The Value of Veterans

Tim Isacco of Orion

Tim Isacco is a former Army officer and currently serves as the VP of Sales for Orion International, a job recruitment firm for officers and enlisted technicians. In an interview with, Tim gave us some of his insights into the current job market and how veterans bring in-demand skills to companies. Tell us about your military background.

Tim Isacco: I graduated from West Point in 1988, and spent about seven years in the military, stationed overseas in Germany as well as at Ft. Bragg, before I got out as a captain. During that time I was an infantry platoon leader, company XO, S1, and S4.  I’m a fourth-generation West Point graduate -- everyone in my family has been through West Point except my little brother, who went to the Air Force Academy and is a pilot.  We still like him even though he did not go to West Point. 

What’s your role with Orion?

I drive the sales force, which is tasked with going out and finding opportunities  for veterans and working with corporate America to see where veterans are a good fit. We talk to and educate companies out there, whether it’s an organization of 50-100 people or a larger Fortune 500 corporation. Our approach is we feel there’s a place for just about every veteran out there in every type of company, and we make sure companies recognize that the talent that a military veteran has can be used.

How do you go about educating companies?

The first thing we do is go on site and visit different employers, and see what the best fit is given the culture of the company and the candidates they’re looking for.  We look at two major tracks: the leadership side, and the technical expertise military candidates bring.

If you break down leadership, you can talk about how military individuals have leadership skills that focus on cultural inclusion and teamwork, motivating a diverse workforce, to be used or demonstrated in stressful situations, and building teamwork to attain goals. When you ask companies about leadership and the military, most people off the top of their heads talk about discipline, work ethic and integrity. Then you drill down and ask about some of the other aspects veterans can bring to the table. For example, a Naval officer needs to be able to manage people and technology, blend the two together to maximize both sides of the equation. So companies that are more technical might focus in on hiring someone who has that good blend.

In a manufacturing environment, some people might be more focused on grassroots leadership -- understanding the balance between safety, quality, quantity,  maintenance, and scheduling. With all those goals they have to know how to employ a workforce in which a person or two might be missing because of sickness, or a machine breaks down, so they have to know how to prioritize. I think the military teaches people how to do that, so it’s an easy transition to make.

On the field service side of the house, there’s a need for the skills that enlisted technicians have. You need individuals they can trust to interface with clients, project a good image, get to a job site on their own, and be able to troubleshoot. You see that in a lot of different companies, like the medical industry, for the energy industry on wind farms. Veteran technicians have a skill set that is easy to translate to a civilian job because of the electric, mechanical and electronic training they’ve had.

Some other skills are also easily translated – a construction company like Clark Construction will hire people straight from the Army Corps of Engineers or Seabees, people who have been in Iraq or Afghanistan doing horizontal or vertical construction.

What are the biggest misperceptions you’ve seen with companies about military veterans?

Some people have a perception that you will lead based on what’s on your collar, and people will listen to you just because of your rank. Today’s Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are a different generation, and they want to be led more on what comes from the heart than what comes from the collar. Leaders today are a lot more dynamic.  Sergeant Carter-Gomer Pyle types might still exist, but it’s not really what the military is all about. When we talk about how people are taught leadership in the military today, how they have to interact, how to balance technology, how to have to be statesmen when we’re interfacing with tribal leaders, we can say the whole dynamic of military leadership has changed.

On the tech side, military technicians today are trained so they can troubleshoot down to component level. Most field-service companies only require someone to be trained down to the card level, where they swap out card to fix a problem after identifying it through a computer interface. Military technicians’ level of expertise sometimes surprises people that we talk to once we explain the schooling they’ve had, the real-world experience, the systems that they work on today. People talk the size of engines or turbines, but then you compare it to the turbines used on board a ship, which are 20 times bigger, and that brings a different attitude to employers: “Wow, they work on something that big, and they’ve had that schooling? Pretty good.” Then throw in the ability to do the job under wartime conditions under stress, and that helps them see what the military person can bring to their company. We always tell people to do a “test drive”: try one veteran and we’re sure you’ll come back and ask for a dozen more.

How would you advise employers to approach hiring veterans?

I would say, Come in with an open mind in terms of what the capabilities a military person has. Think about the qualities needed to be successful at the job. For example, we might be talking to an auto manufacturer who’s looking for someone to be a leader and also has manufacturing experience, and they’ll ask us if we have a candidate with both. We tell them we have candidates who mainly have leadership experience, but what’s easier to teach? Metal stamping or leadership?

The other thing that’s impacting corporate America is workforce aging. You have companies today that have 45% of their workforce retiring in the next three years or less because of economic conditions out there. Once baby boomers start retiring, there is a void out there of qualified leaders and technicians to replace the people that retire. The crafts trade, for example, is just not replenishing itself with qualified people as much it used to. So corporate America is slowly figuring out that one of best sources of talent in leadership and technical skills is the military, and I think that’s starting to appeal to them. We’re finding it’s more a question of finding the right candidate for the right company, and making the right cultural fit, than trying to convince an employer they’re qualified.

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