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“After a failed 1915 peace mission to Europe, Henry Ford agreed to supply aircraft engines, boats, and Model T chassis to be used as the primary underpinnings for field ambulances in WWI.” Steve Engelhardt reports.
As Ford exploded in popularity over the years, their connection to the U.S. military only grew stronger, displayed again during WWII with their decision to halt all civilian vehicle production and dedicate all resources towards the Allied efforts. After the war, Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, made it a company commitment to assist in the integration of returning veterans into the workplace. Now, over 60 years later, Ford’s roots in veteran employment only run deeper, and the company today represents one of the leaders in not only employing veterans and those currently serving, but in assisting them with the ongoing challenge of adjusting to civilian life again as well.
Path to Success
Let’s look at Martin Woomer, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who now serves as a supplier technical assistance site engineer at Ford. Coming out of a small high school in Johnstown, Penn., Woomer initially wished to pursue an athletic scholarship for football, and had several offers on the table, but turned them down when he realized what it meant. “I talked to a lot of guys who had played football in college and they said it was like basically having a full time job.” However, it wasn’t commitment that was the issue for him, but rather where he was going to focus such efforts. “I steered away from athletics and focused on the military, because between the two, I thought it was more important to serve your country.”
Woomer, shifting gears, went on to attend a Naval Academy prep school in 1998 before being admitted into the U.S. Naval Academy a year later. Four years later, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics through his General Engineering Core Curriculum. He says that looking back, this degree combination was an important decision for him, “because it gave me a strong business knowledge to go on top of the technical education I was already receiving.”
After his time in the Naval Academy, Woomer chose to continue on to the Naval Nuclear Power School and subsequently spent the next eleven years serving as an officer aboard the Navy’s nuclear submarines, including the USS Alabama, a strategic missile-based submarine, and the USS Seawolf, a submarine designed for fast attacks. “During this time, I also completed NAVSEA Lean Six Sigma and PMP (Project Management Professional) certifications, because I wanted to make sure that, as I transitioned out of the military, I had all the skills present to get a job within a career that I wanted.”
And he did just that, as although his term of service in Navy didn’t officially end until January this year, Woomer received his job with Ford Motor Company in November of 2013.
A Different Set of Challenges
Although Woomer’s path ended in success, many veterans like him have a hard time finding meaningful employment after their military service has ended. The military instills many skills, both hard and soft, in the men and women that fill its ranks, so why is this the case?
“I think given the military’s structured level of order, you have individuals who for years are told where to go and what to do, and when they reenter civilian life, they’re presented with some freedoms of choice and direction that they aren’t necessarily used to,” Woomer says.
Another issue is the relative gap many face when applying for skill-based positions. “With a few exceptions, veterans face quite a steep learning curve compared to others when entering into a job—if you look at my position at Ford, I’m working with some individuals who have been in the automotive industry for over 20 years where I myself had none.”
But no need to worry, says Laura Kurtz, Manager, US Recruiting at Ford Motor Company who says that the skills military veterans possess are both highly applicable and in-demand, and that it’s rather more of an issue in how they can effectively frame these skills through the lens of a civilian, than a lack of quantifiable talent. “Here at Ford Motor Company, we highly value the knowledge and expertise that veterans gain during their time in the military because their experience not only provides them with great technical skills, but also instills leadership qualities that enable them to excel in just about every division of our company,” she says, adding, “I would only advise them, however, to revise their resume with someone outside of the military so they can properly highlight such skills in an identifiable manner to us.”
Kurtz and Woomer both agree that it is also important for veterans to effectively identify the many organizations, veteran groups, alumni associations, and surrounding veteran communities that are present in order to understand how they can properly transfer their military skills into a career. Among these, Woomer points specifically to veteran-specific recruiting organizations like SACC (Service Academy Career Conference) as one of the instrumental factors in helping him land a job with Ford. “SACC is a veteran specific career conference that is only open to graduates of the service academies (USMA, USNA, USMMA, USAF, USCGA), where about 80 to 100 companies attend, educate and recruit veterans to some of the United States’ most impactful companies,” he says.
Woomer says his job with Ford has been a dream come true. “Ford Motor Company is a great place to work, because aside from it being an iconic American company, many of the values I learned in the military are respected and adhered by Ford as well,” he says, adding, “I think any veteran interested in a job here would likely succeed because of the many organizational and philosophical similarities it shares with the military.”
Because, despite the size of Ford Motor Company, Kurtz says there is a family-like atmosphere that allows veterans, in particular, to smoothly transition into their new careers. “It’s a company that is legitimately concerned about the wellbeing of its workers, and I think our veteran employees take comfort in that,” she says.
Specifically, there is the Ford Veteran’s Network, one of Ford’s 11 internal employee resource groups, that was created in 2007 to raise awareness within the company about its veteran employees, their issues, and overall corporate contributions. “This is a network that is operated entirely by Ford employees on a voluntary basis, where they work together to help employees contribute towards the success of the One Ford Plan,” says Kurtz.
The network also determines and addresses the needs of Ford employees who are currently serving in the military. “We help ford employees prepare for deployment, and provide services to their family once they are deployed, so they can know their loved ones are being thought of and cared for while they are away,” she says. The group also raises awareness and hold events to celebrate military-specific holidays, such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Military Spouse Day, to further drive home their support for Ford employees with military backgrounds. “Through this network we are able to support our veteran employees both internally and externally, ensuring that they are aware of the many resources available to them and how all of this support plays into Ford’s overall corporate mindset,” says Kurtz.
It’s a mindset that hasn’t changed throughout Ford’s existence, and while there is an increasing number of veterans facing challenges of employment, the company’s commitment to those who have served has never been stronger. Kurtz says that Ford Motor Company is currently experiencing its highest volume of hiring in over a decade, and adds that, “veterans are candidates that we value greatly, and look to continue to hire.”
For Ford Motor Company and those who have served in the U.S. military, it’s a deep-seeded partnership that goes back nearly a century and looks to continue for many decades to come.