Going Beyond the Call of Duty

Tags: Education & Careers, Logistics

J.B. Hunt Transport expanded its Hunt's Heroes Finishing Program to help veterans transition to Class A and final-mile delivery drivers.

When our nation's heroes transition from active service to the private sector, logistics companies enlist them in long-term, successful careers.

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Before he acquired a full-time position as a shift supervisor at Ryder System Inc.'s Tacoma, Wash., distribution center, James Broden accumulated 22 years of active duty service in the Army, 18 of which he spent working in aviation maintenance. So, as he prepared to transition to the private sector, he was particularly interested in applying for positions that would fully utilize that experience.

He originally applied for a technician job at Ryder's Anchorage, Alaska, distribution center. But Zachary Smith, his recruiter, thought he was overqualified for that position. After a phone conversation with Broden, Smith discovered he was a better fit for a supervisory role. "I put Broden in touch with another recruiter, and Ryder hired him for his current position," Smith says. "Broden was pleased with the extra effort we made to ensure he was taken care of, even though he wasn't a candidate I placed directly."

This is just one example of the ways in which logistics companies often go above and beyond to ensure our nation's heroes find long-term, successful careers once they return home from active duty.

Aside from honoring their service, logistics providers are especially attracted to the skillsets veterans develop during their military careers that separate them from other types of candidates. "Veterans have been a part of something bigger than themselves," says Eric Airola, senior director of human resources at Lowell, Ark.-based J.B. Hunt Transport. "They have a level of self-discipline that is necessary in a high-service environment, yet they are also good team players."

As director of human resources for San Francisco-based Menlo Logistics, Chris Cline always looks for candidates who possess his company's five core values: safety, leadership, integrity, commitment, and excellence. Due to their experience and training, veteran candidates possess most, if not all, of these attributes, Cline says. "Having already developed these core values in real-life work situations, veterans can hit the ground running, as opposed to a recent college graduate, for example," he explains.

In addition to these five core values, veterans possess other invaluable attributes —dependability, timeliness, attention to detail, and the ability to work well under intense pressure —that translate well in the logistics sector, notes Patrick Pendergast, senior director of acquisition at Miami, Fla.-based Ryder System Inc. "Ryder's technicians and drivers are the frontline to our customers, which means they must be able to think quickly on their feet, work well with others, and deliver necessary products and services on time," he says.

In November 2011, Ryder joined Hiring Our Heroes, a non-profit U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiative that helps U.S. military veterans find employment opportunities. Since joining the program, Ryder has hired more than 2,600 veterans, surpassing its original 2013 goal of hiring 1,000 veterans. In that time, Ryder has increased the percentage of veterans within its U.S. workforce of 30,000 employees from eight to 10 percent.

J.B. Hunt has also utilized the initiative's services by attending career fairs that offer direct access to military members and veterans. Furthermore, the company partnered with the Direct Employers Association (DEA), which provides compliance and recruiting guidance to member companies.

"DEA is a good partner in designing a veteran recruiting strategy, especially for a federal contractor," Airola says. "In the past, we used its Partner Relationship Management tool to track the contacts we make while recruiting for veterans."

J.B. Hunt also receives assistance from Orion International, America's largest military recruiting firm, by connecting recruiters with recently separated military members, including candidates who specialize in a particular skillset. "When a certain type of candidate is hard to find, a third-party recruiter such as Orion usually provides several well-qualified options in a short time," Airola adds.

Companies can also contact Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER) and Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists, two types of state employees who help veterans find job opportunities. "When a federal contractor posts jobs with state employment agencies, LVER and DVOP mine these postings for potential fits with the veterans they serve," Cline says. "They often reach out to companies to form partnerships so that their veterans find employment."

Cline also recommends potential employers get involved in charities, networking platforms such as LinkedIn, and job fairs that are geared toward military professionals, so that logistics recruiters can meet veterans face-to-face and engage them on the opportunities a logistics career can offer.

Menlo Logistics recruiters also attend military recruiting conferences at least twice each year. "As a business unit in the Con-way organization, Menlo Logistics participates in the Con-way Charitable Foundation, which donates to hundreds of community organizations, some of which involve military veterans," Cline says. "Our most recent drive in 2015 contributed money to more than 140 organizations; the top funded organization was the Wounded Warrior Project."

In early 2015, J.B. Hunt expanded its Hunt's Heroes Finishing Program from a regional pilot to a national push to transition recently separated veterans, who have some form of prior driving experience, into Class A and final-mile delivery drivers with commercial driver's licenses. "We've been pleased with the outcome so far, with 15 veterans currently participating in the program," Airola notes. "I see a need for a similar transition program for maintenance technicians, and we plan to explore that opportunity in the future."

