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Two summers ago, U.S. Army Sergeant Kreg Smith was on his second tour in Iraq, shooting down mortars lobbed by insurgents at his base inside the Sunni Triangle. But since then, he has traded Iraq for a more peaceful neighborhood. He is making turbine parts for jet engines at GE Aviation’s plant in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, as one of a thousand veterans hired by GE this year. Thanks to vets like him, GE has hit its goal of hiring a thousand vets in 2012. GE plans to hire a total 5,000 veterans between 2012 and 2016.
Capt. Jenna “Dookie” Dolan flew Harrier jets in Iraq. She is now a manager at GE Aviation and one of 10,000 vets working for GE.
GE Aviation is just one place within the corporation that is a natural fit for vets. Other businesses, from GE Healthcare to GE Capital, have also added former soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines. Today, GE employs more than 10,000 veterans recruited from both the officer and the enlisted ranks. The company runs a number of programs and partnerships that teach vets new technical and leadership skills and help them cross from military to civilian live.
GE’s Junior Officer Leadership Program (JOLP), for example, sends junior military officers like Jenna Dolan on rotation through GE businesses. “The program gives you great visibility,” says Dolan, a Marine fighter pilot who was the first woman to fly an AV-8B Harrier jet in combat over Iraq. “It encourages you to set up meetings and seek mentorship. Everybody has kept their doors open.” Dolan now works as a product development program manager at GE Aviation.
In October GE joined Lockheed, Boeing and Alcoa to launch the Get Skills to Work coalition, a program designed to match 15,000 vets with high-tech manufacturing jobs. The coalition is seeking additional partners to expand the assistance to 100,000 vets by 2015. GE vets also launched their own support group, the GE Veterans Network, which helps veterans find training, career fairs, and job transition workshops.
Hamilton served in Iraq, Kosovo, the Philippines, and other countries.
For corporate leaders like Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO, embracing veterans is smart business. They see vets like Smith and Dolan as a great reservoir of talent. Experts estimate that there are 600,000 open jobs in advanced manufacturing and that an aging workforce will make the shortage even more apparent. “The supply is our veterans, too many of whom are struggling to find meaningful work and a career,” Immelt says.
During a November lecture at the U.S. Naval War College, Immelt told a story he heard from Lionel Hamilton, another veteran employed by GE. Hamilton, a helicopter pilot who spent 13 years in the military, now oversees jet engine assembly at a testing facility in Peebles, Ohio. Hamilton told Immelt that U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are asked to go door-to-door and conduct international relations in a country at war. Compared to that, the former pilot said, getting a jet engine out of the factory on time does not seem that difficult a task.
“I tell that story because it makes an important point,” Immelt said in his lecture. “Being able to understand the task and then having the ability to execute – unfazed, even when the environment is ambiguous, uncertain or volatile – is critical. That is what we need to be competitive. That is what we need to win.”