Phillips 66 connects with veterans to bridge skilled labor shortage gap

The Houston-based energy manufacturing and logistics company is targeting veteran job seekers both directly and through the American Jobs for America’s Heroes initiative.

National Guard members have technical skills that are a good match for the construction industry. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey T. Barone, Louisiana National Guard

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While hiring managers in the petrochemical industry are struggling to find enough skilled craft workers to complete petrochemical megaprojects on the US Gulf Coast, veterans in the National Guard of the United States are facing a 20% unemployment rate.

Unemployment among National Guards - a reserve military force encompassing all US states and the District of Columbia, as well as the territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico - is nearly four times higher than the national average of 5.5%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Guard underemployment runs as high as 30-50% in some states, particularly among those aged 18 to 24 years old.

At the same time, 74% of construction companies in the US report a shortage of skilled craft professionals, such as welders, electricians and pipefitters, according to a survey from the Associated General Contractors of America.

This workforce deficit will continue to rise because many of today’s skilled workers are expected to retire in the next five to 10 years.

The fuel and petrochemical industries currently support nearly 2 million American jobs and expect to support almost 3.9 million by 2025, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).

To respond to the two looming problems, several new programs across the country are linking veterans with employers in the construction and petrochemical sectors, as well as with educational institutions and government agencies that support vocational education and training.

Phillips 66’s in-house veteran initiatives
Phillips 66 is the lead sponsor for the American Jobs for America’s Heroes (AJAH), a non-profit alliance to help unemployed National Guard members, veterans and spouses find skilled jobs in the private sector.

Some 60,000 Guard members are back home in the US and ready for work, according to AJAH.

“When we learned that as much as 20% of our Guard were unemployed, and a higher percentage was returning home from overseas unemployed, we wanted to help,” said Lawrence Ziemba, executive vice president of projects, refining and procurement for Phillips 66.

Phillips 66 also piloted a veteran hiring program with a mechanical hiring class for its Bayway refinery in New Jersey, bringing in nine veterans. A training class to bring in veterans who can become operators followed.

Over the last two years, veterans have composed nearly 25% of hourly hires in the company’s refining business, Phillips 66’s media spokeswoman Carol Ziegler said.

“Safety is one of many values we share with the military, and that is why former military personnel fit well into the culture of Phillips 66,” said Bob Herman, senior vice president of health, safety and environment at Phillips 66.

“Our industry is highly technical and requires keen attention to detail. The same qualities that make someone successful in the military – integrity, commitment to excellence and responsibility – make them a great candidate for Phillips 66.”

Phillips66 has also created a website for veteran recruitment, which allows military members to search for civilian jobs that match their military jobs and skills.

The American Jobs for America’s Heroes campaign
Coordinated by the Center for America, the AJAH campaign aims to encourage employers across the US to provide job postings for National Guard employment counselors in every state that match the profiles of job candidates. More than 1,400 employers are participating. 

Job postings made via the campaign are accessible by all state National Guard counseling teams through a secure internet technology platform donated by Kenexa, an IBM company.

Two non-profits, Corporate America Supports You (CASY) and Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN), manage the posting process and provide direct support to the state teams, employers and job seekers.

These components — AJAH, state National Guard employment counselors, the technology platform, and the support of CASY and MSCCN — comprise the National Guard Employment Network (NGEN).

Groups like AJAH and CASY work every day with employers to help find and hire the most qualified veterans and Guard members from among the thousands across America now looking for jobs.

These groups have developed a network of hundreds of military employment counselors, who are working one-on-one with soldiers and veterans from every military branch.

Through these counselors, the not-for-profit groups identify matches, help translate military training and skills, and coach recruiters and business managers on how to evaluate the candidates’ “fit” in the culture of the company.

In 2014, CASY fielded 5,000 placements of military and spouses. So far in 2015, it has helped with more than 750 placements , 18 of which went into oil and gas or construction fields.

Mechanic, machinist, engineer, project manager, accounting and management jobs are the most common placements for construction and petrochemical companies.

National Guard reservists and veterans are ready for civilian jobs
There are 350,000 Army National Guard and 105,000 Air National Guard in total, according to General Marianne Watson, retired Brigadier General and former director of Manpower and Personnel for the National Guard Bureau.

All members of the National Guard  are also members of the US military. The majority of National Guard soldiers and airmen hold full-time civilian jobs while serving part-time as National Guard members.

“Typically, guards live at home near family and friends and also hold civilian jobs,” Watson said. “Only about 15% of the Army National Guard is full time and 45% of the Air National Guard is full time, so you can see why civilian employment is so very important.”

By Heather Doyle