Local companies say no one doubts the work ethic and caliber of veterans — but organizations sometimes need help matching a military résumé to the skills needed for civilian jobs.
When it was founded in 2013, the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency launched the Veteran-Friendly Employers program to help workplaces increase their veteran recruitment, training and retention.
MVAA has grown the program nearly 60 percent in the past year, certifying 94 employers in 2018. The 253 companies in the program employ nearly 29,000 veterans and hire an average of 2,000 veterans a year as a group.
The program awards employers gold-, silver- and bronze-level status as Veteran-Friendly Employers. It is designed to help qualified organizations recruit and retain top veteran talent while providing others a roadmap to improving their recruitment efforts, according to the MVAA.
Bronze-level employers must commit to hiring a specific number of veterans (which varies by company size and growth plans), among other requirements such as posting job openings at mitalent.org.
Silver-level employers must meet all bronze-level requirements and implement a certain number of veteran-friendly programs such as onboarding and training.
Gold-level employers must meet all bronze and silver requirements and show they retain 75 percent of their veterans over a 12-month period, as well as being present at or hosting a veteran-focused job fair and implementing other initiatives such as a spouse hiring program and internal support group such as a veteran affinity network.
West Michigan has about 48 companies that have earned bronze, silver and gold certification.
Herman Miller: Zeeland-based Herman Miller was the recipient of the 2017 Rising Star Award in the bronze category and again earned bronze certification this year.
Micky O’Neill, co-lead of the company’s Veterans Inclusiveness Resource Team, is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1992-96.
He said Herman Miller earned the Rising Star Award for a number of reasons, including creating a “buddy onboarding program” where veterans help other veterans acclimate to their roles.
Herman Miller’s other veteran-friendly actions include participating in vet-focused hiring fairs, hiring around 30 veterans companywide and increasing its supplier diversity by purchasing over $1 million in goods made by veteran-owned suppliers.
On the charitable giving side, Herman Miller has raised more than $80,000 in donations and clothing for residents of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans over the past five years, sent care packages to families of active-duty military members, and is creating a database that will give family members of active-duty military or veterans access to a list of benefits for which they are eligible.
O’Neill said Herman Miller’s local veteran hiring efforts are constrained by the relatively small population of West Michigan veterans.
“It’s not like we’re surrounded by a (military) base,” he said. “We’re trying to find out better ways of reaching veterans, and one is working with the MVAA.”
Spectrum Health: West Michigan’s largest employer has been certified as a bronze-level Veteran-Friendly Employer since 2016.
Eric Van Duren, director of talent acquisition at Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, said the health system has an employee-led Veteran Inclusion Resource Group that plays a central role in fostering an inclusive environment for veterans.
“The Veteran IRG’s purpose is to encourage a strong veteran community through camaraderie, advocacy and opportunities for all,” Van Duren said. “(It) supports those who have served and Spectrum Health by advocating for veterans’ care within our community and Spectrum Health, and enhancing the careers of fellow veterans at Spectrum.”
While Spectrum does not have a set hiring quota, Van Duren said it established a Veteran Explorers Program in 2015 that helps veterans transition into corporate and private sector roles.
“We identify areas within Spectrum Health to bring on veterans into rotational experiences and then partner with them to transition to permanent employment,” he said. “More than a hiring initiative, this is a demonstrable commitment to the veterans in our communities as we build our workforce and retain talent in West Michigan.”
As part of the program, Spectrum establishes “a trusting relationship” with local veteran agencies to help it reach a wider talent pool. The program also allows candidates who lack certain skills to still be hired and learn on the job.
Another way the Veteran IRG sought to increase Spectrum’s veteran talent pool this year was to host a month of celebrating veterans leading up to Veterans Day, which included a regional workshop for employers facilitated by the MVAA on military cultural competency in recruiting and hiring.
Other events during the 30 days included spotlighting veteran employees, volunteering opportunities, a veteran job fair and formal Veterans Day ceremonies.
