Enlisting Veterans to Boost Employee Forces

Originally published in Middle Market Growth
January/February 2015


Midsize firms are turning to military vets for talent


At a veterans-only hiring event in the Chicago suburbs last October, some 40 companies were on hand to size up prescreened military officers and enlisted personnel on their way back to civilian life. The job fair was put together by Orion International, a recruitment firm that specializes in helping companies identify and recruit former service members into their workforce.

“Patriotism is a very strong part of our culture here and we want to give back to our country by hiring (veterans),” says Nancy Mora, a corporate recruiter at Integrated Project Management, a Burr Ridge, Illinois-based project management consulting firm with 125 employees that was scouting talent at the job fair. She brought along one of the firm’s consultants, a former Air Force officer, to help in the hiring process.

IPM has hired about 20 junior officers from the military over the last six years and expected to bring on two more by the end of 2014, Mora says. The midsize company interviewed 11 candidates that day, calling back five for a second round.


 Middle-market companies—often lacking the extensive human resource machines of their larger rivals—are especially keen on hiring veterans. Their strong work ethic and ability to operate within structured systems make them good bets. Many have sharp leadership skills honed under stressful conditions; others have technical skills in short supply in the general labor pool. Most have worked in highly collaborative situations and are used to culturally diverse environments.


They include men like Joe Shupe, a 33-year-old junior officer who was counting on his military background to ensure a smooth transition.

“I have real-world leadership and management experience, and I worked in an environment where individual failure is not an option,” says Shupe, who spent 11 years in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army. “There’s no such thing as an excuse when we have to show results. All employers can relate to that.”

Shupe, most recently stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was willing to move anywhere in the country. His resume includes completion of the prestigious Navy Nuclear Power Program, service on the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and training as an engineering lab technician and communications officer.

He was interviewed by seven companies from the Orion job fair and called back by four at the time of publication.

Editor’s Note: Following the publication of this story, veteran Joe Shupe was offered a position with Nalco, an Ecolab company. He accepted.


Some 1.5 million military personnel will retire from the U.S. Armed Forces in the next five years as the United States winds down military initiatives in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.


Even without the huge drawdown, an estimated 200,000 military personnel exit the service each year. The tremendous rush of returning American troops presents terrific opportunities for U.S. companies, including many that complain there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill job vacancies.

“An officer might have an engineering degree, but it’s their skill set as project leaders that gets them the job,” says Mike Starich, president of Raleigh-based Orion. “A lot of these people have been battle-tested … you’ll find very young people that are a notch or two above civilians their age in maturity, decision-making, judgment and accomplishing a mission under stress.”

Depending on the health of the economy and other factors, Orion installs between 1,500 and 3,000 veterans in the civilian workplace annually. As of mid-fall, the firm was on track to place about 3,000 in 2014. Fifteen percent are women, mirroring the percentage of females currently serving in the military.

“We start working with people about one to 1.5 years before they’re actually discharged, so they’re in good shape to translate their military experience to the civilian workplace when they’re just about to leave the service,” says Starich, who served as a Marine from 1985 to 1992.


Middle-market companies interested in hiring veterans can turn to several resources. Besides Orion International, recruiting firms specializing in matching businesses with military personnel include Lucas Group  and Bradley-Morris. 


Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a robust program called Hiring Our Heroes  run by its foundation. And the International Franchise Association’s VetFran  program introduces vets to franchisers looking for potential operators or owners of franchised businesses.

Uncle Sam, for its part, is also trying to ensure that returning veterans have more civilian opportunities. Under new federal guidelines, American companies awarded at least $100,000 in business from the federal government are now obliged to benchmark their progress  in hiring veterans.


Orion’s staff—comprised entirely of military vets—helps candidates write and refine their resumes, conducts mock interviews and coaches them on what to wear and how to comport themselves during an interview. Each year the firm holds 55 to 60 hiring events across the country.


All of the officers and many of the enlisted personnel Orion places have college degrees, says Starich. Most officers have between five and 10 years of military service and are in their mid-to-late 20s or early 30s. Some are older.

At vet-oriented hiring events, employers can expect to find officers with skills that translate to three major job categories: engineering, operational leadership (supervisors in all sorts of industries) and sales (often for high-caliber products requiring technical proficiency), according to Starich. Enlisted personnel are primarily technicians, many with electrical or mechanical specialization.

To be sure, there are also challenges for veterans interviewing for positions in the mainstream workplace. Starich cautions that some struggle to abandon military terminology while others can come off as a bit stiff and take longer than non-military peers to adjust to a new environment.


