Hiring military veterans is a popular cause these days, as Defense Department drawdowns and budget cuts send tens of thousands of military men and women back to civilian life. Yet many companies recognize vets' service with patriotic lip service, and little else. One notable exception is Klein Steel Service in Rochester, N.Y.
Klein is proud that veterans make up more than 20 percent of a workforce that numbers nearly 200, including several of the company's top managers. No doubt that veteran-friendly recruiting focus stems from the leadership of former Klein President John Batiste, a retired major general, who recently left the company to head up Klein's Buffalo Armory spinoff. But over time, the philosophy has evolved and taken on a life of its own, says Patrick DiLaura, Klein's chief talent officer and an Army vet himself. "Our emphasis on veterans' causes goes beyond any one person at this point. It's a part of our culture, who we are and what we believe."
Veterans represent a talent pool with predictable skills and high trainability, DiLaura says. Klein especially looks for junior military officers, lieutenants and captains, who tend to adapt well to operations management positions. Non-officer specialists with technical backgrounds are often a good fit for IT or machine operator positions. "To us, they tend to make for a lower-risk hire," he adds.
As part of its mission, Klein seeks to give back to the communities where it lives and does business. Thus it seeks individuals who are equally service-minded, be they military vets or Peace Corp. volunteers. Volunteer service is not the primary qualification, however. "We always look to bring in the best and the brightest. That is always factor No. 1. We don't hire a person just because he or she served in the military."
Other service centers say they would gladly hire military veterans, but they don't know where to start. Klein team members actively recruit military personnel at local career fairs sponsored by the Veterans Administration or Rochester's Veterans Outreach Center. They volunteer at organizations such as the Rochester Regional Veterans Business Council and Warrior Salute. Most counties have a Veterans Assistance Commission charged with helping veterans access their hard-earned benefits, from health care to employment assistance. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Support Our Troops America are among the many other national and regional service organizations that offer job assistance to vets and potential employers.
Klein's approach is a model that other service centers would do well to emulate. It begins with a commitment at the top, DiLaura says. "As with anything else, it all starts in the corner office. If senior leadership makes it a priority, they can make it happen."