Making the decision to employ veterans may seem like a shot in the dark, but it could actually be the best hiring decision you will ever make as a manufacturing leader. Military veterans not only have the tangible leadership skills you need to grow and succeed in your business, but they also bring a rich set of attributes and experiences to the table.
Making the transition from military life to a new, civilian career can be intimidating, however! Helping veterans thrive in their post-military chapters is what brought Andrea Biwer (Executive Director of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce) and Marne Deithorn (Director of Human Resources at the Des Plaines Rivers Casino) together to form the Veteran Boot Camp.
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Andrea knew there was a shortage in the manufacturing workforce, but she didn’t see it as an opportunity for veterans until she watched her son and his friends come back from their service in the marines and have trouble finding work. Joining with Marne (a veteran herself!) at the Rivers Casino, the two women helped lead the charge in founding the Veterans Back to Work Boot Camp. The ten-week program is built to help and empower veterans who have given so much to our country and to fill job opportunities within various industries - including manufacturing!
Over 250 veterans have applied to the boot camp since it began. 20 were chosen out of 85 applications for this past year’s program. While there are no set criteria for being accepted, Andrea and Marne explain that they painstakingly go through each application, looking for those they believe will most benefit from the experience and be committed to the learning opportunity. Those that aren’t accepted are still given access to the job fair put on by the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce.
Mentors come alongside the veterans, sharing their own mistakes and experiences. Topics such as Who are You?, Persona, and Introversion vs. Extroversion are covered, as well as interviewing skills and resume building. Marne explains that in the military, everyone is told exactly what to do - all the time. Veterans are used to a life where they are told what to wear, where to move, and what they should do in their job. Suddenly living in a world without constant direction can be daunting. The Boot Camp endeavors to help veterans find themselves again after identifying themselves as “the military” for so long.
Andrea and Marne share that the veterans who leave the program are filled with newfound confidence and strength in their personal capabilities. The practical experiences they gain from the program, such as participation in networking events and community service projects, help give them a sense of purpose outside of the military. One of the greatest strengths of veterans is their desire for purpose - to give to something bigger than themselves. Veterans have so much to offer, and their military training and experiences have proven them to be men and women of integrity, loyalty, character, and principle. They know how to lead under pressure and how to build up those around them to greater achievements. They know how to make decisions. When you employ veterans, you aren’t just utilizing their skill-set, you are investing in the future.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceived misgivings surrounding employing veterans. Firstly, veterans aren’t just line employees. Because of their military experience, they are ready for leadership positions at the get-go. While they may need to learn the details of a specific job, they already have the tangible leadership skills needed to succeed (know yourself, know your troops, and know your mission).
Secondly, not every veteran has PTSD. Andrea and Marne warn against placing veterans inside a box of mental disorders. “That negative stigma is absolutely ridiculous,” they say. Everyone has something they struggle with, and not only military members have PTSD. If you find that one of your employed veterans has some type of disorder, help them find the encouragement and aid they need.
Thirdly, not all homeless veterans have a debilitating habit that brought them to that condition. Again, everyone has struggles. Veterans are human too, and they deserve a chance. To learn more about the ways you can help give back to military veterans while also growing your business, listen to the episode!