Former Military on the Front Line of Manufacturing

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As manufacturers struggle to fill current and pending positions that require skilled labor, they’d do well to consider an often overlooked source of talented and able employees: the military. With baby boomers retiring, federal forecasters predict that approximately 40% of the skilled labor force will retire. Couple that with a loss of apprenticeship programs and the skills demand that comes from the increasingly sophisticated technology found in plants, and there will be a shortage of skilled factory workers, which has many manufacturers girding for a crisis.

But consider that there are 1.4 million men and women on active duty in the armed services today. Almost all of them will be part of tomorrow's workforce. Their leading attributes include organizational skills, leadership ability, an excellent work ethic, integrity, and the ability to operate well under stress. Drill down further, and you'll find thousands with skills that apply to everyday manufacturing.

More than 16,000 former military are streaming into the workforce each month. 11% of former military qualify immediately as electricians and IT technicians. Up to 15% possess the elite skills required to qualify to perform maintenance on plant equipment. And the 12% with combat specialty training will provide a valuable source of leadership.

Advanced Technology Services (ATS), a factory services company focused on maintenance, is actively recruiting from the military. At ATS, we find the military skill set makes a good match not only technically but also culturally for our company. These workers may not yet hold the exact skills required to perform production machine maintenance at the moment, but they are very professional and motivated to meet the technical demands of the positions we have open.

Examples of this motivation and self-reliance abound in the military. A good illustration can be seen aboard naval ships. Typically these ships are out at sea for extended periods of time, which means they need to be self-sustained and maintained from stern to bow by those living on them. Given the level of self-reliance required, it's no wonder that companies involved in maintaining manufacturing assets are impressed with these skill sets.

In addition, the military workforce is traditionally mobile and willing to relocate, making them even more valuable in a fast-paced business environment. However, the transition to the civilian sector poses new challenges for veterans that they likely have never faced before. Employers can assist veterans to make this life change easier by providing veteran-friendly information.

"Newly transitioned service members have worn a uniform their whole career, had free healthcare, and never spent a dime to relocate," says Holly Turner, military recruiter for ATS. "Making the extra effort to help them understand the differences between the military and civilian sectors pays off in the long term with improved retention rates and happier employees."

From a management standpoint, junior military officers (JMOs) are easily the most sought after group in the service. These 27-to-32-year-olds possess some of the best intellectual and leadership skills available. According to a report prepared by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, on average, 13,000 of these JMOs transition out of or separate from the service on a yearly basis. Add this to an additional 23 million veterans living in the U.S. today — from reservists to retirees — and the U.S. military provides a powerful labor resource for a manufacturing industry in need.

About the Author

Jeffrey Owens is president of Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS). ATS makes factories run better, improving productivity and profitability for many of the world's most respected manufacturers through the managed services of production equipment maintenance, information technology, and industrial part repair. Founded in 1985, ATS employs more than 2,000 people across the U.S. and Mexico and is a member of the National Association of Manufacturers. ATS is headquartered in Peoria, IL, with offices and service centers located in Greenville, SC; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; and Monterrey, Mexico. For more information, visit the ATS website at

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 plants  stress  manufacturing  maintenance  shortages

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