Call to service

Posted on Jul 9, 2012 :: Cover Story
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Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

The stats are harsh: Wisconsin’s overall jobless rate for military vets hovers between 13 percent and 15 percent. If that vet is a woman, the rate jumps to 22 percent.

But Ann Schueller isn’t one to dwell on the negative. Instead, she focuses on the positive – returning military veterans have many of the skills employers are looking for. Thanks to Wisconsin’s G.I. Bill, veterans may have eight semesters of free tuition and fees at any University of Wisconsin System or Wisconsin Technical College System institution. Add in manufacturers’ need for well-trained workers, and she thinks you have the recipe for success.

But to get there, vets need to find their way to the right resources. Schueller leads a job seekers group focused on veterans at Fox Valley Technical College. “Vets need to realize they are not a job seeker like everyone else so I tell them they shouldn’t act that way,” she says.

For example, companies are looking for employees who follow directions, show up on time and work well together. “Those are all traits most veterans have honed through their military training,” says Schueller, a military vet of 21 years who repaired helicopters before transitioning into a management role. After leaving the military, she pursued a career in human resources.

Veterans are entering the civilian workforce at the highest clip since World War II as the military continues its drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of Wisconsin estimates that almost 5,000 vets will return each month to the civilian workforce for the remainder of 2012.

Area technical colleges are gearing up to handle the increase and help them transition into the civilian workforce. FVTC’s Student Employment Services has a Job Search Investigation-Veterans program, while Moraine Park Technical College will have a new Student Veterans of America Chapter in addition to a counselor that works with veterans with course selection and job searches. FVTC, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and Lakeshore Technical College already have student vet groups in place.

“We need to be proactive – it’s estimated we’ll have more than 2 million vets come back in the next five years,” says Scott Lieburn, MPTC’s dean of students and a vet himself. “The majority of vets have no idea of what kind of career to pursue after service. Some go into law enforcement since it’s similar to what they had been doing. We do a lot of advising and help them find something that fits. We talk about the area with the best career prospects, such as welding and CNC machining.”

Manufacturers say welding and CNC machinist positions are the hardest to fill and many recognize that returning vets who receive the appropriate training make excellent employees, Schueller says. “Some employers love having military vets. They see these men and women have the right work ethic to be a great addition to their team.”

Oshkosh Corporation, with more than 300 active-duty National Guard and Reserve military members (as well as many veterans) on the payroll, is one of those manufacturers. Rod Wedemeier, vice president of human resources for the company’s Defense segment, says employees with military experience fit well with the company’s culture.

“If you look at our statement on our annual report – ‘Mission Driven: To Move the World at Work’ – I don’t think there’s any other population group that is more motivated. Soldiers and Marines know how to work together as a team and they know how to get the job done,” he says.

Those with a military background also learn quickly, Wedemeier says, so even if they may not have the right set of skills, they can quickly be trained.

In addition to actively recruiting those who have served in the military for employment opportunities, Oshkosh’s military-leave program is focused on helping employees and their families stay in touch with deployed loved ones. Employees receive a paid differential when called for active military duty or when time off is needed for Reservists’ yearly training.

Oshkosh’s dedication to hiring veterans landed it on G.I. Jobs’ 2012 Top Military-Friendly Employers for the second year in a row. In 2008, Oshkosh was awarded the Freedom Award from the U.S. Department of Defense, the highest recognition given by the government to employers for support of employees who serve in the National Guard and the Reserves.

“Going off to war is stressful and we do what we can to make their leave from here as stress-free as possible by helping to take care of things like health insurance for their family so that’s something they don’t need to worry about,” Wedemeier says.

Fitting in
Bryan Schaefer of Princeton served in the military for six years and started at MPTC after leaving the U.S. Army where he was a helicopter mechanic. “I knew I wanted to go back to school. While I had a lot of mechanical experience, employers like that degree,” says Schaefer, who graduated this past spring from MPTC’s auto tech program.

