Supporting Our Veterans
By Liz Swack, Recruiting Manager
As we prepare to thank our former and current military members for their service on Veterans Day, it’s also a time for our industry to think about how we can better support our veterans as they transition to civilian careers.
With a limited number of construction professionals in a competitive hiring market – and our industry’s need for people with leadership skills to manage complex projects – veterans bring experience that can’t be taught in a classroom. However, the path from military assignment to jobsite – or office – is seldom direct, and the shift from service to civilian life can be the biggest challenge veterans face.
At Robins & Morton, we believe that to fully show our veterans appreciation for their service and sacrifice, we need to take concrete steps to support them in finding new career opportunities. That concept is the driving force behind a newly created position that expands our career tracks for military veterans, and a recently launched mentorship program.
The new position, Construction Engineer, is open to veterans with at least eight years of military experience and is one of two positions that specifically recognize the leadership experience candidates gain in the military.
The Construction Engineer position places newly hired veterans above entry level, but also provides them development opportunities to gain construction-specific knowledge and experience. Veterans with less than the eight years of experience may qualify for our company’s Construction Coordinator position, which is designed for individuals who have an interest in construction and some relevant experience but may not have a construction-related degree. Both of these positions lead to greater leadership opportunities within Robins & Morton.
Through our recruitment efforts, and listening to our veterans, we saw that candidates coming out of the military often question how their experience aligns with the specifics of construction management. Likewise, it can be hard for us to correlate the terminology of military tasks with construction job descriptions. The Construction Engineer and Construction Coordinator positions bridge those gaps. They provide veterans with development opportunities to gain construction-specific knowledge and experience. Equally important, it tells veterans that they belong, that we value their experience and that we have a career path specifically for them with opportunities for growth.
Assistant Superintendent Derek King tells us how important this is. Derek’s family was in construction, and he spent time as a carpenter before joining the Army. As a Special Forces Engineer, he managed construction projects, giving him insight into the parallels between military leadership skills and construction management. Yet, when representing Robins & Morton at veteran career fairs, he hears outgoing military personnel questioning the value of their own experience and skills. When he explains the Construction Engineer position to them, he sees the self-confidence they gained in the military coming back.
Our Robins & Morton veterans also told us that the biggest challenge many of them face is the transition from military to civilian life. “If you talk to any vet who has transitioned to a new career, they’ll say it’s one of the hardest challenges,” said Field Superintendent Hans Buetel, who came to Robins & Morton after 10 years in the Army. “It’s a lot harder than going to a new job that civilians experience. You’re losing your support and camaraderie and giving up the sense of purpose that you always have in the military.”
Hans and Director of Corporate and Operational Technology David Pratt are both involved with the Robins & Morton Family Table, a group of team members representing the diverse cultural backgrounds, genders, family relationships and positions in our company. Through their participation in the Family Table, Hans and David helped us launch the recently formed Veterans Mentorship Program. The program pairs recently released veterans who are early in their Robins & Morton careers with senior team members who also served. The mentors provide one-on-one guidance to help their mentees succeed professionally and personally.
David also said recently released military vets need to learn their way around civilian life: “There are so many things you don’t realize are taken care of in the military. Then you get out, you ask yourself, ‘Well, how does this work? What do I do? Who can walk me through this?’”
The one-on-one support also includes helping veterans recognize the emotional wellbeing challenges they can face after the military, giving them the opportunity to talk to someone who has been where they are, said David.
Hans and David said another challenge veterans face is building their professional networks. While others are developing relationships to support their careers, veterans were serving our country, said David. “Our veterans need the opportunity to make those same kinds of connections. That’s a huge part of the mentorship program, filling in those gaps,” he said.
The mentorship program is also open to Reservists. While we fully support those in the Reserves, including paying them for training time that overlaps with work days so they don’t have to use their vacation time, their mentors can help them balance their professional, military and personal commitments.
We also show our gratitude to our Veterans through a welcome box that includes a Robins & Morton polo shirt that identifies them as a veteran, including their branch of service; hard hat stickers; and other gifts. They also receive a welcome and thank you card from Chairman and CEO Bill Morton. Every Friday at Robins & Morton is RED Shirt Friday, Recognizing Everyone Deployed.
These efforts, combined with an increased emphasis on veteran recruitment, have helped us achieve veteran hiring that is above the national average.
When we talk about our support programs during veteran recruitment, the response is one of gratitude and surprise. But we – all of us who enjoy our freedom and security – are the ones who should be grateful. To all those who have or continue to wear the uniforms of our armed services, including members of the Robins & Morton family, thank you for your service.