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MILITARY GRADE: Employers find value in veterans’ military experience, work ethic

BY MiBiz Marketing Staff Monday, September 19, 2016 05:05pm

After 23 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, Jason Schenkel faced an uncertain future when he retired from the military a little more than a year ago.

“I was in for so long, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I didn’t know what was out there,” said Schenkel, who previously was the commander for the Army recruiting station in Holland. “I had a good recruiting background and a good (human resources) background.”

It was then that he learned of an opportunity at Holland, the trucking firm, in the company’s human resources department. Based on his military experience, he was hired as a talent acquisition and fair employment manager.

“It was just a good fit with my experience and knowledge. The only thing I had to do was learn the transportation industry,” Schenkel said.

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Now in his civilian role, he is working to help connect military veterans to job opportunities, and not just at Holland. He sees what he does as part of a larger role to help vets once they leave the service.

“I spend a lot of my time developing relationships within communities where our terminal locations are, and by networking and developing relationships, it develops referrals,” he said. “As referrals come to me, I can recruit and make a determination if Holland is a good fit for them, (and) if we have something available that matches their skill set.”

Schenkel works closely with a number of organizations, including the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA), Michigan Works! and Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapid, to find veterans who are looking for employment and let them know of available opportunities.

Since January 2015, Holland has hired nearly 150 veterans, including 11 in the greater Grand Rapids area, and Schenkel said the company continues to actively seek out veterans to fill available openings.

It’s that type of commitment, not just to hire veterans but also to retain vets who already work for the company, that earned Holland recognition as a certified “veteran friendly” employer from the MVAA. About 65 companies statewide have been received this certification, ranging from General Motors to Herman Miller to Spectrum Health, according to the agency’s website.

David Dunckel, the MVAA’s acting strategy director, says while hiring of military veterans has been on the rise over the last five years across Michigan, his agency has placed a greater focus on those job seekers who are making the transition from military to civilian life.

“A lot more employers are actively engaging these job seekers during the transition period, prior to them getting out or just as soon as they get out,” Dunckel said. “With a 4.6 percent unemployment rate, finding unemployed veterans is a lot more difficult than it used to be.”

The MVAA has set a goal of hiring 3,000 transitioning veterans for the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, a significant increase from the current fiscal year. Dunckel reports nearly 2,500 veterans have found employment through the MVAA and participating companies during the current fiscal year.

“We have Spectrum Health, that’s a veteran-friendly employer. We have Uniform Color Company in Holland,” Dunckel said. “But there’s a lot more employers that represent southeast Michigan, in the automotive corridor, that have expressed interest in recruiting veterans than we have had on the west side.”

The MVAA is getting assistance in its recruiting efforts from the Private Sector Veteran Employment Council, an organization consisting of representatives from Michigan companies that meets quarterly to develop ideas for attracting veterans to job opportunities in the state.

The MVAA, the Private Sector Veteran Employment Council and other related organizations host workshops around the state for companies who are interested in becoming veteran-friendly employers. Nearly 20 companies attended a recent workshop in downtown Detroit and another workshop is planned for October, Dunckel said.

And for those who can’t make a workshop, Dunckel says, there are opportunities to have a presentation brought to the company.

“We’ll go out to any company. We’ll instruct their hiring managers, their HR professionals, their senior leadership, on all the values of hiring a veteran, military cultural competency, how to start your own veteran recruiting program,” he said. “It’s high-level consulting that doesn’t cost the companies anything. We sit with them and look at their specific resources and efforts and help them develop a program that works best for them.”

Veterans who are seeking to transition from the military to the civilian workforce offer a vast array of skills, including leadership and ability to work in teams, that can transfer to a variety of professions. Those transferable skills led Brad Laackman from working in search and rescue for the Navy to a career in the construction industry.

Laackman’s interest in health and safety led to him being hired as an industrial hygienist by a Grand Rapids construction firm after leaving the Navy.

“It’s the science side of making sure nobody is breathing asbestos or other hazardous materials when demolition or construction is going on,” Laackman said. “It led me to be the health and safety guy outside. It was a small firm that realized my potential.”

Today, Laackman is president and CEO of Honor Construction, a commercial and industrial construction firm in Grand Rapids. Laackman now wants to provide the same type of opportunities for transitioning veterans as he received when he left the military.

“(Veterans) have worked for 16 hours a day in high-stress situations and they’ve been given responsibilities at 18, 19, 20 years old that some people don’t get in their entire lives,” Laackman said. “Having that experience is invaluable, no matter what business you go into.”

At Charlesbrook Protection Service in Grand Rapids, CEO Ryan Woodford often finds military veterans for new positions through referrals from current employees who are veterans. In addition, he’s set up a partnership with Disability Advocates of Kent County to help veterans who may face challenges in transitioning back to the civilian workforce.

“When we’re looking to hire, they will send us a veteran who may have PTSD or something like that,” Woodford said. “It’s a way to transition them back into the workforce, that when they got home from the service that they were struggling to find a place (to get hired).”

In one instance, Woodford says he hired a veteran who had been passed over for other jobs because he had a service dog to help him with his PTSD. That veteran has performed exceptionally well and has since taken on a commander role with the company.  “It worked out beneficially for us,” he said. “We’re trying to give them a platform to succeed.”

Another effort at attracting transitioning veterans that just got off the ground is Why Michigan, a talent attraction effort that is a partnership of the MVAA, Michigan Works!, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., universities and private sector employers, where representatives travel to military bases to speak to military members about to leave the service.

“We sell the entire Pure Michigan experience to transitioning service members.” Dunckel said. “We talk to them about recreation, cost of living, continuing education, housing costs, all these amazing things Michigan has to offer. And all these employers are there with us. ... It’s an amazing collaborative effort between these state agencies and these private sector employers.”

Holland’s Schenkel says the values and skills he learned in the military helped him make the transition to a leadership capacity in the civilian workplace, and those same attributes make veterans attractive candidates for hiring.

“The ability to work under pressure, work through stress, living values like loyalty and duty and honor, selfless service, respect for others, (and) you work with a team that is culturally and socially diverse,” Schenkel said. “I came from a small town in Michigan, a dairy farm community, and some of my best friends are from metro (areas) like Chicago, L.A. and Dallas. (You have) every ethnic background, cultural differences, religious differences — you have the ability to adapt.”

Some of the efforts Schenkel is making at Holland has included public recognition of veterans, including a ceremony last year at which all employees at the company’s main office who are veterans received a military-style challenge coin. There’s also an ongoing effort to create a social network among vets who work at the company, connecting newer veterans to veterans who have part of the company for a few years.

“We’re just trying to reach out and say, we’re here, we’re all here. You’ve got questions, you’ve got problems, you’ve got concerns, you need help within the company, let’s show you the right way and resources to get stuff accomplished,” Schenkel said.

This MiBiz Special Report was reported and written by the company’s marketing staff. None of the sources quoted paid to be included in this report.

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