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More Than Just Heroes

Friday, 8 November 2019

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Understanding the Value Veterans Bring to the AEC Industry

SAN DIEGO, California – According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, every year, approximately 200,000 men and women leave U.S. military service and return to life as civilians. More than half of these veterans struggle to find work in their desired fields; not for lack of skills or qualifications, but because civilian employers often don’t understand how their military experience translates to private sector jobs.  “The general public views veterans as heroes, but they’re more than just heroes; they’re a skilled and talented workforce that is prepared to make significant contributions in the civilian world given the opportunity,” said Laura Hartman, Senior Human Resources Manager and SkillBridge Liaison at Kleinfelder. Hartman pointed out that the challenge is awareness – many hiring managers haven’t had routine exposure to the military and, therefore, struggle to understand what the roles and responsibilities of service members actually encompass.

For Kleinfelder, an engineering, construction management, design, and environmental professional services firm, it’s clear how the skillsets of veterans can contribute to the company’s bottom line.  “Service men and women have considerable technical and leadership experience and they are very trainable – qualities that are greatly valued in the engineering and construction industry and are the foundation for developing high-performing employees,” commented Hartman.    

Understanding the value veterans could bring to the firm, Kleinfelder sought to establish a high-quality military candidate pipeline to fill open positions faster; particularly positions in construction management, materials testing, and inspection; as many military personnel have experience building or repairing airfields, bridges, and other structures.  Working through the Department of Defense (DoD), Kleinfelder became a SkillBridge industry partner, gaining early access to service members through internships during their last 180 days of active duty.  While Kleinfelder provides the training and work experience, the military continues to cover compensation and benefits. “Ultimately, our goal is to train SkillBridge interns so by the time their internship (and active duty) is completed, they are ready to be hired at Kleinfelder as full-time employees,” commented Hartman.

Partnerships with Programs like SkillBridge Prove Beneficial for Military Personnel and Corporations

Kleinfelder’s participation in the SkillBridge program has proved to be very beneficial, with several highly qualified military personnel, such as Michael, a Lieutenant in the Navy, being placed on large, complex construction projects. “Michael has done an excellent job applying the leadership skills he learned in the Navy to his position as a Construction Inspector on the West Mission Bay Bridge Replacement project. His attention to detail, ability to follow direction, and his clear communication have made him a great asset to our team,” commented Scott Maloney, Kleinfelder Construction Program Manager. “Skillbridge is not only a great opportunity for the service members that participate, it is also a great opportunity for companies like Kleinfelder to hire highly motivated, intelligent, well-trained leaders.”

A little over a year into the SkillBridge program, Kleinfelder began receiving requests from interns looking for opportunities outside of construction.  “We were receiving high caliber construction personnel through the program, so it was in our best interest to find internships within the firm for service members with other skillsets and interests,” Hartman explained. 

Steve, an Officer in the Navy, was one such candidate.  Interested in environmental science, Steve was placed in Kleinfelder’s San Diego Environmental Group. “Working for Kleinfelder has allowed me to gain knowledge of the environmental consulting world and a taste of how the business works,” said Steve.  “I have had the chance to work on projects in the field and the opportunity to see a project from the proposal through completing the final project report.” While Steve has found the internship to be a valuable experience, he isn’t the only one benefitting from it. Eric Johansen, Kleinfelder Environmental Project Manager, noted that he has seen tremendous growth and development in Steve. “Since Steve joined the Environmental Team in August, he has shown an increased level of performance with field work, data analysis, and reporting. He is well on his way to becoming a good consultant,” said Johansen.

The mutually beneficial relationship between the SkillBridge interns and Kleinfelder has been evident across the board. Christina, a Program Manager in the Navy, who is currently assisting Kleinfelder Senior Project Controls Manager, Michalle Beringhaus, pointed out that she’s “learned a great deal of skills that will help tremendously with the transition into the civilian workforce, such as invoicing, labor laws, project cost proposals, and projections.” Impressed with Christina from the get-go, Beringhaus explained that “her professionalism and composure during ‘crunch time’ has been an asset. I am looking forward to the opportunity to bring Christina onboard once she is available to us.”

While There are Many Similarities Between Military and Civilian Work Life, Training Proves Key in Ensuring a Successful Transition

Kleinfelder’s positive experience as a SkillBridge industry partner demonstrates the importance of evaluating veteran job candidates beyond the unfamiliar military ranks and titles on their resumes. By delving into their actual experience, hiring managers can gain a greater understanding of veterans’ skills and competencies and the value they may bring to various positions within a company.  “Many employers are often surprised to learn of the similarities between the tasks performed by military personnel and the tasks typically associated with civilian careers,” remarked Hartman.  Several of Kleinfelder’s SkillBridge interns have confirmed this notion. Steve explained that, “working at Kleinfelder is much like working for the military.  They both have and require structure, encourage personal growth, and require the ability to conduct multiple tasks while organizing them by priority.”

To date, all of Kleinfelder’s SkillBridge interns have expressed their satisfaction with the program and the important role it plays in their successful transition to civilian life.  “I have learned an entirely new field (construction materials testing and inspection) I never thought I would find myself in. My internship is setting me up for future success once my active service has been fulfilled. Kleinfelder is really helping me transition into the workforce, and see firsthand how things outside the military work,” explained Marc, a Navy Aviation Boatswains Mate. 

As Kleinfelder continues to place SkillBridge interns in various roles throughout the firm, the value of the SkillBridge program has become increasingly evident to staff at all levels, including Kleinfelder’s leadership team. “This is such an amazing program that adds so much value to our firm while supporting those who served our country.  I am extremely happy and proud to bring these service men and women into roles at Kleinfelder, and I look forward to veteran hiring initiatives remaining a key priority for our organization,” commented Kleinfelder President and CEO, Louis Armstrong.

Kleinfelder. Bright People. Right Solutions.
Founded in 1961, Kleinfelder is a leading engineering, construction management, design, and environmental professional services firm. Kleinfelder operates from over 65 office locations in the United States, Canada, and Australia. The company is headquartered in San Diego, California. Poised for growth, Kleinfelder continues to provide high-quality solutions for our diverse client base. Visit or follow us on LinkedIn/Kleinfelder.