In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the Hiring our Heroes program to address concerns of its member companies over the growing U.S. skills gap in areas such as transportation and logistics. It also aimed to reverse the escalating unemployment rate—as high as 30 percent—among young military veterans, recalls Eric Eversole, executive director of the program.


“The military does a tremendous job for them when they come in but not so good when they get out,” says Eversole, an active Navy reservist. “Through our vast network of local chambers, we saw that we could tap our resources to connect the two groups.”

The program is already producing great results for midsize companies. Local chambers, with assistance from federal and state government partners, have been sponsoring hiring fairs nationwide. Member companies have so far snapped up about 25,000 vets and their spouses from contact begun at these fairs, Eversole says.

 The program is expanding to military bases in Europe and elsewhere because more vets will be transitioning to civilian life directly from overseas locations in the years ahead. Last November, Eversole traveled to Ramstein Air Base in Germany with representatives from more than 20 companies with U.S. operations keen on recruiting military personnel. He organized panel discussions and workshops to coach vets on resume writing, interviewing and Internet job-hunting strategies.


The U.S. Chamber launched a more recent campaign called Hiring 500,000 Heroes, which asks American business owners and corporations to pledge employment to qualifying vets and military spouses in the near future. More than 2,000 businesses of all sizes have committed to hiring 474,000 military veterans and spouses as part of the campaign. Eversole says that to date more than 300,000 hires have been made and thousands more are currently in the pipeline.


PGT Trucking Inc., a Monaca, Pennsylvania-based flatbed carrier, has for years hired veterans to haul steel, building materials and other industrial supplies across the country, says Rachel Stewart, a recruiting manager with the company. The midsize firm has nearly 1,000 drivers, including more than 150 with military backgrounds.


The company recently pledged to hire more vets through the Hiring 500,000 Heroes program. It has already made good on that commitment, bringing 15 new drivers on board in the fall. And PGT expects to hire more soon.

“Right now, the trucking industry is facing a driving shortage and (it is expected) to get worse,” Stewart says. “The majority of the younger generation seems to be heading toward college training and office careers. However, we need technically skilled individuals to become professional drivers.”

The company’s president, Gregg Troian, is a military veteran, but Stewart says that isn’t the main reason PGT has a policy of recruiting vets. “The commitment, dedication and passion they show to our country are the same qualities you want in someone who works for your company,” she says. //



The International Franchise Association, a trade group, created an innovative program within its nonprofit Educational Foundation in 1991 that specifically targets veterans to consider buying or operating a franchise. In general, veterans are particularly well-suited to run franchises because of their training and experience working within structured systems, says Kevin Blanchard, project coordinator for research and strategic initiatives with the IFA.

“In the military there’s a standard operating procedure for everything you do,” explains Blanchard, who served in the Marine Corps and was discharged in 2006. He adds, “There’s a playbook for franchises—they have a system that’s been proven and tested because some entrepreneur already figured out the best way to do it. You buy into a system and you’re expected to follow their operating procedures. Military vets seem to make a smooth transition to this type of business.”

Participation in the IFA’s initiative, called VetFran, has skyrocketed in recent years, in part because the IFA boosted the resources it is spending on running the program, Blanchard notes. Between 2011 and 2013, VetFran assisted nearly 151,000 vets in either starting a franchise, getting hired by one or securing a job at the corporate level of a franchise operation. Among that group, close to 5,200 vets actually launched their own franchise, Blanchard says.



As associate vice president for innovation and policy at the nonprofit Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Amy Sherman travels the country, working closely with employers on strategies for hiring veterans and keeping them happy on the job.

“Hiring and retaining veterans can provide companies with mission-oriented employees who have developed strong skills in leadership, problem-solving and teamwork—all qualities that contribute to a company’s success,” she says.

She offers some tips on veteran recruitment:

Conduct targeted outreach

• Set up a dedicated page for veterans on your company website.

• Establish incentives for employees to find veteran job candidates.

• Train personnel on how to translate military skills to civilian jobs.

Create a veterans-supportive environment

• Establish a veterans employee resource group that also engages military spouses and families.

• Recognize your employees’ veteran and military family status on appropriate days of reflection and holidays.

• Train supervisors about potential challenges such as reintegration and post-traumatic stress.

Identify and link with community resources

They may include:

• Workforce system representatives (known as Local Veterans Employment Representative and Disabled Veterans Outreach Programs)

• Local Veterans Affairs office

• Community service providers

• Local colleges and student organizations

• Military bases or installations

Track your progress

• Document your recruitment efforts.

• Ask on job applications if applicants have ever served in the military.

• Track hiring and advancement of veteran employees.

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