Employers Unite to Address Veterans Filling the Skills Gap

Employers Unite to Address Veterans Filling the Skills Gap

Sara Plummer

OSU Institute of Technology in partnership with Tulsa’s Community Service Council (CSC) hosted an issues-based conference for area employers and hiring managers on transitioning military veterans from the war zone to the workforce.

The Veterans Skills Gap Conference, funded by the Veterans Initiative of the CSC, was held Friday at the Mid-America Industrial Park in Pryor.

About 30 employers from northeast Oklahoma attended the conference to hear from veterans, employers and representatives from several veterans’ organizations.

A lunch presentation featured AEP’s Northeastern Power Stations Plant Manager Mark Barton on AEP’s innovative “Troops to Energy Jobs” program. Nearly twenty percent of Northeastern Power Stations’ workforce is military veterans.

“I’m thankful to work for a company that supports those who have already given their time to serving their country,” Barton said. “For those of us who aren’t veterans, it’s important we engage those who are.”

Of Northeast Power Stations employees hired in the past seven years, more than a third are veterans.

“I’ve never hired someone because they are a veteran. We’ve always hired the best person for the job,” he said. “Veterans bring excellent technical skills to the job, as well as a level of maturity and self-discipline. They also have excellent leadership and teamwork skills.”

The conference also included a veterans resource fair; a panel discussion on military occupational specialties with representatives from each military branch; and a question and answer session with employers and veterans on the best ways to transition into a civilian workforce.

“A lot gets lost in translation when we come out of the military service,” said Matthew Engelbach, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and now works with homeless veterans for the Community Service Council. “While veterans have a ton of real-world experience, they have no experience in looking for a job. When they joined they military right out of high school, most were recruited.”

Lori Nichols, the human resources manager at American Castings, said veterans can make great employees because of the skill sets they can bring to the company.

“Hiring a veteran allows us to know they have the discipline, accountability and work ethic we’re looking for in our employees,” Nichols said.

Many of the veterans on the panel said it’s important that employers don’t rely simply on a resume when considering hiring a veteran.

“Even if it doesn’t seem like the perfect fit, give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them the chance to talk with you one-on-one,” said Engelbach. “Both of my successful jobs post-military came about because they brought me in, sat down with me and had a conversation about what I could do, what I was willing to learn and what I was willing to do.”

Brig. General Ged Wright, retired commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard and former State Senator, said it’s important that employers and veterans find ways to get together.

“The discipline and self-worth we learn in the military, those are the most important things to employers,” Wright said.

The issues of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries and how employers can accommodate those disabilities was also addressed.

Cambrae Garba enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps a month after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. When he returned and went back to school, he appreciated the fact that faculty gave him more time to take exams and allowed him time to talk with counselors and therapists.

“Someone may look normal, but you don’t know what’s going on inside,” Garba said. “Some wounds are invisible.”