The company is also in the midst of creating a Veterans Employee Resource Group, which will be comprised mostly of current employees who have military backgrounds and who share one particular goal —to recruit, hire, and support their fellow service members.

logistics offers Growth and Stability

As veterans prepare to transition from the military to the private sector, they should consider applying for positions within the logistics sector because it continues to grow despite the ebbs and flows of the U.S. economy, according to Pendergast. "Logistics supports so much of the U.S. economy; it is the lifeblood of everything we do and touch," he says. "It also offers many different types of functional areas that allow employees to reach their personal and professional goals."

From finance and accounting to human resources and operations, and virtually everything in between, the logistics field offers positions for veterans of all backgrounds, as well as the opportunity for regular advancement.

"No technology will ever replace the need to store and move goods in the most efficient way possible, so logistics is a stable field," Cline says. "And the career opportunities are interesting and broad.

"Veterans join the military because they want to make a difference," he adds. "Transitioning into private-sector logistics provides them the opportunity to continue to make a difference—while utilizing the leadership, work ethic, and integrity they developed in the military."

To ensure its recruiters hire veterans into roles that are best suited for current job openings, Menlo Logistics offers a training class entitled More Than a Gut Feeling, which utilizes the behavior-based interviewing strategy developed by industrial-organizational psychologist Paul C. Green. As a result, Menlo bases its hiring decisions entirely on facts, rather than feelings. "The goal of the class is to learn which military work experiences correlate with our job descriptions' needs and core values," Cline says. "In doing so, our recruiters are better prepared to hire candidates who have the potential to enjoy successful, long-term careers at Menlo."

As recruiters prepare to interview veterans, they may view some resumes that are much longer than the standard ones. Veterans often include some impressive statistics, such as the aggregate of people they have managed, or the budgets they have overseen. Despite the length of the resumes, or the types of detailed statistics they include, recruiters need to remain open-minded.

"Some veterans list every single thing they've ever done on their resumes, but recruiters should not be put off," says Airola. "They also shouldn't assume that veterans are not a good fit for entry-level management jobs. After all, veterans typically understand that they might have to take one step back to move forward in a new career."

Aside from being flexible as they transition to the private sector, veterans are also open to receiving assistance with their resumes. For example, Ryder offers a free online tool to help veterans translate military dialect into common, everyday language. Recruiters are also welcomed to use this translator as they prepare for their interviews with veteran job candidates.

At the same time, Ryder educates its hiring managers on the specific characteristics of recently separated or soon-to-be separated veterans; for example, recruiters often learn ways to properly identify veterans' skillsets, and then match them to positions available within the company according to responsibilities, growth opportunities, and salary projections.

As the interview itself nears, Pendergast advises hiring managers to prepare questions that help them understand what their candidates have previously accomplished, and recognize their strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the position's responsibilities.

"Clearly communicating expectations by painting a realistic picture of the job, and laying out the first 90 days and what the career path might look like, is crucial to helping ease veterans' transitions from the military to logistics work," Pendergast says. "Consequently, candidates are able to visualize what their day-to-day responsibilities look like, and what kind of environment they will work in."

Once veterans accept offers, and begin the next chapters of their lives, they need continuous support as they acclimate to civilian life and employment. To provide this support, Ryder consistently follows up with employees and communicates its expectations.

Check-ins occur 30, 60, and 90 days after veteran employees are hired, and typically address any questions or concerns they may have. Employees can also discuss the ways in which their expectations of the position are—or are not—being fulfilled.

"A thorough, well-thought-out onboarding process shows veteran employees that their employers are genuinely interested in making them feel comfortable in their new positions and work environments," Pendergast explains.

As their time with new employers continues, and their responsibilities increase, the shock of transitioning from the military to the logistics sector may become more noticeable. To ease this transition, and help employees overcome the differences between military and civilian work, Menlo Logistics advises its veterans to participate in professional organizations such as the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, and to attend job fairs. Such networking opportunities provide an avenue to meet other professionals with similar job titles and responsibilities, so they can receive advice and answers to any questions they may have.

As part of its performance management process, Menlo also offers employees opportunities to partner with their managers to establish objectives that align with company goals. "Mid-year and end-year reviews take place collaboratively with the manager," Cline says. "If the manager and employee identify any gaps in education and experience, they establish a plan using internal or external resources to ensure the employee has the skills needed to do the job, achieve objectives, and increase the likelihood of success."

J.B. Hunt also offers management training programs to newly hired veterans who hold managerial roles. Lasting three to six months, depending on managers' experience levels, the programs are rotational and specific to whichever business unit the manager is employed in.

"Although we hire veterans for their experience, we also realize that conforming to a new culture takes time, no matter how experienced they are," Airola says. "Not only does the program expose new managers to our various work processes, departments, and functions, but it also provides them more information about our culture and values, which they were introduced to during their interviews."