The combination of his military experience and degree led to a job offer before he even graduated – something unique for many of today’s grads. He landed a job at the Ford dealership in Princeton as a mechanic.

Schaefer didn’t have much trouble transitioning back into school or landing a job after graduation, but that’s not the case for many vets, Lieburn says. “It’s things that people who aren’t in the military might think is silly, but for those of us who were in the service it’s hard, for example, to figure out what to wear. When you’re in the military, you always have your uniform. When I got back from Desert Storm (in the early 1990s), I remember sitting there trying to figure out what to wear,” he says.

Lieburn says educators and employers also need to realize some vets come back to civilian life with some deep-set habits, such as sitting near the exit and becoming upset at fire alarms or other loud, unexpected noises. “We just tell the vets they have a support system here and encourage them to use it,” he says.

Another challenge, Schueller says, is that businesses aren’t run like the military. “Decisions are made very differently in the military than they are in the corporate world,” she says, adding that she has taught workshops to veterans transitioning out of the military about how workplaces traditionally work.

In 2011, MPTC and LTC were both named Military Friendly Schools and while Lieburn is busy getting the word out about the new student group for vets, Jayne Meyer, LTC’s certifying veterans official, works to make sure students know about their veterans group and promotes the group’s blog.

Schueller says one of the biggest challenges she runs into while working with vets and employers is that both sides have preconceived notions about the other.

“I really work with vets and help them turn their military service into an advantage and how to transfer the skills they learned into the workforce,” she says. “For example, I repaired helicopters but after being in the military for many years, you eventually get promoted and are soon managing other people. That helped me to realize I would enjoy a career in HR.”

Vets often have trouble explaining how what they did could help in a new position, and Schueller tries to help them see through that.

As for employers, some have perceptions about what veterans are and Schueller says companies need to see each employee as an individual. Those perceptions have led some vets to leave their military experience off their resume, something that Schueller says is crazy.

“That is great, relative experience that you should be proud of,” she says.

JSI-Veterans
Earlier this year, Fox Valley Technical College launched Job Search Investigation-Veterans to help all veterans find a job. JSI, which is facilitated by Ann Schueller, a 21-year military veteran, leads the free eight-week course on a variety of topics of interest to veterans looking for jobs. Some of the topics include:
• Preparing for a job search
• Defining a job search
• Working on cover letters and resumes
• Traditional job search and networking (including connecting with people who you served with)
• Researching military-friendly employers
• Interviewing and how to make the most of your military experience
• Mock interviews allowing participants to sell their military service to potential employers
For more on the program, go to www.fvtc.edu/jobsearchprograms.

Helping Veterans
The state of Wisconsin recently ramped up its efforts to connect veterans with jobs. Here’s a look at some of its initiatives:
• Expanding Wisconsin GI Bill benefits. The bill entitles vets to full tuition and fees for up to eight semesters or 128 credits at any University of Wisconsin System or Wisconsin Technical College System institution for continuing education, undergraduate or graduate study. It also has no post-service time limit for using the benefits, as opposed to the federal Montgomery GI Bill’s 10-year post-discharge limit.
• Adding resources accessible online and via telephone, from a web page devoted to employment resources to staff members available to hold live, online chats with job-seekers to partnering with a trucking company that is interested in hiring ex-military personnel.
• Working with some of the state’s technical colleges to provide training in high-demand fields that are likely to attract people who have served in the military.
• Increasing the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs’ presence at job fairs to raise awareness about its programs.

Getting Connected
While Moraine Park Technical College will launch its Student Veterans of America chapter this fall, Lakeshore Technical College and Fox Valley Technical College already have active organizations in place. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has its own veterans club. The group is designed to help students as they transition from military life to life on campus, says Jayne Meyer, LTC’s certifying veterans official. She says it provides a welcoming environment where students can ask questions, get information or gain skills. The group also has a blog at http://gotoltc.edu/veterans/index.php.