Five steps to designing an effective veteran worker program

The current crop of companies that give hiring preference to military service members includes Bechtel, Crossland Construction, Fluor, ISC, Jacobs, KBR, L.P.R. Construction Co, Marek Brothers, Overland Contracting, Performance Contractors, Inc, S&B, Sundt, TIC, Turner Industries and Zachry, according to the NCCER.

There are immediate and practical steps companies in the US petrochemical sector can take to streamline their recruitment of military veterans to address the looming shortage of skilled craft professionals, such as welders and pipefitters.

Industrial construction will require some 170,000 craftsmen to build, operate and maintain projects, according to forecasts by the Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA).

At the same time, some 200,000 active military service members are estimated to leave duty every year, providing a potentially big source of skilled craft labor.

Tapping in house to design an effective veteran program
Companies that wish to hire military veterans should look within and poll current employees to see if any National Guard reservists or veterans on staff could help the company develop a program, according to Stacy Bayton, chief operating officer for Corporate America Supports You (CASY) and Military Spouse Support Network (MSSN).

“Current employees who served in the military are your greatest asset,” Bayton said at a recent webinar hosted by the American Fuel and Petroleum Manufacturers (AFPM) to outline the best strategies to attract, train and retain military veterans in the petrochemical industry.

“Look to see which employees you have are currently National Guard reserves or veterans that you can poll for information or use to lead a project.”

In the automotive industry, companies such as Ford have already taken steps to create support groups for veterans.

The Ford Veterans Network Group (VET NG) is one of the company’s corporate-supported Employee Resource Groups. With 500 members in the US, the VET NG seeks to raise awareness within Ford about veterans, their issues and corporate contributions.

In addition to supporting veteran recruiting efforts, members of the VET NG work to support community events and local fundraisers to benefit needy former military members.

Attracting the right veteran talent
Most companies are struggling to tailor their job postings to veteran job seekers, according to Bayton. National Guards tend look for jobs that match their military occupation specialty (MOS), often using search terms that are rare in civilian job postings.

In addition, looking for a job based on an MOS is limiting for both the hiring manager and the veteran, as military personnel may have more than one MOS or have other collateral duties that could translate into multiple jobs.

“From the military standpoint, we come out of military thinking about a very specific career path based on our military occupation. We are now really trying to help our military look beyond that and stop putting themselves in a square peg, and look at how to cross those skills over,” Bayton said.

The companies that have been most successful in attracting veterans, use key words like “looking for veterans in these types of military jobs…,” Bayton added.

Other successful companies have updated their postings to say they will accept a certain number of years in the military in lieu of a university degree.

ConocoPhillips, for example, has recognized the strengths veterans can bring to an organization and has put in place a program designed to help guide them to jobs within the company.

The company has added a function to its job posting site so that veterans can search for jobs by MOS title.

“Working at ConocoPhillips has a striking similarity to the mission-driven atmosphere and teamwork I was exposed to in the military,” said Paul Miranda, a veteran and engineer with ConocoPhillips. “The military produces hard-working individuals, and I believe any organization like ConocoPhillips that brings in top-quality veterans will be successful."

Bayton also encourages companies to participate in local military and veteran events, and look for support at free community organizations, such as Yellow Ribbon, the Veterans Administration (VA), CASY, AJAH, a local Chamber of Commerce or the AFPM.

Interpreting military candidate experience
Companies tell CASY they get plenty of military resumes from the events they attend, but they have no idea what the resumes are saying.

“Think ahead as you are recruiting for a specific skill set. It is in your best interest that you identify how that crosses into the military and veteran community so you have a targeted search,” Bayton said.

Tools such as the US Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop can be used to identify military skills, translate the skills into the open job positions and update the job descriptions, among others.

For construction jobs, NCCER’s Build Your Future (BYF) campaign created Military Crosswalk, a program to allow veterans to identify how their MOS codes align with NCCER’s industry-recognized portable credentials.

Companies can also partner with groups like CASY or MSCCN to translate skills and identify the types of military veteran candidates needed to get the right pool of applicants.

Conducting productive job interviews
Regardless of how much background candidates have in the military, they may often lack job interview experience.

A hiring manager can get the most information out of the hiring process by using performance-based interview questions, according to Bayton.

“A good strategy is to ask veterans in your company to help develop questions that effectively highlight the skills and value of the veterans you are interviewing,” she said. “You have no greater asset than the people sitting within your company who may be veterans and can help you put this together.”

Interviews also need to avoid prohibited questions, such as the type of discharge the candidate received, current military status and potential disabilities.

Training veterans for key jobs
A proactive workforce training approach could also help differentiate one construction company from another.

To help military veterans succeed in the construction industry, digital education provider Pearson North America and NCCER have donated $1 million to provide online core curriculum to transitioning service members. Upon completing their core curriculum, veterans can be assessed and connected to a construction company or industry association.

To make sure the curriculum is used, BYF and some EPC and service companies, such as Bechtel, would go to military bases and provide information on careers in construction to those service men and women who are about to transition out of the military in the next 180 days.

The process is designed to ensure that veterans are able to easily move into their chosen career pathways. It also aims to prompt companies participating in the program’s task force to support the initiative by giving hiring preference to veterans with NCCER credentials.

“Our goal is to get them trained and using the curriculum while still on base so that we can get them working as soon as they get out,” BYF Manager Ryan Morris said. “Betchtel will sometimes go to Fort Polk military base [in Louisiana, near many of Betchtel’s projects] to recruit welders.”

The BYF program includes journey-level assessments and upgrade training for skilled workers. For those without construction skills, the program offers accelerated safety and craft training, which allows veterans to earn credentials for completing the he OSHA Outreach Training Program’s 10-hour training and NCCER’s Core Curriculum. 

By Heather Doyle

This is the second article in a two-part series focusing on the best ways to hire, train and retain military veterans in the petrochemical industry. Read part one here.