During the management training program, managers travel to J.B. Hunt's corporate headquarters in Arkansas, where they attend a week-long Foundational Leadership course, and meet other managers from Hunt distribution centers across the country.

To engage non-managers, Menlo Logistics has also developed Voices and Values Teams comprised of volunteers who create employee engagement and community charity events at distribution centers throughout the United States.

"These teams offer employees immediate opportunities to become more engaged and develop relationships with their colleagues," says Cline. "Our culture is driven by our employees, so veterans have a voice and can be part of a team early on in their careers."

Got You Covered, Battle Buddy

Ryder has also created a veteran-specific "buddy" program in which experienced employees who have previously served in the military volunteer to help newly separated veterans settle into their new jobs and lives.

Initiated in early 2015, the program is expected to help new veteran employees successfully transition into Ryder as they receive an extra layer of support from a colleague they can relate to—one who has been there and done that. "A buddy who can relate to the veteran, and understand what it's like to transition from military life to civilian life, can have a positive impact on the veteran's new job experience," Pendergast notes. "To help each of our new veterans, we intend to have a buddy at every Ryder location by Veterans Day 2015."

After interviewing, hiring, and onboarding new veteran employees, logistics companies should provide advancement opportunities so the veterans remain challenged by their jobs and loyal to their employers.

"The people we hire, especially for our logistics management positions, have been leaders in the military, so we stress that they will be leading people at J.B. Hunt quickly, often as soon as they complete their training," Airola says. "Once they know how to manage our systems, they appreciate the opportunity to increase their responsibilities."

Although they may be fully acclimated into their new roles and companies, veterans sometimes decide to serve their country once again, either in the National Guard or the Reserves.

"We respect those decisions and make sure the vets are afforded the opportunity," Airola says. "In response, J.B. Hunt has a 'make whole pay' policy, in which we supplement an employee's military pay while they are deployed, if it doesn't equal their regular salary."

Menlo Logistics has a similar policy for veterans who choose reserve duty status after ending their full-time status. "We pay differential pay between the veterans' base military salaries, and their Menlo salaries, for up to one year of deployment," Cline says.

Menlo Logistics' employees are also eligible to be covered under the company's group medical, dental, vision, Employee Assistance Program, and prescription drug plans for the first 365 days of their active duty period. "As a result of these benefits, our veterans will not have to experience a decline in pay or healthcare coverage while they are deployed," Cline says. "It takes a huge burden off worrying about home finances and healthcare for their families, so they can focus on their job of serving their country. Menlo has noticed an increase in employee loyalty and retention since we began offering differential pay and healthcare coverage during deployment."

Stateside Support

Veterans do not need to return to active service to remain involved in the military. In fact, logistics companies can provide them opportunities to continue to serve and support the armed forces while they gain further experience in their logistics roles.

"Companies can show their long-term commitment to current veteran employees by encouraging them to participate in company-sponsored charity work and events," Cline says. Some Menlo Logistics employees get involved with the Wounded Warrior Project by joining peer-mentoring programs, acquiring funds, or participating in a variety of other initiatives.

Other employees volunteer for Operation Shoebox, an organization that provides hands-on support for troops who are either deployed overseas or returning home. Some also choose to volunteer for Team Red, White, and Blue, a non-profit that strives to enrich veterans' lives by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

To further increase collaboration among veteran employees, Ryder offers them a business software program known as Yammer. "Various networking groups have been set up within Yammer, including one that is specific to veterans at Ryder," Pendergast states. "Within this group, employees share items that are of interest only to veterans, such as success stories regarding service and transitions, and volunteer opportunities and events related to veteran charities and community organizations.

"This type of networking has empowered our veterans, as they feel more engaged with their fellow team members," he adds.

Ryder also recognizes its veteran employees for their contributions to the military by spotlighting them in the "Ryder in the Military" section of every issue of Ryder People, a magazine distributed to company employees.

AN ENCOURAGING OUTLOOK

Due to sequestering—a part of the recent Budget Control Act that requires $500 million in military spending cutbacks over the next decade—more military members than usual are exiting, which is beneficial for employers such as Ryder, J.B. Hunt, and Menlo Logistics, which are focused on recruiting and retaining veterans.

As a symptom of the sequestration, the 100,000 Jobs Mission —a coalition of firms committed to hiring veterans, of which J.B. Hunt is a member—has surpassed its original goal of 100,000 hires by employing more than 240,000 veterans.

"I'm encouraged by the number of companies that have announced their intention to hire veterans," Airola says. "Through this commitment, they will continue to provide opportunities for the men and women who have served our nation —both within the logistics field, and outside it."






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