When he was deployed, Mike Intregila missed his son's first words, his first steps and his first birthday. He ended his time in active duty in 2017 with a unique set of skills, and a resolve not to miss any more of those moments for a paycheck.
It wasn't easy at first. He landed a couple of production jobs where he enjoyed the work but quickly hit a ceiling. He was working 10-hour days, six days a week for a $30,000 salary and struggling to afford health benefits for his family.
The unemployment rate is better for veterans than for Americans in general, but many aren't finding the right fit in the job market. A 2017 study by ZipRecruiter and the Call of Duty Endowment found that nearly one-third of veteran job seekers were underemployed, holding jobs beneath their objective skill level. That was nearly double the underemployment rate for non-veterans.
Intregila was lucky. Earlier this year he found a job as a production supervisor at the Genpak plant in Montgomery, which makes food service containers and dinnerware. It's steady hours, good pay and good benefits, but not the job match someone may have expected for a former Navy Machinist's mate.
"I came from working on aircraft as a jet mechanic. If you had told me when I first started with the military that I would be working at a place that manufactures to-go boxes for restaurants, I would have told you that you were crazy," Intregila said. "... But taking those skills that I harnessed while I was in the military and being able to utilize them here, it's actually (translated) pretty well for me."
It's been a different story for some of his friends from the service. Some can't find a salary close to their military pay and end up back in active duty because they don't see a better option. Others wind up in civilian jobs that aren't right for them.
"The technology can be overwhelming when someone steps into this," said Mike Starich, CEO of veteran-focused staffing company Orion Talent. "Where do I even start? There's a lot of noise to move through and figure out what's my best approach."
Meanwhile, the stream of potential workers keeps coming. About 200,000 people leave the service each year, about half going on to college and about half into the workforce. The military sends them through a two-week transition program that teaches how to write a resume, make connections and translate military skills into civilian job skills.
That transition program has helped, Starich said. Still, potential employers have to be able to understand a veteran's mindset, and how concepts like leadership, adaptability and teamwork can benefit the company.
Intregila handles the night shift at Genpak. Most of the other departments aren't around overnight, meaning he has to wear a lot of hats to solve problems until the morning.
"You can plan for your day to day, as far as how a business runs, but there's always going to be variables that are going to change it. ... I have to adapt. I have to be able to react to it," he said. "That sort of skill set is so crucial, especially in the manufacturing world."
His managers praised the job Intregila is doing at the plant, and they're hiring more veterans.
Starich said one of the ways companies can help is by developing a veteran hiring program. Most human resource departments are staffed by people who are non-military, so they often don't understand how to maximize the potential of new hires. He suggested they seek out advice from veterans, particularly those who already work at the company.
It goes beyond the value of a good job, or a good worker. Intregila talked about veteran suicide rates, which are significantly higher than rates for non-veterans. And the highest suicide rate among veterans is for people age 18-34, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
"I just hope there are more companies out there that are reaching out to their vets," Intregila said.
This article is written by Brad Harper from The Montgomery Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.