterans. We hire veterans because they're qualified."

Most people recognize that veterans are accomplished in self-discipline and teamwork, but many overlook the fact that the US military spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to train each servicemember. As such, veterans have obtained formal training, hands-on instruction and performance evaluations by some of the world's foremost technical experts – and a great deal of this training has straight-line application to manufacturing careers back home. The majority of servicemembers are cross-trained in multiple computer programs, and many receive advanced technical training that readily translates to professional positions in engineering, production, IT, maintenance and logistics, among many other specialties.

Beyond technical skills, veterans are trained in various other important areas that are extremely valuable back at home. I want to highlight three. First, veterans are explicitly taught to be efficient under pressure. They understand tight schedules, limited resources and competing demands, and they know how to accomplish a task on time in spite of tremendous stress. Second, thanks to extensive training, veterans are keenly aware of safety protocols both for themselves and the welfare of others, including attention to health and wellness issues. This can translate to protection of employees, property and materials, which reduces loss, reduces absenteeism and helps counter waste and inefficiency. And third, with experiences in the service and around the world, veterans often are aware of technical and international trends or developments potentially pertinent to your business and industry. They can bring the kind of global outlook and technological savvy that all enterprises need to grow.

Plentiful, easy-to-access resources to connect with veteran talent

Across the nation, there are a multitude of resources and programs available to help employers identify, recruit, hire and support veteran talent. These efforts are supported by industry associations, government agencies and non-profits, all with the same underlying mission: to help veterans succeed in the workforce, and in doing so, help businesses and communities grow stronger.

Operationalizing veteran-targeted recruitment and HR practices

I talk with employers all the time that are looking to hire veterans, but many confront a standard set of obstacles. For one, their human resources managers need help navigating the veteran talent pool, knowing where to look, discerning military terminology on resumes and – generally speaking – being able to recognize the innumerable benefits veterans can bring to their organization.

There are various easy-to-access, no-cost HR training resources and toolkits available for employers. I'd like to spotlight two:

Hiring Our Heroes HR Training Webinars – Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) is a program of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation spearheading a variety of innovative approaches to match veterans and military spouses with employers. HOH offers no-cost training webinars for hiring managers to obtain expert training on best practices for effective recruitment and retention of veterans and military spouses. For more information or to register for a webinar, visit www.hiringourheroes.org/webinars.

America's Heroes at Work Veteran Toolkit – Created by the US Department of Labor, this toolkit specifically is designed to assist employers who want to include veterans in their recruitment and hiring initiatives. Featuring a straightforward six-step process, it pinpoints helpful tools and outlines key steps to take when designing a veterans hiring initiative. To access the free toolkit, visit www.americasheroesatwork.gov.

Once your HR staff is ready to engage veteran talent, they may need help discovering where to post openings and actively target recruitment efforts. I have two suggestions:

Connect with your state's labor/workforce development agency – Every state has Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVERs) that conduct outreach to employers and help hiring managers increase employment opportunities for veterans. Visit the following page to find LVERs in your area: www.dol.gov/vets/aboutvets/contacts/main.htm#RegionalStateDirectory.

Hire 2 Hired (H2H) – H2H is a national database specific to veteran job seekers and employers looking to hire veteran talent. With H2H, employers get free, direct access to qualified candidates who already have background checks and security clearances, which helps reduce recruiting and hiring costs. H2H uses innovative match-strength technology and allows employers to send customized online marketing materials and invitations-to-apply to select candidates. For more info, visit h2h.jobs/employers.

The last piece of the puzzle concerns retention and support practices. Once your company has veterans on board, it's smart to make an investment in professional development processes. This can include the creation of a corporate mentorship program or an employee affinity group for veterans. Regarding support practices, I'd highly encourage your company to reach out to the state department of veterans' affairs to explore post-employment support services available through their agency or local non-profits.

Illinois Hires Heroes Consortium

At this point, I have to make a pitch for a program we've launched in Illinois that brings together all the strategies noted above into one clear-cut platform. It's called the Illinois Hires Heroes Consortium (IHHC). In essence, IHHC is a program that helps teach companies how to recruit and maximize the potential of veteran employees. Here's how it works: Companies join the Consortium at no-cost; they commit to recruitment, hiring and retention practices of their choosing; and state agency staff help them implement the practices. Ultimately, it puts companies on the cutting edge of veteran recruitment. For more info, visit www.illinoishiresheroes.com. If your company operates in Illinois, join now! If not, ask your state agency to explore such a set up.

Tax Credits

A number of states, such as Illinois, provide targeted tax credits to employers that hire qualified veterans. Illinois offers the Veteran's Tax Credit, through which Illinois employers can earn an income tax credit of up to $5,000 annually for hiring veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. The credit is 20 percent of the total wages, paid up to $5,000, to every qualified veteran hired after July 1, 2012. Illinois employers also can earn an income tax credit of up to $1,200 annually for hiring veterans of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. The credit is 10 percent of the total wages paid to every qualified veteran hired after January 1, 2010. For more information, call the Illinois Department of Revenue's business hotline at 217.524.4772.

At the federal level, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) enabled employers to earn up to $9,600 for each eligible veteran hired before Jan. 1, 2014, but at the current time, WOTC has not been extended.

Hiring Our Heroes Career Fairs

A key component of the HOH program from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation is connecting veterans, transitioning servicemembers and military spouses with employers at targeted hiring fairs. Since the program's launch in 2011, more than 24,000 veterans and military spouses have obtained jobs through HOH career fairs. To learn more about how your company can get involved, visit www.uschamberfoundation.org/hiring-our-heroes.

Increasing your bottom line

We're at a special moment in history where our nation can harness and benefit from the tremendous talent of our returning servicemembers. In the next five years, one million veterans are expected to leave the service and transition back home. What does that mean for employers? We have an opportunity to capitalize on an extremely well-trained, highly motivated pool of talented workers. As forward-looking manufacturers have shown, when companies recognize the potential of veteran workers, the returns are substantial. It's more than just worthy tribute to our men and women who've worn the uniform – it represents an investment that can advance your company's bottom line and better position you for success in the long-run.

Rodrigo Garcia is the acting director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs (IDVA), board chairman for Student Veterans of America and a Marine Corps veteran. As acting director of IDVA, Garcia oversees a 1,300-person staff dedicated to serving those who have served. IDVA fulfills its mission of empowering veterans to thrive through its four Veterans' Homes, its 80-plus Veteran Service Offices and its numerous special programs and initiatives. For more information, visit www.veterans.illinois.gov.