It seems like an obvious matchup of skills. On one side are companies that are struggling to find people qualified to fill open distribution and logistics jobs. On the other side are the more than 200,000 men and women who leave the U.S. Armed Services every year and are looking for new jobs in the civilian world.
Recognizing a potentially win-win situation, Legacy Supply Chain Services, Warehousing Education and Resource Council (WERC), and DC Velocity launched a program—called "Vets to WERC"— this week at WERC's 2016 Annual Conference. The initiative is aimed at making businesses aware that many veterans possess the skills needed to hold jobs in logistics and distribution.
Veterans represent a "vast untapped resource" for supply chain and logistics organizations, said Lt. Col. Brian Gilman, director of national organizations and interagency collaboration for the Chairman's Office of Reintegration, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There are few industries that provide as good an industry fit as the supply chain for servicemen and women leaving the military, said Gilman during yesterday's general session at the WERC conference.
"Regardless of rank or position, everyone in the military has had some interaction and understanding of supply chain and logistics," he said.
According to Gilman, the skills identified as necessary for success in supply chain and logistics are often not "a laundry list of technical capabilities," but are soft skills similar to those developed during a military career. These include team building, strategic planning, effective communication, initiative taking, and the ability to manage risk and solve problems, he said.
"The companies that have been most successful hire veterans for the attributes and characteristics that they bring to the organization and then train them in the role-specific skills that they may lack," he said.FIRST STEPS
Companies interested in hiring veterans can start by learning more about the various programs that the military offers, according to Vets to WERC organizers. One of the most comprehensive and established is the Army's "Soldier for Life Program," which fosters collaboration among the many support groups helping soldiers transition to civilian life. The Army has taken the lead in post-service employment efforts because 60 to 70 percent of exiting military personnel are from that branch of the military, according to Master Sgt Adam Martinez, who works for the organization's Northeast Region.
Martinez outlined the Soldier for Life Program during a breakout session at the conference. He said it can help companies connect to veteran employment events and programs, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Hire Our Heroes Job Fairs," which take place at military installations, and the Army Career Skills Program, which sets soldiers up with internships in industry during the last six months of their service.
A successful veteran employment program requires more than simply participating in job fairs, however. Martinez said the C-suite must commit to the resources needed to make a program like this successful. Post-hiring initiatives that connect new veteran employees with those already in the company, such as peer-to-peer or affinity groups, can help with retention and a successful transition back into civilian life.
The extra effort is worth it, according to Cheryl Snead, president and CEO of third-party logistics provider Banneker Industries. Snead's company has set a goal of having veterans account for 30 percent of the firm's new hires. The program has been "phenomenally successful," according to Snead, who says veterans have proven particularly adept at leading cross-functional teams at the company's facilities.
Veteran employment programs, however, do not just make sense from a business standpoint, according to Gilman; they also are the right thing to do from a citizen and national-defense standpoint. By hiring veterans, companies help sustain an all-volunteer force by proving to potential recruits that their service and skills will be valued and rewarded once they leave the military, he said.