A solution for America’s skills gap

February 5, 2018

America is on the verge of a jobs crisis, and it might not be the kind you’d expect: too many jobs, not enough skilled workers to fill them.

In the next 10 years, it’s projected that the last of one of our greatest generations – the baby boomers – will exit the U.S. workforce, creating 3.5 million vacant manufacturing roles in the process. However, due to a growing skills gap, 2 million of these roles could potentially go unfilled.

It’s a challenge with far-reaching implications, because it means 2 million fewer people innovating and advancing industry, producing the goods society relies on and contributing to our gross domestic product. 

But there’s a talent pool in our U.S. military brimming with hardworking, knowledgeable and adaptable individuals capable of answering the call for skilled workers, and Koch Industries is working hard to match these veterans’ skills to its open positions.

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In fact, 83 percent of military fields naturally align with positions across all Koch companies, with many in the skilled trades. The transition from active duty to civilian life is not without its own unique challenges, though, as nearly 80 percent of all veterans leave their first post-military jobs within 18 months. 

For many companies, evaluating the skills and experience of veterans can be difficult. And for many veterans, selling their abilities and knowledge to prospective employers can be just as hard. So, Koch Industries launched an initiative called Koch VETS with the focus of guiding veterans through their transition process from military service to finding success in the civilian world.

Comprised of Koch-employed military veteran volunteers, the Koch VETS program focuses on veteran hiring and retention efforts across the company. These volunteers coach and mentor other veterans, serve as ambassadors for the company at public events (like job fairs) and help educate Koch recruiting and HR teams on military culture, customs and traditions. 

Since starting Koch VETS, the company has seen more veteran applicants make it further into the job application process, with 23 percent more moving to the telephonic screening phase and 24 percent more making it to the actual interview. It’s indicative of the impact mentoring and resume and job application assistance has had on vets, and the improved awareness hiring managers are beginning to have of veterans’ unique skillsets. 

And these efforts have not gone unnoticed. For the third year in a row, Koch Industries has been recognized by Military Friendly – an organization that evaluates private-sector companies’ veteran recruitment and retention efforts – for a continued commitment to “creating sustainable and meaningful benefit for the military community.” 

While Koch received Military Friendly designation in previous years, the company was recognized this year with the 2018 Military Friendly Award, joining ranks with AT&T, Capitol One, Cisco Systems, Starbucks and Walmart. 

“The Military Friendly designation is important because it sends a signal to veterans that this company is a good place for veterans to find work and to excel at work,” said Col. John Buckley, U.S. Army (ret.) and military relations manager with Koch. “If you look at the statistics and survey results, one of the major reasons that veterans seek employment at specific companies is because they see that other veterans are there.”

Veteran representation is something that continues to grow at Koch. In 2016, Koch saw a double-digit increase in year-over-year new veteran hires (39 percent). By October 2017, new veteran hires had already surpassed 2016’s numbers, with room to grow. For Buckley and company, it’s a trend in the right direction.

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“Our Guiding Principles are by far the biggest attractor to veterans, because these values are nearly identical to most, if not all, of the services,” said Buckley. “That is probably a comparative advantage for us in this arena, and it’s something that veterans feel very comfortable with after they’ve been hired here.”

One of the veterans attracted by Koch’s Guiding Principles was Scott Duda, a 17-year veteran of the Navy and current maintenance and outage planner for Georgia-Pacific who first joined up with Koch as a turnaround coordinator for Flint Hills Resources in May 2014. 

“Koch’s reputation for acknowledging military experience led me to pursue a job here,” said Duda. “But I was also attracted by the 10 Guiding Principles and Market-Based Management business philosophy. Those are qualities you don’t often find outside of the military, and Koch is one of the few companies that I’ve encountered in my career who passionately recruit veterans and accept their past experiences and accomplishments.”

For Chris Wagnon, a former U.S. Army Ranger and officer who served two tours of combat duty in the Middle East, the opportunity to try something new was what ultimately led him to Koch. Today, as a strategic sourcing and procurement manager for construction services at Georgia-Pacific in Atlanta, he utilizes many of the intangibles that veterans possess to get the job done.

“I chose to work with Koch because of the challenge,” said Wagnon. “And I’ve been placed into some very challenging roles based on personal virtue and talents, which is empowering. My current role continues to offer me many opportunities, so I’m very fulfilled, and I strongly connect to this concept of creating value for our customers and society. It’s a sense of fulfillment akin to what I felt when serving in the military.”

But there are additional benefits to hiring veterans, particularly for businesses in diverse industries like Koch, such as their agility, creativity and adaptability that enables them to make critical decisions under pressure. Because, if they can be victorious on the battlefield, they can handle anything the job throws at them.

“We absolutely want to enter Military Friendly’s Top 10 next year, but I think a realistic goal would be to receive a Military Friendly Gold Award,” said Buckley. “I attribute our success (so far) to our focus on personal and professional fulfillment, as well as promoting from within. That’s really attractive to veterans, and if they understand that, they’re going to stay with us for a long time.”

To learn more about Koch Industries' VETS program visit: http://www.kochind.com/veterans/

Suggested reading: RecruitMilitary Recognizes Koch Industries