Veterans offer unique skill set to northeast Indiana employers

To grow northeast Indiana’s workforce to meet the needs of employers, regional economic developers are working with employers to attract veterans from around the country.

A recently released national ranking solidified Northeast Indiana’s appeal to service members.

Veteran’s United rated Fort Wayne No. 13 on a list of the 50 best cities for Veterans to live because of the community’s economic wellness, employment, availability of benefits, and quality of life for veterans.

With an immediate need to fill open positions, employers in Northeast Indiana are finding unique opportunities to build a skilled workforce through hiring veterans separating from the military.

Between 100,000-200,000 service members exit the military each year. Historic trends show that about 33 percent of these service members will stay in the community surrounding the base where they were stationed, and another 33 percent will return to their hometowns. This leaves the final 33 percent who are willing to relocate for the right opportunity.

Brandon Kelly, U.S. Navy veteran and Cold Mill production supervisor at Steel Dynamics, Inc. (SDI), met his wife, Stephanie, on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. When it came time for both of them to separate from the military, they decided to move back to Fort Wayne, Stephanie’s beloved hometown.

Next came the job search.

Coincidentally, Kelly heard about SDI from two veterans he used to serve alongside as Nuclear Field electricians, and they both spoke highly of the company’s mission and philosophy.

In search of the next mission

According to the Syracuse Institute for Veterans and Military Families, nine of 10 veteran respondents on a study of past service member employment reported the opportunity to use their skills and abilities as the most important aspect of civilian employment.

An equal opportunity employer, SDI often recruits and hires veterans because of their unique skill set.

In total, SDI employs around 300 veterans with more than 140 residing in the Fort Wayne metro area and more than 40 employed at the Whitley County location.

Vice President of Safety and Human Resources at SDI, Jeff Hansen, says Steel Dynamics shares many of the same values that are employed by the military.

“Values such as integrity, commitment, excellence, and teamwork transfer very well into our organization,” he explains. “We ask a lot of our employees, and they are rewarded in return. We tend to find that veterans are able to employ these values to work with others in our organization to accomplish the extraordinary. We believe that we have the best metals team in the steel industry, and our veteran team members are an important part of this success.”

Northeast Indiana is welcoming to veterans.

Hansen says that even more important than the skills or talents of veterans is the work ethic and attitude they bring to the team.

“We find that employees who enjoy taking-on and overcoming challenges succeed in our organization,” he says. “Veterans have overcome many challenges during their service to our country, and we are grateful for the commitment and attitude they bring to SDI as a result.”  

Kelly has put his skills to work at SDI for more than 13 years, and he believes his service in the military made him well positioned for the type of work he faces every day at the mill.

“Many veterans like myself come from jobs in the service that required strict adherence to procedure and documentation of tasks performed,” he says. “They are also used to demanding work environments and, in many cases, those that contain hazards and stresses. Veterans are less likely to become overwhelmed or intimidated with the pace within our mill. A veteran is also quick to adapt to our rotating shift schedule due to watch-standing and round-the-clock operational nature of military readiness.”

Commitment to supporting veterans long term

One of the reasons Kelly chooses to stay at SDI is because of how they understand and recognize veterans. 

“In Butler, we have a Salute to Veterans wall displayed in one of our common areas. We have the names of veterans, past and present listed on the wall. We also have a veterans’ breakfast, in which the general manager invites us to eat and gives thanks to those that have served,” Kelly says.

And for those still serving through the reserved forces, they are given time to serve.

From weekend drills to two-weeks of training during the summer, Kelly says SDI is very flexible to ensure reservists can still serve while also preserving the safety and standards needed for the mill to continue to operate effectively.

While recognition and support of veterans is a critical component for employers, for Kelly, employing veterans successfully is simple.

“The most important thing to consider when hiring a veteran is the sense of friendship and dedication to the team that nearly every veteran not only understands, but subscribes to,” he says. “When discussing goals and paths for achieving them, every veteran equates that with the mission. We fully understand how every person, no matter the title, plays a vital role in completing the mission and helping the organization succeed.”
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