Former soldiers, including those returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with disabilities, are finding that their military background can help them get jobs in civilian companies.
Maytag Corp., for example, has an aggressive recruiting program turning recently discharged soldiers into repair technicians. Home Depot Inc. began Operation Career Front and Toyota North America started its Hire A Hero program in the past few years.
Companies say it's a win for them because they get high-quality workers.
“They have great discipline. They have great technical skills. They understand how to follow orders and follow procedures,” said Art Learmonth, president of Maytag Services.
Many soldiers say it was an easy transition from war machine to washing machine.
“It's a great big sense of accomplishment every time you do a job. I had the same feeling in the military,” said Steve Ware, 43, of San Diego, Calif., who joined Maytag after 20 years in the Navy as an aircraft technician.
About 5,000 companies are registered with the Marine For Life program, which helps soldiers find work in civilian businesses after leaving the service, said Maj. Carolyn Dysart, spokeswoman for the program.
“There's been a real wave of support for the military. It's wonderful since the war on terrorism began. These are all outgrowths of that,” she said. “They're not just supporting active duty service members, but when they come home they're just as eager.”
Almost 40 companies have signed on to a separate program that hires disabled veterans, many offering jobs to soldiers coming home from Iraq with a disability. The list includes Colonial Life Insurance, and the corporate office of Time Warner Cable, a unit of Time Warner Inc.
“They are saying we'd love to hire disabled veterans, we're here for you, send them our way,” Dysart said.
Lt. Col. John Tansill, spokesman for Employer Support of the National Guard and Reserve, said the military likes the fact that companies are seeking out soldiers. “It's telling the military we like the product that you produce,” he said.
Paul Adams, 25, of Spokane, Wash., said he was nervous about his job prospects after four years in the Army. “If you're making the decision to get out of the military, no matter how long you've been in, it's scary,” he said.
Adams posted a resume on the Monster.com Web site. The Maytag recruiter saw it and contacted him. Adams was offered a job and joined about 14 other men with military backgrounds in Galesburg, Ill., for the first Maytag “boot camp” — four weeks of classroom training in appliance repair, following by four to six weeks in the field with a mentor.
“Everybody was sort of impressed and felt fortunate to have an opportunity like that,” he said.
Maytag launched its repair business, serving all makes and models of appliances, last year. It since has expanded into more than 50 markets representing 64 percent of U.S. households, and is expected to reach about 71 percent of households in 2005, Learmonth said.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. is largest single company provider of home appliance repair, followed by General Electric Co. and Maytag. However, more than 75 percent of the market is served by independent appliance dealers and repair service operators, whose numbers are declining, Learmonth said.
“One of the problems that we have is, as my folks say, mamas don't raise their kids to grow up to be service technicians,” Learmonth said. “We've developed a solution to that problem. We hire young folks coming right out of the service. Many of them coming right back from Iraq.”
Ware, the former aircraft technician, said he heard at a job fair that Maytag was hiring former soldiers and contacted the company's recruiter. A week later, he was offered a job and entered the training program. He said the boot camp eases many former soldiers' concerns because of the similarity to military training.
“They teach you a lot of stuff quickly. In the military we're accustomed to that,” he said.
He's been in the field repairing appliances since June and said the job is what he'd hoped to find as a civilian.
“I look forward to going out to the truck to see what I'm going to be doing today,” he said.
For Adams, the customer service part of the job was overwhelming initially, but he's become more comfortable with the personal interaction with customers.
He gets some mild ribbing from customers that he doesn't look like Ol' Lonely — the repairman portrayed in company advertising and on the side of the repair vans.
“People talk about it,” he said. “I'm younger. They say my picture should be on the side of the van.”