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Large Employers Step Up Efforts To Hire Veterans

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 4:23 PM

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Four of the nation’s large manufacturers this week launched a new initiative to train and hire military veterans. The program will get its start at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College which is near a major General Electric Aviation facility. As ideastream’s Michelle Kanu reports, the action is part of a larger trend.

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Daniel Feathers came to the Cleveland Hiring Our Heroes fair hoping to find a career using his supervisory experience. Harold Overton says he enjoys applying his experience as an army medic in his new role as a cardiac monitoring tech at the Cleveland Clinic.

Across Ohio and around the country, many large scale employers are stepping up their outreach to veterans.  Manufacturers, telecommunications and big banks among them.  And their combined efforts have been paying off for younger veterans, those who have served since September of 2001.  Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate for them dropped to 9.7 percent last month.  That’s still higher than for non-vets, but two points lower than a year earlier

One employer leading the way is General Electric.  This week, the company announced its partnering with a group of manufacturers to ramp up a training program at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College to plug veterans into the manufacturing field.

Dennis Ulrich leads the school’s Workforce Development Center that will host the program.

Ulrich: “There’s just such high demand right now for positions in manufacturing that it makes perfect sense to build on the skill sets that the vets already have and for them to enter these pathways.”

Ross Cohen works with the US Chamber of Commerce organizing jobs fairs for veterans--300 of them over the last 18 months--including some in Ohio. Cohen says when large employers hire vets it can have a ripple effect.

Cohen: “When they make it clear that hiring veterans is important to them, then not only are they hiring veterans they can also help to connect us to their supply chains and also reach out to their supply chains directly where they want to, to encourage them to also step up and help to hire these incredibly talented men and women.”

At a job fair at Cleveland State, LaToya Smith has been standing by her table, waiting for veterans to approach.  As a recruiter with Fifth Third Bank, she has--as she puts it--an ambitious goal to recruit ten veterans to start a training program. 

Smith: “There is a big effort and a big focus on hiring veterans. We take it seriously.”

Smith says vets tend to bring a strong work ethic to the corporate workplace.

Smith: “They have integrity, they’re loyal, they’re disciplined, and those are skillsets that you’re looking for when you’re looking to bring somebody on.”

But getting employers to understand how a veteran’s military experience and skills can apply in the civilian workforce is not always easy.

Just ask 26-year-old Daniel Feathers.  A veteran of the Iraq war, his eyes glisten with frustration as he describes the last year of sending out resumes online.

Feathers: “I’ve been zero percent out of one hundred so far and that’s very bad for me.”

Feathers twiddles with his satin tie as he waits for a chance to talk to potential employers.

Feathers: “I think the most challenging part is transitioning the experience I got in the military to the civilian world.  A lot of individuals don’t realize the stuff that we’ve done-supervisory, management, and other stuff too.”

For many veterans, learning how to talk to employers about the assets they can bring to the office can make all the difference.

Take Harold Overton for example. He’s a veteran who found a job as a cardiac monitoring technician at the Cleveland Clinic.  But he says it helped that he got some interviewing and other “soft skills” training first. 

Overton: “A lot of times they spoke to us on the point that veterans don’t really like talking about themselves or their past experience, so they kind of brought us out of our shells to be able to speak to employers to acknowledge our past experience, and what we can offer an employer.”

The Cleveland Clinic is making efforts to bridge that communication gap. Gail Agahi, the Clinic’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, is involved in that. 

Agahi: “You have to educate managers, so that they understand how to interview veterans and they don’t misinterpret the signal they might get in an interview from veterans because of their experiences in the military.”

This week’s announcement of new financial support from GE, Alcoa, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin to pay for transitioning more veterans into the civilian workforce represents some serious momentum.  It also comes as a surge of new veterans--no longer needed in Afghanistan--start looking for jobs.

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Economy, Regional Economy/Business - Analysis and Trends, Community/Human Interest, Education, Government/Politics

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