In the masonry industry, there's one item that is at the top of most contractors' lists of challenges: finding available, quality workers. It seems like there's never a time when supply truly meets demand. Then, as an additional burden, once skilled labor industries find workers, they have to invest in training these new employees before they can ever profit from the work they will provide.
Through our new high school and SkillsUSA initiatives, the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is laying the groundwork to increase the masonry workforce population for the future. In the meantime, MCAA is also focused on finding a source of reliable, willing workers for the here and now.
There is a national employment resource that has, quite literally, been right in front of our eyes for the past few months. As we followed the war in Iraq and took pride in the men and women who are serving our country, we have wondered when our lives will get back to normal. For the soldiers, however, getting back to normal will be very different than it was for us. Many will return from overseas, or complete their duties stateside, and retire from the Armed Forces to establish a new life. They will be looking for somewhere to settle and begin their civilian careers.
The U.S. Government is committed to helping these veterans transition from military duty to the 9-5 world, and there are many organizations that counsel them on job searching, resume writing and interviewing skills. Many also help link these job seekers to employers employers like mason contractors who aren't using this large supply of manpower. The advantages of hiring Armed Forces veterans are extensive, and for the construction trades, these advantages address the most common complaints about employees, and alleviate our chronic workforce shortage by providing over 200,000 newly available workers each year. Programs like Helmets to Hardhats, a division of the Center for Military, Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment, are encouraging the connection between our industry and the men and women of the Armed Forces, as a mutually beneficial endeavor.
National programs promoting the hiring of veterans describe the marketable skills these employees offer, as compared to their peers. The average 18-24 year old that you hire presents a lot of concerns: will they be reliable, will they work hard, and are they trustworthy? Training an apprentice is a time-consuming and costly process, and many contractors are reluctant to do it because there is no assurance that this investment will bring a profitable return. Wouldn't you be more comfortable with apprentices that were trained leaders, mature and responsible, and had already been screened by one of the nation's largest employers?
To be admitted into the Service, all applicants are thoroughly screened by the U.S. military and only the best candidates are accepted. Background checks are conducted upon entrance and drug testing occurs throughout their tour of duty. Of course, soldiers with security clearance for their duties are held to even higher standards. When hiring veterans, an employer can be ensured that he or she has passed the rigorous requirements physically, mentally and ethically to represent the upstanding reputation of our Armed Forces.
Once they are admitted, the soldiers must set and meet individual objectives and function within a teamwork-oriented environment. These expectations force even the youngest men and women to become mature and responsible for their own actions. They must be on time, complete tasks with quality workmanship, and abide by strict rules, or else face the consequences. An amazing work ethic is instilled one that is hard to acquire as quickly in the civilian world. These soldiers' confidence, self-reliance and resourcefulness far out measure their peers'.
Military personnel are not only trained to accept responsibility it is required of them. It is expected that when a job is complete, one will actively seek out more work to do, not just wait for directions. These men and women have been trained to be leaders and given the skills and tools to apply this leadership in all situations. When they join a civilian organization, they often jump right into a job with a "can-do" attitude and can be depended upon to perform quality work with precision.
Armed with these terrific skills and traits, one would think that veterans could easily transition into any number of job opportunities after leaving the Service. Sometimes, unfortunately, this is not the case, and many of these "new" civilians struggle to relate to employers outside the strict regimen of the military. There may be some fundamental differences you'll notice when hiring a veteran, and employers need to be patient with any adjustment period that is necessary.
The primary challenge that a veteran faces is the lack of opportunity to actually look for a job. Active military personnel are often not able to search for employment while still on duty. They may be stationed remotely, stressed by workload, or unsure of the direction they would like pursue. Many soldiers need the financial security of having a job lined up before they are discharged, so they must get a commitment for employment in light of these timing obstacles. Any employer that can cope with scattered scheduling and follow up will stand out as the right career choice and gain a great deal of loyalty from that vet.
During the application and hiring process, there will be a noticeable distinction in a veteran's communication style. Within the culture of the Armed Forces, superiors are referred to by rank, times of day are referred to in military time (ie. 1300 hours denoting 1:00 p.m.), and "yes, sir" is the right answer to every question. It may be hard for recent military retirees to leave that language and culture behind, and they may not be aware of how often they slip back into those habits. These differences won't affect an employee's efficiency or quality, but it may make fitting in with their co-workers more difficult. In time, he or she will become oriented to your company's culture and offer much in return.
One of the least obvious, but toughest transitions, is that of lost identity. Men and women in the Armed Forces have worked hard to establish a certain rank and job responsibility, and they are proud of their work. This is more than a "career change" for many it is an identity change. Once in the civilian world, they leave their rank behind and may feel that they can't apply the technical skills they've earned. Of course, the skills they have acquired from the Service will be transferable to many jobs; it's just a matter of defining those applications. In fact, you may find some veterans who have gained masonry experience while in the Service. For them, the transition will be smooth and you'll have a ready-made apprentice.
Resources and Contacts
There are multiple ways, using traditional methods and new technologies, to post open positions and find available vets. When the time comes, have these resources at hand.
There are programs that link veterans to open jobs via websites much like Monster.com which are only open to military vets. One such service that is getting a lot of traffic and gaining momentum, called Helmets to Hardhats (www.helmetstohardhats.org), concentrates on the construction industry. Posting a position on this site is free to construction employers, and it just takes moments to register and begin receiving responses.
Veterans are recruited and directed to this program through presentations and job fairs on Armed Forces bases and advertising by veterans' affairs and employment offices. Through this web site, veterans can gain information on specific job opportunities, assess the application of their training and experience to the open jobs, and get the contact information for employers. Visit the web site to learn more and post your open positions.
Local Veterans' Services
Open any phone book to the 'Government' section and you'll find veterans' resources and services. Many of these organizations help veterans with employment and will be more than happy to post open jobs or entertain presentations from employers. For example, the Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois will accept a faxed job description and promote it to all local retiring Navy servicemen. These resources exist across the country and they're always looking for employment opportunities to advertise.
Throughout the year there are military job fairs nationwide. These job fairs are on military bases and at non-military locations, and are often open to both retiring soldiers and veterans. State and local chapters of MCA can coordinate to design, set up and attend a booth at one of these events as an industry effort.
For information about job fairs in your area visit the calendar of events for the Non-Commissioned Officers Association Veterans Employment Assistance (www.taonline.com/careerpages/careerfairs.asp#NC), or call the MCAA at (847) 301-0001 or toll free at (800) 536-2225.
The next step is in your hands to create a successful future for our Armed Forces veterans. It is clear that they offer great advantages over their peers as employees, and that they need employers' support in their transition from the Service. When the need arises, make veterans your first line of defense to supplement your workforce.
Melissa Polivka joined the MCAA as Director of Workforce Development in November 2002. Using her experience in staffing, recruiting and marketing, she is promoting careers in masonry, uncovering new employee sources, and communicating with training programs nationwide. Recently, she coordinated the fourth annual International Masonry Skills Challenge in conjunction with CMCA.
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