This article first appeared in IMPO's June 2013 issue.
Programs target the manufacturing skills gap by improving training and access for military veterans.
According to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, there are nearly one million unemployed veterans today. In fact, data the organization released in November of last year showed that 211,000 of those are Iraq and Afghanistan-era vets.
The veteran unemployment problem is a nuanced one. According to DoSomething.org, the country’s largest not-for-profit for young people and social change, the unemployment rate for veterans is three percent higher than that of the general population — with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) cited as the leading cause. Couple this with the difficulty many veterans face when re-acclimating into society and add a less-than-stellar economy – and now you’ve got a problem with as many thorns as the flag has stars. Yet, veterans often have the unique skills in leadership, work ethic, and hands-on technical repair that make them prime candidates for skilled trades, and federal agencies, trade associations, and manufacturers are starting to identify this group as a target area for filling a widening gap in the labor force.
The VOW Act
The federal government’s answer to the veteran unemployment problem comes in the form of The Veterans Opportunity Work Act of 2011 (The “VOW to Hire Heroes Act”). According to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, The VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides seamless transition for service members, expands education and training opportunities for veterans, and provides tax credits for employers who hire Veterans with service-connected disabilities. Included in this law is the veterans Retraining Assistance Program, which offers up to 12 months of training assistance to unemployed veterans. As of May, 2013, the number of approved applicants utilizing this program exceeded 100,000, with nearly 47,000 currently enrolled in training.
Get Skills to Work
While The VOW Act has had a discernible effect on the ability for vets to improve their skill sets, some companies have given the solution a more manufacturing-specific focus. According to a March, 2013 report in Forbes, the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with talent has been the skilled trades. Citing a recent survey by the workforce solutions provider Manpower Group, Forbes says that this issue will only become more acute in the coming years as the demographic in this sector ages. For example, 53 percent of those working in skilled trades are over the age of 45, compared to the 44 percent who fall in that bracket in the general labor force.
These numbers have an even greater impact when looking at those regional areas that represent the high end of the sample: For example, in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, more than 60 percent of the skilled trade workers are 45 or older, says Forbes.
In October of 2012, GE joined forces with business, digital, academic, and not-for-profit partners to launch a new coalition that aims to train military veterans for jobs in advanced manufacturing, bolster the talent pipeline, and enhance American competitiveness. The Get Skills to Work (GSTW) coalition is managed by The Manufacturing Institute (the think tank/solutions center arm of the National Association of Manufacturers), and focuses on accelerating skills training for U.S. veterans; helping veterans and employers translate military skills to advanced manufacturing jobs; and empowering employers with tools to recruit, onboard, and mentor veterans. The program is bolstered by commitments from GE, Alcoa, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, who will offer both financial and in-kind contributions. Its goal is to train and match 100,000 veterans by 2015.
In March of 2013, the first class of U.S. veterans completed accelerated skills training in core manufacturing skillsets via GSTW at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, an educational partner. According to GE, eleven veterans participated in the completion ceremony at Cincinnati State’s Workforce Development Center. In order to ensure the skills matched the needs of local employers, coalition partners worked with local businesses to develop the curriculum. To help fill open positions in the Cincinnati area, local manufacturing firms like GE, CTL Aerospace, Richards Industries, Meyer Tool, Acuren, and Rhinestahl will review candidates from this new pool of potential employees. “The Get Skills to Work pilot program in Cincinnati illustrates that, with the proper training and tools, it’s possible to help veterans transition to and succeed in civilian life,” says Kris Urbauer, Program Manager of Veteran’s Initiatives. “Following the success of this model, we have begun to convene employers and academic institutions in Houston, Ft. Worth, and upstate New York, and look forward to more successful pilots this year.”
Additionally, GSTW has partnered with The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University which, in February, launched a comprehensive employer toolkit to support veteran employment. The toolkit provides information and resources regarding veteran hiring, onboarding and orientation, acclimation, retention, promotion and advancement, and leveraging veteran experience for business advantage, says IVMF.
Other methods of education and outreach include efforts by GSTW partner the Atlantic Council (a non-partisan organization that promotes constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs) to lead efforts to educate and engage potential corporate partners. The GSTW coalition is still seeking out additional partners to meet its ambitious goal of reaching 100,000 veterans by 2015. Companies or veterans interested in learning more can visit www.GetSkillstoWork.org.
