USO Wisconsin honors veteran-friendly workplaces

Veterans in the workplace

Veteran-Friendly Workplace award finalists were honored at the USO Wisconsin Heroes of Wisconsin gala.

Robert “Bert” Garvin served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard and was the senior trial counsel for the 40th Corps Support Group in Operation Iraqi Freedom IV.

He’s now the executive vice president of external affairs at Milwaukee-based utility company WEC Energy Group Inc., where he works to create a welcoming environment for veterans seeking to transition to civilian employment.

Veteran-Friendly Workplace award finalists were honored at the USO Wisconsin Heroes of Wisconsin gala.

“Under our senior leadership, we’re really committed and created a culture for creating opportunities for our country’s military veterans,” Garvin said. “We’ve really as an organization tried to retain and attract leaders that happen to have military service in their background.”

As of 2017, 6 percent of WEC’s 8,000 employees self-identified as military veterans. Particularly in power generation and distribution, Garvin said veterans are a great fit at WEC because they are proven leaders, highly trained, battle tested, self-motivated and safety conscious.

About a year ago, WEC formed a veteran employee resource group, which has about 100 members. The company is also active in sponsoring and volunteering on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flights, which take veterans to see their memorials.

“I think we’ve had at least a dozen people help people board the plane and we also participate with the thank you notes they receive,” Garvin said.

For its efforts to attract, retain and support veterans in the state, WEC Energy Group was recently named the top Veteran-Friendly Workplace at the USO Wisconsin Heroes of Wisconsin gala in Milwaukee. The finalists also included Madison-based American Family Insurance, Milwaukee-based Direct Supply, La Crosse-based LHI and Chicago-based TDS.

The third annual gala, which was held Oct. 20, provides an opportunity to honor veterans and service members, and is a fundraiser for USO Wisconsin, which works to connect and support military families throughout the state.

The veterans honored were: Capt. Jeffrey Koehler, Army National Guard, Burlington; Staff Sgt. Daniel Looney, Marine Corps, Milwaukee; Hospital Corpsman, First Class Teneacia Smith, Navy, Milwaukee; Master Sgt. Robert Kline, Air Force, Mount Pleasant; Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Molnar, Coast Guard, Racine; Navy Builder 3 Jason Derosier, Navy, Family of the Fallen, South Milwaukee.

Christopher “Tank” Murdoch, a U.S. Navy veteran and the first Foxconn Technology Group employee hired in Milwaukee, was the event’s keynote speaker.  Foxconn is in the midst of an initiative to hire 3,000 military veterans.

“We’re trying to honor those companies that do a great job of hiring Guard, Reserve and then also veterans,” said Josh Sova, executive director of USO Wisconsin. “They’ve been trained in a lot of the soft skills that employers are looking for. They’ve learned how to be given a project and execute it on their own. They’re taught how to do things on time and to do things the right way. The most important thing is that they’re dependable.”

Sova said he’s noted an uptick in the number of Milwaukee-area companies with veteran employee resource groups over the past few years. In addition to WEC, MillerCoors LLC, Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc., Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Harley-Davidson Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. have also added the groups recently.

“I’d say about three or four years ago is when this really started to take off,” he said. “These groups are great because we know that they want to support veterans, and we give them an outlet for employee teambuilding.”

Having somebody to talk to about the frustrations of working in the civilian world can help retention, Sova said. Not everyone does their job or does it on time, for example.

Other exemplary veteran-friendly companies make up the difference between National Guard pay and the employee’s salary, he said.

“We thought that a lot of local companies wanted to hire and retain veteran employees, but didn’t know how,” Sova said. “This award helps share ideas of what other companies are doing and will hopefully inspire other companies to hire veterans.”

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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