Sometimes it may seem like veteran and civilian workers are speaking two different languages. That’s to be expected when a person has served years of their life within an organization that is truly like its own world. But that doesn’t mean that companies should be daunted by the possibility of integrating veterans into their workplace. There are a number of different strategies business owners can use to both support and better understand their veteran workers. Hartland-based Batteries Plus introduced a new way to support veteran workers this past spring with the creation of a business resource group. Cory Geisler, national [caption id="attachment_559226" align="alignright" width="300"] Cory Geisler[/caption] commercial sales effectiveness coach for Batteries Plus and an Army veteran, said the company’s veteran-specific BRG gives employees a space to raise any work issues they might have while keeping them engaged. It also provides other employees the chance to better understand the mindset of a veteran. Non-veteran workers, or “allies,” can attend BRG meetings to better understand the challenges veterans might face in a civilian work environment. “The average civilian doesn’t quite understand the military mindset,” said Geisler. “It’s really helped veterans within the workplace. And even veterans, it’s helped us understand civilians in the workplace and what they think.” The first step to getting a veteran BRG started within any company is to first identify who’s served in the military. This is a trickier task than it may seem. Geisler said there are a lot of veterans who won’t let employers know about their military service for fear of not being considered for a job. “Unfortunately, there’s a little bit of stigma that goes with someone who has served in the military,” said Geisler. “(Employers) may be worried they’re somehow broken.” Once an employer has managed to identify its veteran workers, the next step is to figure out who might be up to the task of taking on a leadership role, which is often going to be someone who’s had a longer tenure with a company. Veterans approaching other veterans will have more of an impact than an employee getting another email from management. It’s also important for businesses to become active in veterans’ events, whether that be through outside fundraising activities or meetings through other veterans’ organizations. This lets current veteran employees know what a company’s priorities are and can help attract other veteran workers. “If you’re going to have a veterans’ business resource group, make sure you start getting involved,” said Geisler. Batteries Plus has also introduced lunch-and-learn events to allow both segments of the workforce to better understand one another. The company is currently considering implementing a veteran-specific mentoring program, so as a veteran enters a new work environment, they have someone who understands their unique challenges. Continuous professional development [caption id="attachment_559228" align="alignleft" width="162"] Bill Berrien[/caption] Bill Berrien, chief executive officer of New Berlin-based Pindel Global Precision, believes continuous opportunities for advancement and professional development are key in keeping veteran workers challenged and engaged. Berrien is a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer who sees similarities between the military and manufacturing environments. About 10% of Pindel’s employees are veterans. “I’ve found that advanced manufacturing has a lot of parallels to special operations. At the heart of it, both are about small, highly cohesive, highly trained teams enabled by advanced technology and trying to punch above their weight,” said Berrien. When he looks to bring on a new hire, he makes sure a potential candidate will blend well with current Pindel employees and the environment that’s already been established. When a veteran candidate pops up, Berrien said he knows that person likely has the right “DNA” and attitude for his company. He has found the veterans he has hired have learned skills just as quickly – if not faster – than other new employees. “The fact that they’ve done well and enjoyed a military environment is really a positive indicator,” said Berrien. When onboarding a new veteran hire, and after that process is complete, it’s a priority at Pindel to provide employees with career-long development opportunities. The company has implemented a professional development program that includes six levels for machinists and four levels for quality technicians and industrial maintenance workers. Within each level, workers complete online classes and earn credentials through the National Institute of Metal Working Skills. “For veterans, and employees in general, we try to pull them into our professional development program and give them structure,” said Berrien. “It’s something they can join onto and grow with.” Pindel is applying to become a “skill bridge” employer through the Department of Defense. The program allows transitioning military members to spend the last few months of their service gaining experience at a civilian employer of their choice. This eases their move to the private sector. “Honestly, having an open-minded attitude about what the individual can contribute and not trying to craft the role they’re going to be in (is important),” said Berrien. “Try not to be in this confining niche and offer some exposure to different areas.” Brookfield-based Advantage+ has also found that focusing on professional development is key in supporting veterans. Mike Elton, president and CEO of Advantage+, didn’t go out seeking veterans looking for work; they came to him organically. The 22-person company has helped train five veterans in the past five years. [caption id="attachment_559229" align="alignright" width="169"] Mike Elton[/caption] “We didn’t necessarily go through a veterans’ organization. It just sort of happened. We recognized that they were veterans, and we went out of our way to help them and accommodate them,” said Elton. “We were just trying to do the right thing.” Advantage+ has hired veterans through Harrigan Development Services, a Grafton-based firm that works with at-risk individuals or those with a disability to help them move forward in certain aspects of their life, including gaining employment. One of the most recent veterans to pass through the Advantage+ office was Bradley Curtis, a Marine who served for over 20 years. Elton said he wanted to make sure he gave Curtis all the tools he needed to succeed, regardless of where he ended up working. Curtis eventually had to retire due to health issues. “We brought on Bradley, who had been battling health problems for years. We welcomed him in and helped him get the computer skills he needed to get up to speed on some of the things we wanted him to do,” said Elton. “He just always treasured the work and appreciated the opportunity.” The last two veterans Advantage+ brought on had never been exposed to an office setting before. Elton said he brought on people with good work ethic who he knew could handle the needed training with ease. “It’s just about understanding that they have sometimes special training needs depending on where they came out of the military,” said Elton. “I feel like veterans have the work ethic and the grit to make a really good, loyal worker.”
Holiday flash sale! Subscribe to BizTimes and save nearly 40%!