Siemens PLM Joining Forces Initiative
The GE-spearheaded Get Skills to Work program is not the only example of a progressive manufacturer taking a leadership position on this issue. In an effort to spot target manufacturing IT skills, Siemens has announced a new job training initiative for U.S. military veterans with an engineering and manufacturing background as part of a nationwide effort to assist veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce. Launched by Siemens PLM (product lifecycle management) software business unit, the program provides free training in the use of CAD and digital lifecycle management tools, as well as CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) and CAE (computer-aided engineering). General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the U.S. and International Security Assistances Forces Afghanistan, is Chairman of the Board for Siemens Government Technologies, Inc. According to McChrystal, military experiences and accomplishments don’t always translate cleanly on a civilian resume. “In reality, these young men and women possess the skills, traits, and leadership training necessary to not only succeed, but also excel in private industry,” he said in a recent press release issued by Siemens. “Siemens is offering a way for veterans to demonstrate their abilities to employers around the globe, as well as participate in additional training that will help make them that much more attractive to potential employers.”
According to Siemens, they will invest up to $17,000 per eligible veteran for access to training at Siemens PLM Software facilities at one of 22 training facilities throughout the U.S. Siemens has partnered with “Still Serving Veterans,” an organization that helps vets reintegrate into the workforce, to serve as a single point of contact for enrollment. Any U.S. veteran meeting program requirements is eligible to apply at www.siemens.com/plm/trainingforusvets.
From The Factory Floor
West Pharmaceutical Services, a healthcare company based in Exton, PA, is a global manufacturer of components and systems for injectable drug delivery. The company isn’t solely focused on leading edge medical supplies, as they have other priorities as well: they just launched an initiative to hire 100 veterans this year. Currently, about 125 veterans work at West locations nationwide, according to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. “We’ve always worked to hire veterans at our facilities across the country,” explains Marcia O’Connor, talent acquisition leader at West. “But this year, we’ve decided to formalize a military transition program.”
O’Connor adds that West is recruiting veterans for U.S.-based positions in quality, maintenance, production, and other areas in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina. “One of the new program’s most important components is a mentorship system, where current West employees/veterans help new West employees/veterans make a smooth transition into civilian life,” she says.
Other companies who take the hiring of veterans seriously can be found on Vet Central, a website dedicated to highlighting companies “who take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment covered veterans in accordance with Affirmative Action Programs, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), as amended, and the Jobs for Veterans Act.” For Vet Central’s list of employers who actively hire veterans, visit http://vetcentral.us.jobs/veteransmembers.asp.
Veteran Recruitment Regulations on the Way for Federal Contractors in Manufacturing
By Suzzanne W. Decker, Principal, Miles & Stockbridge P.C.
In anticipation of the large number of veterans returning to the workforce, the Obama administration has pursued expanded employment opportunities for veterans. In 2011, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued proposed Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations for contractors and subcontractors regarding protected veterans. In January 2 013, the OFCCP announced that it would issue final regulations this April. While that deadline has passed, federal contractors can expect final regulations sometime this year. It is anticipated that federal contractors, including those in manufacturing, will need to take the following initial steps to comply with the regulations once they are issued: (1) expand the invitation for veterans to self-identify at the pre-hire stage; (2) establish hiring benchmarks; (3) maintain linkage agreements with referral sources; and (4) maintain recruiting data for five years. The OFCCP estimates that all of these actions will have an annual cost to contractors of no more than $880 per establishment.
One complicated task when implementing the regulations will be establishing hiring benchmarks for veterans. Federal contractors will calculate the benchmark by dividing the number of protected veterans it seeks to hire by the total number of hires anticipated for the following year. It must consider: (1) the percentage of veterans in the local civilian workforce; (2) the number of veterans who participate in the state’s employment service; (3) the referral, applicant, and hiring ratios; (4) the contractor’s recent assessments of outreach; and (5) any other factors that would likely affect the number of veterans in the applicant pool. One problem with such a benchmark is the lack of data regarding the number of qualified veterans in the workforce. The other main component of the expected regulations requires “linkage agreements.” Essentially these agreements for referral of veterans will be between the federal contractor and local vocational or veterans groups that provide training or recruiting.
The OFCCP will be looking for good faith efforts, beginning with effective recruitment efforts for veterans. Implementing greater outreach efforts now will assist federal contractors with adhering to the regulations once they are in place. Contractors must assess whether the individual sources are effective, and the failure to focus recruiting efforts on those sources from which the employer will truly hire may lead to a finding that the contractor is simply going through the motions and is not engaged in good faith efforts.
Suzzanne Decker is a principal in the Labor & Employment Practice of Miles & Stockbridge P.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-385-3417. Opinions and conclusions in this sidebar are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this sidebar is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation.