While separating veterans have long been, and continue to be, an excellent source of talent for the manufacturing industry, often overlooked is the army reserve population.
“Many employers haven’t thought about this population, but they are a great source of talented people who possess skills beneficial to the civilian sectors,” explains Alecia Grady, who is the Private Public Partnership Manager at the U.S. Army Reserves. In this role, she provides employment and education opportunities to the military and their families.
Also looking to find talent for employers was Rob Patton, who is the executive vice president of the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC). Joining the organization, a couple of years ago after retiring as an army colonel with 25 years of active-duty experience, he developed a communication system between his office and area employers. Part of his focus is to increase the advanced manufacturing footprint of the area.
“As luck would have it, Alecia was added to my monthly email distribution that lets potential employees know of area jobs and is sent to Ft. Bragg as well. We connected and felt that together we could tackle this issue. A surprising number of Army reserve soldiers, 10%, are unemployed and that’s based on 190,000 people who are currently in the Army Reserves across the country. For those who have volunteered to serve our nation to be unemployed or underemployed is unacceptable,” says Patton.
Grady welcomed the assistance. “My office partners with businesses and academia to provide opportunities for soldiers and family members; not just those transitioning from the army reserve, but also those who are currently serving,” says Grady. She notes that she has over 150 partners across the country in her portfolio right now. “Working with Rob makes this effort easier as I don’t have to partner individually with all of the area businesses. Rob already has strong relationships with these companies.” She notes this is especially true when it comes to smaller companies whom she might not have the resources to seek out but can come under the umbrella of the FCEDC.
Their partnership became official in June of 2022. Manufacturing companies in Fayetteville-Cumberland County, including Mann-Hummel, Eaton and Hexion are eligible to become involved in this partnership. Manufacturers, both large and small, in this area produce a wide range of products, such as tires and rubber, textiles, electrical control products, oil and air automotive filters, plastics, and proteins. In Cumberland County, they provide 6,500 jobs and represent $445 million in wages each year.
The process of matching companies to potential employees is not complicated. Companies send their vacancies directly to FCEDC which will engage its network to find candidates. The network includes many long-term relationships with area companies and an email that goes from FCEDC directly to army reserve soldiers. While the email provides application links, personnel within Grady’s office will assist with skills necessary to secure positions. And her office measures the impact of these efforts.
Military Training is a Good Match for Manufacturers
This type of assistance is especially important for smaller businesses. “While larger companies generally have established military recruiting teams and understand how training can translate into a civilian job, many smaller companies do not,” says Grady. “But that’s where we can be useful. If we understand what they need, for example in the aviation industry, we have experts at all levels of jobs in that industry and can put a call out to those with experience who want to continue in that field in the private sector.”
Employing current or transitioning army reserve soldiers is a bonus to manufacturing companies as their training is a good fit with the culture at most manufacturing companies. “People leaving or currently in the service are more mature, have a high sense of morality and can pass drug tests,” says Patton.
Another factor that is unique to the army reserve soldiers is that this population is usually based in one location and then travels for the weekend for their training. This stability is often appreciated by local manufacturing companies. And that’s true of the family of the military personnel as well, who are included in Grady’s database.
Blueprint for Nation
This partnership, which does not involve a cost for the companies, has proven to be successful. Since January of this year, when it became fully operational even though it wasn’t announced nationally until June, 740 soldiers have been hired.
Patton feels this program could be rolled out across other cities that have large military installations. “This effort can help both the civilian and military communities. Like everyone else, the military is having trouble finding people, and help with employment opportunities can be seen as the service’s dedication to providing for both the service personnel and their families --it’s a holistic approach. And of course, the community can hire its heroes.”