In the U.S. Air Force, Chris Morin worked on a team that had the keys to nuclear weapons. But in the civilian world, his technical skills didn’t get as much respect.
That changed recently when Morin and 22 other U.S. military veterans enrolled in the first Milwaukee-held class of the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing.
The program, a partnership between Rockwell Automation Inc. and ManpowerGroup, aims to get veterans into high-skill technical jobs where there’s a serious worker shortage.
It draws on what veterans learned in the military, and their aptitude for similar training, in an intensive course that covers about two years worth of material in three months.
e veterans proved they could handle that kind of pressure, as they’re graduating Thursday from the course held at Milwaukee-based Rockwell.
Morin spent six years in the Air Force, mostly at the Minot Air Force Base in Minot, N.D.
The base is the command center for Minuteman III nuclear missiles. The team Morin was on supported the communications system that would be used should there ever be a decision to launch nuclear missiles.
“That was my technical role,” Morin said, and it involved a lot of specialty training and responsibility.
But even with the valuable skills and experience they acquired in the military, many veterans say, it’s difficult to land comparable work in the civilian world.
“There are a lot of minimum-wage jobs available, but coming from a high-level role down to one of those, the skills don’t translate whatsoever,” he said.
That’s where Rockwell and ManpowerGroup have entered the picture, recruiting veterans for the first program of its kind focused on vets and advanced manufacturing careers.
Veterans are selected for the program based on their ability to quickly learn high-tech skills, as well as their military experience in areas such as electronics.
“There is a growing skills gap across the country,” said Joe Allie, Rockwell's Director of Global Competency, and program lead for the Academy. “The need for those skills is increasing at a rapid pace, while at the same time, folks that have kind of grown up with advanced manufacturing are beginning to age out of the workforce.”
Rockwell is one of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial automation equipment, the kind of machines that are transforming factories into a high-tech workplace.
Several million jobs will be available in the field in the next decade, according to Rockwell, and it’s already tough to find qualified technicians.
“That’s the genesis of why we decided to do the program,” Allie said.
The 12-week course, which starts again at the end of April with another group of veterans, is tailored toward specific skills in areas such as instrumentation, motion control and power technology.
“These folks are spending 46 hours a week engaged in classroom and lab-project work. In a community college environment, it would take roughly two years to replicate that amount of learning,” Allie said.
The program covers the cost of the training and the veterans’ living expenses while they’re in Milwaukee. Dormitory housing has been provided at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
What’s more, upon completion, Rockwell is helping the veterans find employment at companies across the country.
Sixteen of the 23 students will likely have job offers by the end of the week, Allie said, and the other seven aren’t far behind.
Some of the vets are fresh out of the military, while others left years ago but have struggled to find a suitable career path.
“The challenges they face are numerous, including the ability to translate their military experience into a role in manufacturing or corporate America,” said Rebekah Kowalski, a ManpowerGroup vice president.
“They don’t have the lexicon to do that,” she said.
Coming out of the Air Force two years ago, Jeremy Pellot of Milwaukee ran into some of those difficulties while trying to land a technical-skills job.
In the Air Force, he had been on a crew responsible for maintaining F-15 tactical aircraft. It was a job where lives were at risk if something went wrong.
“I was considered a Jack-of-all-trades for anything and everything to do with the F-15. It required a high level of attention to detail. … I absolutely loved it,” Pellot said.
Back in the civilian world, though, he struggled to find a comparable job because he hadn’t finished his degree in avionics technology.
“Employers wanted to see that degree on my resume. If they didn’t, they moved on to the next person,” Pellot said.
His first job out of the Air Force was at a fitness club, as it was a military-friendly employer.
“It was the easiest way for me to get employed,” Pellot said.
He went on to become a recruiter with ManpowerGroup, where he helped find veterans for the pilot program of the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing that Rockwell held last fall near Cleveland.
When the course became available in Milwaukee, he was quick to sign up.
“It’s an education where there’s employment at the end of the program. You don’t find that hardly anywhere,” Pellot said.
In May, he starts a job as an electrical technician with Owens Corning Corp. in Georgia.
“It’s going to be a very good change for me and my family,” he said.
About half of the course is classroom instruction and the rest is hands-on lab work with factory automation equipment used in the field.
“We are teaching the underlying technology, so the folks coming out of the academy are capable of working on not only Rockwell products but also our competitors’ products,” Allie said.
Each vet is also assigned a career coach from ManpowerGroup, one of the nation's largest employment agencies.
The next Milwaukee class will have 28 veterans, representing each branch of the U.S. armed forces.
“Going forward, these classes are going to start coming pretty fast and furious,” Allie said.
With more than 200,000 members of the U.S. military discharged a year, there’s a deep pool of talent to draw from.
Some people don’t recognize what the military and businesses have in common, said Navy Capt. Dan Goldenberg, executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit that helps veterans find new careers.
“The way the modern military works is that a unit is given an objective, and they figure out how to accomplish it. It’s very much like the business world,” Goldenberg said.
Many veterans already have some kind of college degree but struggle to find relevant employment.
“There are about 16 occupational military specialties that are really high-tech and provide these folks with a strong foundation for success. It’s a built-in skillset and a badly underemployed section of the population,” Allie said.
It’s competitive to get in the program, and one of the criteria is, upon graduation, being willing to move to where you’re offered a job.
Morin, 28, came from south Texas for the training. Next month he starts a job as a field-service technician for Paper Converting Machine Co. in Green Bay.
He has been pursuing a degree in computer science, but he’s glad to have found a technical-skills job that ought to have a promising future.
“I am fortunate in that regard,” he said.