By Elsie Puig for TCAJOB
After service on active duty with the Coast Guard during the Gulf War, the hardest part about readjusting to civilian life for Scott Mellinger was finding a job.
He knew how to operate expensive machinery, drive a boat and a truck, but translating those military skills in a way that hiring managers found valuable was hard to do.
“Things like that don’t transfer over,” said Mellinger of the job skills he gained while in service.
Mellinger is now working at CI Shred, the personal and business shredding division operated by Columbia Industries.
Local employers are starting to recognize the value in hiring veterans, said Marie Lathim, Columbia Industries’ director of human resources.
CI, which for the past fifty years has been training and employing people with disabilities, has hired seven veterans in the past several months through Shop CI, CI Shred, CI Solutions and CI Staffing.
“We wanted to make sure they find gainful employment,” said Lathim.
The company regularly honors its veterans, some of them war heroes, with all-staff recognition ceremonies.
“I’m seeing a trend shift,” said Lathim. “A lot more (human resource) professionals want to hire vets.”
She said the private sector is starting to recognize the values and skills that veterans can bring to the table and are putting a greater premium on those who served.
“Veterans bring a sense of character, integrity and leadership,” said Lathim. “They know how to deal with conflict resolution and are able to work in a team environment, they also bring a diverse set of skills.”
An impressive list of awards can also highlight a veteran’s achievements during service, which Lathim said can say a lot to hiring managers and recruiters about an individual’s work ethic, specially a commitment to staying the course.
Lathim serves on the board of the Columbia Basin Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The Society has mobilized a movement among the public and private sector to get veterans prepared to enter the local civilian workforce.
Hiring veterans has always been a pressing issue for SHRM, said Lathim.
“But recently, with a lot of them coming back there has been an influx of soldiers coming back home and looking for work,” she added.
With the current economic situation, however, veterans are having a harder time finding jobs, competing against more qualified civilians, or claiming salaries they once held before joining the military, said Lathim
“Some of them used to make $60,000 to $90,000 a year and now are coming back in a recession and making twelve to fifteen dollars an hour,” said Lathim.
Lara Ostler, an Army veteran stationed in Iraq and Freddy Martinez, a Marine Corps vet who engaged in combat, are both working at Shop CI, the retail arm of CI.
It took Martinez six months to find a job after coming back. For Ostler it was almost eight months.
“One way to describe it is (like) parents kicking out the 18-year-old,” said Ostler. Ostler felt taken care of inside the Army, but felt virtually out in the cold when she was discharged and needed to find a job and pay the bills.
Jason Donnelly, a supervisor at CI Shred, was in the Army for 11 years, training soldiers for deployment in Kuwait.
He said there are certain negative misconceptions about veterans that hurt their chances of finding employment, such as the susceptibility to PTSD.
Veterans have the skills and experience that makes them employable in a civilian workforce but struggle to easily translate their military experience in a way that hiring managers can assess, said Kelly Snell, veteran’s employment representative at Columbia Basin WorkSource in Kennewick.
“A lot of it comes down to veterans not understanding the HR process,” said Snell. The majority do not know how to interview or put together a resume.
Snell said veterans focus on the mission they completed while in service and forget the skills they used to complete the mission.
“A lot of them say to me ‘Well, I drove a truck for eight years,” said Snell.
He helps veterans identify the skills they did on the job while in service, such as personnel evaluation, recruiting, dispatch, inventory, computer proficiency and personnel supervision, which they can list on their resumes.
“Every company I’ve worked with wants o hire veterans,” said Snell. “I have a waiting list of employees who want to come in and give presentations.”
Columbia Basin WorkSource holds monthly workshops, mock interviews, reverse mock interviews, federal application classes, employer presentations, hidden jobs classes and classes on how to network using social media.
Department of Energy contractors like Mission Support Alliance, Washington River Protection Solutions, CH2M Hill and even smaller subcontractors are all actively working with SHRM and WorkSource to train and recruit veterans.
Geoffrey Tyree, public affairs officer for the Richland Operations Office of the Department of Energy said that the two DOE offices hired 39 employees in fiscal year 2011, 22 of which were veterans.
Tyree said that WRPS gave $10,000 to the Columbia Basin Veterans Coalition, Inc. in December 2011 to support its service to veterans in transition. The funds were designated for use by residents of the Wagenaar-Pfister House for Transitional Veterans in Kennewick to cover training and educational expenses at CBC, WSU Tri-Cities or other vocational training program.