Why Hiring Veterans Could Solve the Skills Gap

By John Buckley, manager of military relations at Koch Industries

I served more than 30 years in the Army, with tours of duty from Bosnia to Iraq. But perhaps my biggest test of all came when I returned home: transitioning to the private sector.

Millions of veteran service members face the same challenge every day, with another million troops returning to the private sector over the next five years. It is also a tremendous opportunity—both for those who honorably served and for a grateful nation. As the manager of military relations for Koch Industries—one of the largest manufacturers in the United States—I see firsthand the value of recruiting and retaining employees who have served.

Almost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade, but the vast skills gap means that roughly 2 million of these positions will stay vacant, according to a study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. These open roles mean decreased productivity, lower earnings and a reduced GDP, as well as less innovation and flourishing in society.

Companies and entire industries are losing embedded institutional knowledge as an entire generation retires. As technical education offerings decline in public schools, we may have new workers who may lack the skills necessary to do these jobs.

But there’s hope. It is no coincidence that employers of military veterans, including Koch, have found that the traits that define the men and women who served our nation—character, dedication, perseverance and courage—match those of our most successful employees.

At Koch, we educate both business leaders—on understanding military culture and its applications in our daily business—and employed veterans—on how to recruit more quality talent. We recognize that only about 7 percent of all living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives. As such, we take great care to bridge the gap between employees with different experiences and skill sets. We hold a monthly Skype session with veterans, and our military careers website features helpful tips on searching for jobs, writing a resume and preparing for interviews. Our website devotes a section to veteran recruiting, including a guide to managing the transition to civilian life. The results are undeniable: For the past two years, we have increased our protected veteran hires by an average of 30 percent each year, and Koch has received six awards from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense program, for providing a supportive workplace for employees who served.

Adaptable, accountable and focused on compliance, veterans have years of skills, knowledge and leadership under their belt—important assets for any line of work, but especially manufacturing. When we hire veterans at Koch, we know that we are getting individuals with a proven track record of making their team—and their country—even better.

John Buckley is manager of military relations at Koch Industries. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel who commanded soldiers in combat and peacekeeping operations and contributed to the strategic and operational planning of multiple operations. 

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