Hiring military veterans in the aggregate industry

By |  August 9, 2017

A number of aggregate producers have encountered the shortfall of skilled labor impacting the industry in recent years.

Who will fill key positions within aggregate operations in the coming years, and where will the industry turn for talent? The questions are becoming very real for some industry employers.

David Coe

According to David Coe, senior vice president of strategic programs at Orion International, military veterans are one group to which industry employers can turn. Coe, who joined Orion in Cincinnati as an account executive in 2004 while continuing his service in the Marine Corps Reserve, launched his firm’s strategic account management program in 2007. Since that time, Coe has helped grow and expand the firm’s strategic programs service line, better connecting private-sector organizations with the pool of talent available in former military service members.

Coe studied business and marketing at Ohio University prior to serving as a Marine Corps officer. He was deployed with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade to Iraq for combat operations in 2003, and he experienced firsthand the challenges former military personnel endure upon returning to the private sector.

Coe discussed military veterans as solutions to fill skilled labor positions during an educational session at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017 in Las Vegas. Pit & Quarry later connected with Coe to learn more about the match between our nation’s veterans and aggregate operations.

Pit & Quarry: How was your ConExpo-Con/Agg experience this year?

Coe: ConExpo-Con/Agg is obviously such a huge, epic opportunity for so many key organizations around the industry to share new information and best practices. I felt lucky to be there, as did Orion as an organization. I don’t think another venue exists anywhere else in the construction industry where you can have conversations and literally meet with people from every corner of the industry. You can learn about trends and emerging markets in such a short amount of time. Anytime you get an opportunity to be a part of something like that, it’s fantastic.

From our vantage point of being an organization that is 100 percent dedicated to helping military veterans and active-duty service members and their families make the successful transition from serving our country in uniform back into the private sector, the show is a great opportunity because we have a chance to at least share information about those people as a chunk of the workforce.

Hopefully our involvement opened up some opportunities for organizations there, as well as for veterans.

Pit & Quarry: How does your firm connect U.S. businesses with former military service members?

Coe: We do that in several different ways. Orion as an organization has been around since 1991. But what we’re doing today is quite different on a day-to-day level than 20-plus years ago.

Ultimately, we are trying to find as many ways as we can to help do two basic things. First, we want to help businesses, employers and as many different organizations across the economy understand what’s available to them through military talent. We want them to know how to go get these employees.

Secondly, we want to help veterans and their families who are looking for a new career opportunity. We want them to be aware of as many opportunities as we can share. That’s been our mission from day one.

Pit & Quarry: What are some of the challenges military service members encounter when it comes time to finding good, quality jobs in the private sector?

Military leadership skills translate well to the aggregate industry because individuals have a nice foundation of legitimate, proven leadership to fall back on, says David Coe. Photo courtesy of Orion International

Coe: It can be very tough. I can use myself as an example. It’s been a while for me. I’m an “old-timer” now. I was an active-duty Marine Corps officer in 1998. I left in 2004 after serving in Iraq. When I was getting out in the 2003-04 era, it was still very challenging at that time.

Today is not really any different for veterans and their families, but not because of factors that people generally think about. Most times, people think it’s a tough transition because the veteran isn’t that familiar with how to write a résumé; that they don’t have a lot of interview experience; or maybe they’re new to social media and they’re not a social networker.

Those are all real and legitimate challenges. But the biggest challenges are related to the transition from the military itself. You’re coming from a world where you’re part of a very fraternal team and family – a community-centric organization – where you’ve been privileged and fortunate to be serving something that’s bigger than yourself and doing it as part of a very diverse team of people in every single walk of life you can imagine.

You’ve been living together on a military installation, deploying together, serving together. That’s an extremely tight, grassroots network. But when you get out, all of a sudden you’re leaving that and coming back into the world. You will inevitably have a “holy cow” moment when you realize it’s over and you’re gone [from the military].

It’s a big lifestyle change. It’s a good one, of course. Life as a civilian is wonderful, but it’s a culture shock and it does take a while to make that transition.

It’s not that employers overlook this, but it’s hard to put a real tangible measurement on this effect.

Pit & Quarry: What should employers do in preparation of hiring military service members?

Coe: If you’re an employer, become knowledgeable about transitioning and hiring employees. We offer training so employers can better understand veterans.

We always recommend when we’re speaking with or meeting an organization for the first time to create a military or a veteran talent strategy. It’s a best practice to become educated on what today’s military service members are all about; what types of skills, education and training they bring to the table; and what you can learn from other organizations to retain and promote those folks.

Pit & Quarry: How large is the pool of prospective employees with military backgrounds?

Coe: Frankly, if you look at each year since 9/11, you’ve had north of 200,000 people leaving active-duty service each year to go into the private sector. They’re not all going to work. Some are going to school and others are staying home. But many go to work. [Veterans] are actually the second-largest renewable, skilled source of talent behind college graduates.

Pit & Quarry: What effects does a former military service member’s entry into the job pool have on families, and what should employers be aware of from this standpoint?

Coe: If you have children and you’re a service member, your children are most likely going to school with other active-duty service members. Your spouse is working with other military spouses. It’s not just [the service member] getting out of the military. It’s the individual and their family who are starting that transition and starting anew. So a lot of employers will create veterans resource groups that can provide support.

Pit & Quarry: What do military service members bring to the private sector in terms of leadership?

Coe: Leadership skills translate well because they will have a nice foundation of legitimate, proven leadership to fall back on. We try to spend a lot of time on the fact that a military background is a great foundation but it doesn’t mean when you walk in on day one of your new job that you know how to lead 50 people at a company.

So we spend a lot of time helping veterans understand the balance. They know how to lead people and how to accomplish things.

Pit & Quarry: From a safety standpoint, what do military service members offer the aggregate industry?”

Coe: Safety translates really well due to the innate nature of what most of the active-duty military is doing. Whether we’re talking about weapons, live ammunition, large pieces of rolling stock equipment or just looking at the mission of the U.S. military in general, there is a lot of opportunity for Class A mishaps and safety issues.

All of the branches of the U.S. military and, frankly, most of the jobs within them put stress on job safety. From junior enlisted service members to senior officers, a safety-first mentality has been a way of life in doing a day-to-day mission. If a company has that same need, then you’re going to see a very quick and automatic understanding of safety from them.

Pit & Quarry: Are there any other takeaways you’d like to share about employing former military service members?

Coe: If you’re an employer and looking at military talent today based on the technical background and the intangible skills vets bring to the table, that’s definitely something you can find within the military community. But our general recommendation is to always look at the business case for hiring veterans as a primary driver.

It doesn’t benefit anybody – the employer or the vet – for there to be this belief that “we need to go help military veterans; that they’re not really prepared to do work.” Find the area within your business where there’s a need for technical skills, and then identify where that type of talent exists in the military. By doing that, you’re going to bring people in who are well matched for the job, which, in turn, will equate to good hires and great bottom-line impacts for managers.

That’s our general advice all of the time. Don’t ever feel you need to do something. Veterans aren’t looking for handouts; they’re looking for the right sorts of opportunities.

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