Service = skills

Manufacturers tap into talent pool by translating military experience into employer needs

Posted on May 15, 2017 :: Cover Story
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

When Ann Schueller‭ ‬transitioned from her military career after 21 years of service, she had served all over the world, managed 60 people and overseen millions of dollars of equipment.

“You feel that’s the level you’d like to find work,” says Schueller, now corporate director of human resources for Neenah Enterprises Inc. “But in my case, having been in the military since the age of 17, I had virtually no business experience at all.”

It’s a challenge many military veterans find themselves in upon leaving a career in the armed forces: figuring out how to fit their skills into a new civilian career. Likewise, even as manufacturers struggle to find the talented workers they need, they often don’t realize that the skills military veterans have can help fill that gap.

“For civilian employers that don’t have any military experience, it’s really tough to understand how veterans would fit,” Schueller says. “The problem becomes that neither side knows how to make that skills assessment.”

Schueller, a military veteran and a hiring manager at a civilian company, is in a perfect position to help translate. She developed a document, the Rank Assumption Chart for Employers, which helps drive questions during the interview process.

It allows hiring managers to look up an applying veteran’s highest rank, learn about their duties and understand the assumptions that can be made about that veteran’s soft and hard skills. It also offers comparable civilian positions that would fit well with that veteran’s experience.

“If you have a military person at the rank of E-7 that applied for a project manager position, then you can say, ‘Okay, this person probably had some project management experience, and you can start driving those questions,” Schueller says.

Chad Luebke left the Marine Corps after serving 12 years, which included three tours in Afghanistan as the pilot of a CH-53 Sea Stallion assault support helicopter. Luebke later became a recruiter out of the Marine Corps Milwaukee office, hoping to settle near his native Oshkosh.

“I got to learn about the lay of the land and where the opportunities were, and I met other former Marines, and it kind of helped point me in the right direction,” he says.

When Luebke was ready to transition back to civilian life, he updated his LinkedIn profile and was contacted by Orion International, a military recruiting agency from Ohio. Orion put him in touch with Schueller, who was looking for someone with strong leadership skills.

“Ann is retired Army, so she totally understands what a military vet brought to the table,” Luebke says. “At previous places I applied, it was maybe not as appreciated.”

Luebke applied at two other companies before coming to Neenah Enterprises as a planning and scheduling manager in 2016.

“I may not have been applying for the right positions. I think there may not have been the understanding of what I could bring to the table,” Luebke says. “I was fortunate that my skill sets aligned very well with the position offered here at Neenah, and I feel grateful for the opportunity.”

Now Luebke has turned his skills managing flight personnel and overseeing quality assurance in the military to his work at Neenah Enterprises, scheduling products and acting as the advocate for the crew members who make those products.

“I think companies that shy away from military are really missing out,” Luebke says. “A military person is going to stick with a job 24/7 until it gets done. It’s that sort of work ethic and dedication that I’m sure a lot of employers would like to have.”

The state Department of Workforce Development’s Office of Veterans Services also works with employers to help translate military service into “business speak,” so a veteran might say he or she was a supervisor in the military forces rather than use military language to explain rank, says Derek Jablonicky, a veterans employer representative who also served in the Marine Corps.

“We have a lot of different acronyms and code,” Jablonicky says. “I was a tank manager, and we called it an 1812. The ‘18’ means you work in armor, and the ‘12’ shows what you actually do. In the Army, it’s a 19-kilo.”

Some hiring managers also may get hung up on rank, perhaps assuming a lower-ranking veteran would be best for general labor, “but that’s not necessarily true,” Jablonicky says. “They could have a very low rank, but could’ve been working on nuclear power plants. It really depends on what they did in the service.”

Additionally, lower-ranking veterans often have strong leadership experience. Enlisted personnel often are supervising others within about two years. “It can be frustrating for a veteran to get out and find that employers just want to hire them for lower wages and put them back down at the beginning, so to speak,” Jablonicky says.

Some employers may assume that military personnel don’t have the necessary educational level required, but “in fact, today’s military is the most educated workforce we have,” he says. “Every officer has a minimum four-year degree. … If you have a full career, you usually retire with a master’s degree under your belt. Employers don’t pick up on that.”

Likewise, military veterans coming out of service may expect certain levels of employment to be available to them because they held a higher rank, when in fact they might need a bit of supplemental experience to achieve those civilian positions.

The DWD helps when possible: For example, it worked with Manitowoc Cranes to create an internship program for military veterans to gain needed job experience for skilled positions as well as to see which careers fit best with their skills.

On the flip side, military veterans can be deterred from applying for open positions because of the kinds of skills that are required on the posting. “If you’re a tank commander in the military, you might have a business degree, but you’re not going to apply to something that says they need three or four years at a company,” Schueller says. “They’re going to say, ‘I’m not qualified for that,’ so they don’t apply.”

Manufacturing hiring managers can help close that gap by rewording those job advertisements to show more inclusivity. Instead of seeking a certain number years of experience, the job posting might instead ask for experience managing people or equipment.

In a time when manufacturers are in desperate need of both skilled labor and those with strong soft skills, military veterans are a perfect option, Jablonicky says.

“They show up for work every day. They have a stronger work ethic than the general population that they learn from day one,” Jablonicky says. “One of the mantras we had when I was in the Marine Corps was if you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re already 15 minutes late. It’s driven into you to be absolutely loyal to that employer.”

The Rank Assumption Chart for Employers

Ann Schueller’s Rank Assumption Chart for Employers outlines the duties performed by various military service ranks and helps hiring managers find the best fit for veteran job seekers. An example from Schueller’s document:

Service rank: E-3

Duties: E-3 is awarded normally after two or three years in service. E-3 has typically mastered mid-level skills in a specialty, can be trusted to carry out basic delegated duties, no responsibility for others (rarely) but responsible for self, personal equipment and maybe some unit equipment.

Assumptions: Accountability for equipment and troubleshooting/problem solving skills are present. You may delegate some low-level responsibilities with success. As a rule, veteran will ask for additional information in order to get very clear expectations. Veteran will strive to move into a team leader or first line supervisor. Will hold team members to a high standard.

Comparable Civilian Positions: General labor, machine operator, entry-level skilled position, begin to train for supervisory/team leader responsibilities.Schueller at [email protected]‭.‬