Industry Market Trends

How Manufacturers Are Helping Returning Troops

Nov 13, 2012

As U.S. military veterans return home from duty, many face difficulty finding work. In honor of Veterans Day this month, we take a look at the efforts manufacturers are making to put veterans in skilled jobs.

It's no secret that there is a skilled labor shortage within the manufacturing industry. Reports indicate that there are as many as 600,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled in the U.S, and many manufacturers cite a gap between the skills they require to fill positions and the skills of available workers.

One factor that should help drive manufacturing employment is salaries. The average manufacturing job pays $77,000 in salary per year, compared to $56,000 for all other industries, according to Greg Jones, the vice president of smartforce development at the Association for Manufacturing (AMT), who spoke about manufacturing employment challenges this year at IMTS. Yet amid industry misconceptions and a dearth of education and training programs, many of these high-paying jobs go unfilled.

Veterans, who face a transition period when re-entering civilian life, must deal with an extra challenge: marketing their unique skill sets for applicable positions.

Veterans returning to the workforce are seeing better economic conditions than just a few years ago, though. Veteran unemployment recently hit its lowest rate in four years. This past July, President Obama pledged to make improvements to the Transition Assistance Program. "Starting this year, they'll get more personalized assistance as they plan their careers," the president announced at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev. "And just as they've maintained their military readiness, we'll have new standards of career readiness."

Even with the positive employment outlook, veterans indicate that finding available jobs is the biggest challenge in transitioning to civilian life, according to a recent report from Prudential. Other research underscores the challenges for female veterans, who are facing a worsening employment situation. Media Matters for America noted that 15 percent of homecoming troops are women, and one in five women who served in Afghanistan or Iraq is "without adequate employment."

Coalitions focused on reducing veteran underemployment and unemployment are gaining traction among companies looking for talent. One group, "Get Skills to Work," aims to help 100,000 vets get back to work, in advanced manufacturing jobs, by 2015. As the IMT Machining Journal recently reported, the coalition is supported by companies such as General Electric, Alcoa Inc., Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and is managed by the Manufacturing Institute.

According to the White House, key goals for veteran employment include accelerating skills training and translating veterans' military experience into manufacturing skills via an online badge system. Additionally, the administration has partnered with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families to "create an employer toolkit for expanded hiring, developing and mentoring of veterans."

Another tool that can help connect vets with manufacturers is the U.S. Manufacturing Pipeline, an online resource where applicants can receive manufacturing credentials, find hiring events, search listings of manufacturing openings and learn more about top career paths available within the sector.

The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, which was created as part of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, offers 12 months of training assistance to veterans who meet certain requirements.

In September, IMT spoke with CNC Jobs LLC and founder Robert Lawson, who explained that filling jobs frequently depends on manufacturers themselves, who can benefit from on-site training programs that allow workers to learn as they operate machines on the shop floor.

In an interview with IMT, Tonie Roby, a human resource consultant for Randstad USA, said that identifying transferable skills often depends on a recruiter's or hiring manager's knowledge base. "I network with hiring managers and recruiters on Hero 2 Hired to assist me with getting a better understanding of military versus civilian resume language," she explained.

"HR recruiters [and other] professionals are sometimes missing out on great talent because they are not always able to interpret military experience and how it translates into a vacancy for their organization."

What do you think is the best solution to help vets secure manufacturing jobs?