Service members find work in business

Amy Scott Feb 19, 2009

Service members find work in business

Amy Scott Feb 19, 2009


Tess Vigeland: About 200,000 men and women leave the military every year. Many of them face the daunting task of finding work in the civilian world. Some have never written a resume or put on a suit. For members of the National Guard and Reserve, the threat of deployment may scare off potential employers. But some companies are going out of their way to hire military workers. Marketplace’s Amy Scott visited one of them.

AMY SCOTT: Tonya Arrasmith was watching TV a few years ago, when a news story caught her attention. It was about how veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were having a hard time finding jobs when they got back home.

TONYA ARRASMITH:: And I thought, how horrible is that? They’re out serving their country and putting their life on the line for us, and we can’t give them a job? It really bothered me.

Arrasmith was in a position to do something about it. She’s human resource director for manufacturer Atkins and Pearce in Covington, Ky.

It’s just outside Cincinnati. A few weeks after the news program, Arrasmith saw an ad for a recruiter that places military workers in civilian jobs. She convinced her boss, Jeb Head, to sign up.

ARRASMITH: My conversation with Jeb was: Look, I think we could get some really good people who have a solid work ethic because they’ve served our country. They know what it’s like to work hard and to strive and to really struggle out there. He was all for it.

Today, Arrasmith estimates more than ten percent of employees are either ex-military or active service men and women.

On the factory floor at Atkins and Pearce, giant spools of colored thread spin around on machines. The machines braid the threads together to make fishing line, candlewicks, even stove gaskets. Bennie Gray runs machines that make motorcycle parts. He’s also a specialist in the Army National Guard. He’s spent more than 20 years in the military.

BENNIE GRAY: Afghanistan, Kosovo, Katrina. I served in the Cold War on the border with Germany. I’ve had an interesting career.

Maintaining a civilian career hasn’t been easy. It’s against the law to discriminate against employees in the National Guard or Reserves. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. As a guardsman Gray has to spend a weekend every month in training, and two weeks every summer. He can be deployed at any time.

GRAY: I lost one job because of it. I was told if I re-enlisted in the military I would be let go. And even though I wasn’t let go my life was made so miserable that I did leave from there.

At Atkins and Pearce, Gray says life is completely different.

GRAY: They’ve been nothing but accommodating. If we need anytime for military at all we just get it. I just got back from my two-week annual training and when I got back it was like do you need a few days to rest up? Are you okay? They’re incredible here.

It helps that he’s surrounded by other military people who understand his situation. Steve McCord found it tough to find a job when he left the Army four years ago. He spent six months looking for work. The family got by on his wife’s paycheck and a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

STEVE MCCORD: Infantry you don’t really learn too many trade skills, per se, other than shooting. That doesn’t really help you out in the civilian world too often.

McCord did have leadership skills. He’s now a squad leader in the National Guard. He says that helped him move up quickly when he landed at Atkins and Pearce.

MCCORD: And I mean, two years and I’m already in charge of a shift here, and I do believe it was that background, and that training that got me to where I am.

Atkins and Pearce is willing to pay for leadership like that. It pays the recruiter about 13 percent of a military employee’s starting salary. Tonya Arrasmith says it’s an investment.

ARRASMITH: To get right people, that’s kind of one of those priceless commercials. A military background with a small fee? It’s really priceless.

That commitment is about to be put to the test. Both Steve McCord and Bennie Gray are scheduled to serve in Iraq soon. Arrasmith says she’s looking forward to seeing them back in their jobs when they return.

In Covington, Ky., I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.