A new program backed by GE and several corporate partners plans to match returning military veterans with manufacturing jobs. And although the first Get Skills to Work (GSTW) training class graduated only 11 vets and was still trying to find jobs for many of them, program backers hope to place 100,000 veterans in jobs by 2015.
“We’re making a lot of headway,” said Jim Golem, president of the Cincinnati GSTW advisory board and director of HR at CTL Aerospace in Cincinnati, where the program is being piloted.
Program leaders are mindful that U.S. manufacturers have an estimated 600,000 job openings. They know it’s difficult to find people with the right skills and a willingness to relocate. They recognize that large numbers of U.S. military servicemen and women are returning and looking for jobs—and that their skill sets often do not translate easily to the U.S. job market.
So GE—in partnership with the Manufacturing Institute, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Alcoa Inc., Boeing and Lockheed Martin—is starting small yet thinking very big with GSTW.
On March 14, 2013, program leaders celebrated the graduation of the 11 veterans from an intense, monthlong training course at Cincinnati State. They said that a second course would begin soon and that they hope to expand the program nationwide. Similar training was expected to begin in 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas; Houston; Schenectady, N.Y.; Greenville, S.C.; Durham, N.C.; and Evansville, Ind.
The GSTW program facilitates:
Accelerated skills training. This uses the Manufacturing Institute’s Right Skills Now program, which fast-tracks industry-recognized certifications and offers training in core manufacturing technical skill areas. Partners reach out to local employers to determine their needs.
Translation of military experience into civilian opportunities. The Manufacturing Institute, working with Futures Inc., has created a digital badge system to help translate applicable Military Occupational Specialty codes to civilian manufacturing positions.
Employer empowerment. GE and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University developed a toolkit for employers to create career opportunities for veterans in the advanced manufacturing sector.
The GSTW program is not the first effort to address the mismatch between job seekers and employers in the U.S. The so-called skills gap has confounded the HR community, academics, executives and politicians for years. Returning veterans can be particularly difficult to slot into jobs because of the unique nature of military classifications.
All the more reason to focus on jobs for vets, said Golem, whose company, CTL Aerospace, “is in the interview process right now” with two graduates of the first class of the GSTW program.
Golem acknowledges that the program is never going to be able to take a job seeker, train him or her on a piece of equipment and hand that person over to a manufacturing plant where he or she will work with that equipment for five to 10 years. But it’s likely that no large-scale job-training program can do that.
Instead, GSTW prepares participants for the nature of 21st-century manufacturing, which requires using hand tools, reading blueprints and the like. But there’s more, including the mental approach to the job and finding out what each veteran can contribute.
“Half of the battle is matching skill sets,” said Golem. “The other half is attitude and leadership.”
‘My Best Opportunity’
When Adam Hemsath, 29, signed up for the GSTW training course at Cincinnati State, he knew there was no guarantee of a job after “a very intense four weeks. But I knew that this was my best opportunity.”
Hemsath, who lives in Dover, Ohio, was a security officer in the Air Force for four years, which included stressful duty in Iraq. He had hoped to become a police officer upon returning to civilian life in the U.S., but that did not work out.
What impressed him most about the lessons at Cincinnati State was not the hands-on training but the lectures from area corporate leaders.
“They taught us how to sell yourself,” said Hemsath.
He recently landed a job supervising five machine operators at a printing company in the Cincinnati area. “They’re giving America’s heroes a second chance. This program is fantastic,” he enthused.
Classmate James Giuffre, 26, had not yet landed a job, but he was optimistic that he would do so soon. Having served three years in the Army in Afghanistan and having done “a lot of different jobs” in his prior civilian life, the Cincinnati resident was confident that maintaining a positive attitude and demonstrating a willingness to work hard would pay off.
“I’m planning to go back to school part time,” he said. “I’m pretty open to an entry-level position.” Now that Giuffre has his certification from the GSTW program, “I’m not as nervous about my career. I’ve got a lot of people helping me.”