Early last year, I recall eating lunch in the break room at Atlanta-based Metcam, which hosted a press brake training seminar run by Steve Benson and organized by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association. Sitting across from me was a press brake supervisor, we chatted a bit about his tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He told me some intense stories.
He had gotten a job at a local metal fabricator and had climbed the ladder quickly. His military training, it seems, helped. He could focus. He paid attention to detail. He showed up to work like clockwork, and he was totally engaged in company’s improvement processes. To me, he sounded like a model employee. This is why I wasn’t surprised when I read an article in Forbes describing this as a trend that may abate, at least to some extent, our country’s skilled labor crisis.
Many fabricators I’ve talked to have hired veteran, and often it’s turning out to be a sound business decision. It isn’t always, of course. War is hell. It can leave deep scars, both mental and physical. But many have undergone some serious training and have endured serious challenges. They’ve learned to pay attention to details, something that’s become essential to survival for anyone in business these days; and it’s essential for survival, period, on a tour of duty overseas.
Most significant, perhaps, is the ability to focus amid mayhem. A friend of mine who served in the first Iraq war got a job as a manager of a small manufacturing plant south of Birmingham, Ala. Scheduling was a mess. Supervisors continually scurried to get hot jobs out the door. In a year, that veteran turned the shop around. He told me it wasn’t anything magical. It just took clear, logical, unemotional thinking.
This person had made decisions, personal and managerial, and he told me that he had trained himself to remain as focused and stoic as possible in those situations, even in situations requiring life-or-death decisions. Compared to this, fixing a plant floor with poor on-time delivery was a cakewalk.