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DelBene addresses employment for veterans in manufacturing at Genie roundtable

David Jones of Genie Industries (left) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene discuss how the Redmond company supports Jones as an active member of the U.S. Army Reserves. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
David Jones of Genie Industries (left) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene discuss how the Redmond company supports Jones as an active member of the U.S. Army Reserves.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

When discharged from military service, there are many things veterans have to adjust to in civilian life.

One of those things is re-entering the workforce.

In an effort to learn how to make that transition easier for returning veterans, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Redmond, met with Puget Sound-area employers in the manufacturing industry and representatives from local colleges, veterans’ groups and other organizations at Genie Industries in Redmond on May 23.

During the roundtable conversation, the group discussed DelBene’s bill, the Manufacturing Jobs for Veterans Act, which if passed, would direct the U.S. Department of Labor to award $50 million in grants over the next five years to establish pilot state manufacturing employment programs to support on-the-job training, apprenticeships and certification classes for eligible veterans through employers and labor-management organizations.

DelBene said the goal of her bill is to accelerate veterans’ abilities to get jobs in the manufacturing sector. She said there are returning veterans who have the needed skills and now they need programs to help match those individuals with the right jobs.

The goal of the conversation was to get feedback from those in attendance to see what needs to be done to make that happen.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

DelBene asked the group to address the barriers they face in trying to hire veterans. Many said a large obstacle is connecting with the veterans before they become veterans. In other words, they said, coordinating with military bases to work with soon-to-be discharged soldiers to help them figure out what skills they will need to enter the civilian workforce and whether they have gained those skills through their military training.

DelBene agreed that knowing what skills people have ahead of time is important as she has met with transitioning members of the military who are frustrated because they already have the necessary skills but are just not certified or have the correct credentials. She wanted to know how they could make that connection so veterans can become certified or gain the credentials needed without going through unnecessary, additional training or schooling.

In response, Alfie Alvarado, director of Washington’s Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA), said hands-on experience can be taken into account in some cases so veterans can become employed faster.

Sue Ambler, president and CEO of Workforce Snohomish, added that in some cases, if veterans can demonstrate proficiency in the required skills, they can “test out” and earn the certifications or credentials that way.

One man in the group said while these options are available, bridging the gap between veterans and the information and programs is not always easy.

“There’s nothing connecting the dots,” he said. “There are a lot of people falling through the cracks.”

MILITARY SKILLS IN THE CIVILIAN WORLD

Another related issue the group pointed out was that when soldiers get out of the military, they may not always understand their skill set and how that translates on a resume or job application in the civilian world.

One suggestion to address this was to set up job fairs and mock interviews on military bases so employers could meet with soon-to-be discharged soldiers and offer critiques and advice on how to get a job outside the military.

Attendees also pointed out that there are cultural differences between the military and civilian life. Employers and communities want to know how they can help veterans make the transition, they said.

“It can be very difficult to go from that regimented lifestyle (to one that is not),” said Buzz Loring, who is the employment solutions manager for Everett Community College.

ONGOING SUPPORT

With this in mind, the group told DelBene that once veterans are hired, employers also need to be able to provide them with the support they need, such as allowing veterans leave if they have medical appointments.

For David Jones, he has received this kind of support from Genie for 17 years. The product support representative has been an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve for 28 years and said the company has always been flexible when he has to be away for training or the one time he was deployed for a year.

“Everybody supports what I do,” said Jones, who is an army mechanic.

Currently, there are 150 veterans employed at Genie’s Redmond facility, which comprise eight percent of its workforce. Statewide, veterans make up 10 percent of Genie’s workforce.

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