Military veterans, a potential big source of skilled craft labor

Some 200,000 active military service members are estimated to leave duty every year, or roughly 1 million over the next five years, providing a potentially big source of skilled craft labor for the petrochemical industry.

There are immediate and practical steps companies in the petrochemical and industrial construction sectors can take to streamline their recruitment of military veterans to address the looming shortage of skilled craft professionals, such as welders and pipefitters, according to a webinar hosted by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) in early March.

With their unique hands-on experience and skills, veterans are a highly valued solution to address the labor shortage in the industry, said the webinar’s hosts, Brigadier General (Ret) Marianne Watson and Stacy Bayton, chief operating officer for Corporate America Supports You (CASY) and Military Spouse Support Network (MSSN).

To hire veterans, National Guard members and military reservists, a company must come up with a strategy to match military skills with civilian job qualifications, identify high-quality hires, train for key jobs and retain employees.

Hiring veterans is a priority
Hiring veterans has become a priority for the construction and petrochemical industries. In 2014, the construction industry went to Washington, D.C. to tell Congress it intended to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

In 2012, the National Guard partnered with the American Jobs for America’s Heroes (AJAH) alliance and CASY to help military members find meaningful careers and to assist employers in finding matching candidates.

In 2014, the group fielded 5,000 placements of military and spouses. So far in 2015, it has helped with more than 750 placements, at least 20 of which are for construction or oil and gas jobs, such as machinist, mechanic, engineer, project manager, data analyst, accounting, and sales.

Military recruitment has also become a key focus for the Build Your Future (BYF) campaign, a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) initiative that provides a collaborative grassroots approach to construction workforce forecasting and development that includes recruitment, training, placement, retention and image enhancement strategies.

Veteran employees perform on average 4% higher than non-veteran employees and have a 3% lower turnover rate, according to analysis by the US Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The attrition rate for General Electric's veteran employees, for example, is 7% lower than for non-veteran employees, according to research the company has collected over the last 10 years. The absenteeism from work is also lower among GE's military employees. 

“Veterans are a group of highly talented people, dependable and skilled, and our industry has great need for what they can offer,” said Ryan Morris, BYF manager.

“The most common job types hired (in construction) are craft jobs, such as electricians and crane operators. We need everyone. Contractors are hungry for all types of skilled professionals.”

First steps to setting up a veteran recruiting program
The first step to setting up a veteran hiring plan is to pull together resources or organizations that can help translate military experience to civilian language.

“A lot of companies are looking at what they can do to expand military and veteran hiring within their organization. A lot of times these things already exist within your organization or community,” Bayton said. “Look within your team and within your community. Non-profits like ours are within the community. Reach out to organizations like CASE and MSSN for assistance with this.”

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 who are looking for jobs.

The 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.

Counselors help identify matches, translate military training and skills, and coach recruiters and business managers on how to evaluate whether the candidates are a good culture “fit” for the company.

“Our job is to make sure that the company understands how they can be most successful in hiring veterans,” Bayton said. “It is a two-part equation for companies. They want to help the US military and they have to think about what is the best thing for their company.”

Veteran hiring in the construction sector
To help the construction industry and the military work out a solution, the NCCER and the BYF are leading the “Fast Track to Civilian Employment” project.

NCCER and BYF are establishing a task force of contractors, owners and other stakeholders to develop a method of assessing, training and transitioning veterans into high-skill, high-wage careers in construction. The program begins the process in the last 180 days of military service.

“Contractors hire veterans because they recognize that they have the field experience, skills and leadership abilities to excel as construction craft professionals,” said BYF Executive Director Diane Greene.

“We need a better way to connect with these returning military and show them how well their background translates to a career in our industry.”

Some 200,000 active service members are estimated to leave active service duty every year, or roughly 1 million over the next five years, according to Morris.

BYF provides an online database of careers in the construction industry connected to the US Department of Defense SkillBridge initiative, which allows qualified transitioning service members to participate in civilian job and employment training, including apprenticeships and internships.

By Heather Doyle

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