“I think a lot of these things, we don’t do them because they’re required, we do them just because they’re the right thing to do to increase veteran numbers in our workplace,” Van Duren said.
Express Employment Professionals: Janis Petrini, owner, Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids, said her staffing firm got involved with the MVAA’s Veteran-Friendly Employer program in 2015 and has been certified silver since 2016.
Express Pros offers manufacturing and industrial, office and administrative, professional and skilled trades staffing and recruiting.
Heather Merrick is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and was hired as a professional and technical recruiter at Express Pros in 2015.
Petrini said Merrick had an “amazing experience” to be able to expand the firm’s veteran outreach and training.
Express Pros works with employers to train veterans for manufacturing jobs and integrate them into the company — and also offers training in military résumé reading and cultural competence.
“Our mission is to help employers decode (veterans’) experience, and we also are looking to help employees translate their experience,” Petrini said.
Petrini said being part of the Veteran-Friendly Employer program has taught Express Pros a lot and connected it with a number of new resources.
“It’s helped us in the recruiting business to be more effective and to be a better ambassador for veterans, to demystify the value the veteran has and how it can translate in the marketplace,” she said.
“It’s the right thing to do, as well, and in a talent shortage such as we are in with the highest unemployment rate for veterans, Michigan needs to do as much as we can to be veteran friendly and honor our veterans.”
SpartanNash: Byron Center-based SpartanNash earned silver-level certification through the Veteran-Friendly Employer program in 2017 and 2018 after its first year in the program at bronze status in 2016.
As a distributor of grocery products to U.S. military commissaries and exchanges around the world, SpartanNash currently employs nearly 800 military veterans, in addition to reservists, National Guardsmen and family members of servicemen and women throughout the company.
At MDV, SpartanNash’s military division, 14 percent of associates are veterans or currently serving.
“One of our company’s core values is patriotism, and … throughout the year, we recognize the valuable perspectives, backgrounds and work ethic veterans bring to the workforce,” said Yvonne Trupiano, executive vice president and chief human resources officer.
For its veteran and military-affiliated associates, SpartanNash offers a military employee resource group designed to enhance onboarding efforts and create a network for veterans to tap into for career support and training.
SpartanNash also has partnered with GI Jobs, the West Michigan Veterans Coalition and Michigan State University’s Student Veterans of America to expand its outreach and recruitment efforts of veterans and their family members.
Last year, SpartanNash’s corporate giving totaled more than $100,000 to 268 veterans’ initiatives and organizations.
In 2017, the SpartanNash Foundation granted $122,500 to seven nonprofit organizations that provide veterans services.
Whirlpool: Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool was the only West Michigan-headquartered employer to earn gold-level certification in 2018. It has been participating in the program since 2015.
Ben Kunst is the Whirlpool Veterans Association recruiting lead and a Marine Corps veteran. He said Whirlpool acts as a “benchmark” for other employers by doing “aggressive” hiring at events like GI Jobs, Hiring Our Heroes and MVAA; retention programs such as battle-buddy post-hire mentoring and advanced mentoring by management; veteran affinity groups; and spousal hiring, to name a few.
“We thought hiring veterans was a good position to take,” Kunst said. “Everyone knows they have all these leadership qualities and have been invested in by the government. But we are about hiring top talent; it’s not just a charity. It’s because they are the best of the best.”
Whirlpool recently became the exclusive appliance provider for the charity Homes for Our Troops, which provides ADA-compliant housing for veterans who have had one or more amputations.
The global company also participates in numerous veteran charity events on the local level, such as veteran community events and involvement with veteran retirement homes.
Kunst said the company hasn’t locked down an exact number of veterans hired since joining the Veteran-Friendly Employer program, but it’s around 250. That represents about 3 percent of the company’s total U.S. workforce in 2018.
A full list of the 2018 Veteran-Friendly Employers is at bit.ly/2018VFEP.