How Veterans Can Make a Positive Impact on Workforce Development in the Construction Industry
The U.S. construction industry faces significant workforce development challenges, mostly in terms of labor shortage. Addressing this challenge is important for meeting the present and future needs of the industry. Hiring veterans is a valuable way through which the construction industry may overcome the workforce development challenges it faces. In spite of the several initiatives introduced by construction firms alongside the government and other stakeholders to take advantage of veteran talent, little research has been conducted to understand the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry. Based on in-depth interviews with six individuals and veterans in the construction industry, this study sought to understand the positive impact hiring veterans can have on workforce development in the construction industry as well as the challenges associated with hiring veterans. The six individuals included an executive at a private construction company, an owner of a construction company, an administrator at a higher learning institution offering training to veterans, and three veterans working in a construction company. According to the findings of the study, veterans possess unique skills and abilities that make them ideal for construction jobs: a strong work ethic, teamwork and leadership skills, organization and the ability to develop action plans, resilience and problem solving skills, and cross-cultural competence. These skills can be valuable for the construction industry given the significant workforce shortage it is experiencing. Furthermore, an increasingly large number of veterans retire every year, presenting a large pool from which construction firms can draw valuable talent. Acknowledging the value of veteran talent, construction firms, learning institutions, government agencies, and other stakeholders have already introduced wide-ranging initiatives to increase veterans access to employment opportunities in the construction industry. Even so, considerable challenges abound: difficulties in adjusting to civilian life on the part of veterans, difficulties in locating veterans on the part of employers, skill mismatch, and concerns over veteran redeployment in the future. Suggestions for addressing these challenges as well as implications for construction firms, learning institutions, and policymakers are discussed.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1
1.1 Background of the Study 1
1.2 Statement of Problem 5
1.3 Research Aim and Objectives 6
1.4 Significance of the Study 7
1.5 Organization of the Study 9
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW 10
2.1 Introduction 10
2.2 Theoretical Background: What is Workforce Development? 10
2.3 Workforce Development Processes and Initiatives 13
2.4 Significance of Workforce Development 15
2.5 Veterans, Civilian Employment, and Workforce Development 16
2.6 Impact of Hiring Veterans on Workforce Development 18
2.6.1. Benefits for Employers 18
2.6.2 Talent, Skills, and Abilities 19
2.6.3 Empirical Evidence 22
2.6.4 Challenges of Hiring Veterans 23
2.7 Workforce Development and Hiring Veterans in the Construction Industry 25
2.8 Chapter Summary 27
CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 29
3.1 Introduction 29
3.2 Research Philosophy 29
3.3 Research Approach 31
3.4 Research Design 31
3.5 Target Population and Sampling 32
3.6 Research Instrument 34
3.7 Interview Questions 36
3.8 Validity and Reliability 39
3.9 Data Collection 40
3.10 Data Analysis 40
3.11 Ethical Issues 40
3.12 Limitations of the Study 41
CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION 41
4.1 Introduction 41
4.2 Description of Participants 42
4.3 Veteran Skills and Abilities Useful for the Construction Industry 43
4.3.1 Work Ethic 44
4.3.2 Teamwork and Leadership Skills 48
4.3.3 Organization and Ability to Follow Orders 53
4.3.4 Resilience and Problem Solving Skills 56
4.3.5 Cross-Cultural Exposure 58
4.4 Initiatives that Integrate Veterans into the Construction Industry 60
4.4.1 Construction Industry Initiatives 60
4.4.2 Learning Institutions Initiatives 66
4.4.3 Military-Led Initiatives and Other Initiatives 71
4.5 Impact of Hiring Veterans on Workforce Development in the Construction Industry 74
4.5.1 Veteran Talent and Transferability to the Construction Industry 74
4.5.2 Workforce Shortage and Veterans Preference for Construction Jobs 78
4.6 Challenges of Hiring Veterans and Implications on Workforce Development 83
4.6.1 Difficulties in Adjusting to the Civilian Workplace 83
4.6.2 Skill Mismatch and Lack of Industry Experience 87
4.6.3 Difficulties in Locating Veterans 90
4.6.4 Concerns over Redeployment 91
4.6.5 Other Challenges 92
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS 95
5.1 Summary and Conclusion 95
5.2 Strengths, Limitations, and Suggestions for Future Research 99
5.3 Practice and Policy Implications 100
5.3.1 Implications for the Construction Industry 100
5.3.2 Implications for Learning Institutions 103
5.3.3 Implications for Policymakers 104
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Background of the Study
The importance of workforce development cannot be overemphasized. For any industry to thrive, it must have an adequate supply of a talented and qualified workforce (Uhalde, 2011). Workforce development is concerned with creating and maintaining such a workforce. It is a human resource (HR) function that focuses on addressing employment needs (Harris and Short, 2014). It encompasses identifying employment needs and skill gaps, filling the gaps, as well as preparing and training workers (U.S. Government Publishing Office, n.d). These efforts are aimed at improving employee performance, maintaining a productive workforce, and most importantly, adapting to change (Haralson, 2010). Without a productive workforce, organizations and industries may not effectively achieve their strategic goals and objectives. Indeed, a productive workforce is a crucial ingredient of organizational or industry success it is vital for remaining competitive in a constantly evolving environment.
The U.S. construction industry faces significant workforce development challenges. More specifically, the industry continues to grapple with considerable labor shortages, with the current supply of professionals and craft workers unable to meet the growing demand for labor in the industry (Azhar et al., 2014). The construction industry has experienced a boom since the 2008 economic recession, consequently increasing the demand for construction projects (Associated General Contractors of America [AGC], 2014). Nonetheless, according to a 2013 survey by AGC, most construction firms (nearly 75%) are finding it hard to recruit qualified workers to fulfill the demand for increased construction work (AGC, 2013). Construction firms are specifically unable to find qualified personnel to fill positions such as equipment operators, carpenters, engineers, estimators, and project supervisors. The survey further found that 65% of construction firms regarded the available craft workers as poorly qualified in terms of quality, skills, and productivity.
Other reports have reported similar finding. In 2010, an industry publication reported that 1.5 million additional workers would be required to the meet the demand for labor in the construction industry in 2014 (Groves, 2010). Today, the shortage is even severer. According to the 2016 National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) labor shortage survey, the percentage of construction firms facing serious labor shortages in 2016 stood at 56%, a significant increase from 21% in 2012 (Beyer, 2017).
The above reports point to worrying skill gaps in the construction industry. They highlight the widening break between the construction workforce and construction skills. Many young people are either not interested in pursuing construction careers or are not receiving adequate training to work in the construction industry (Azhar et al., 2014). This problem has been fueled by a combination of economic, education, demographic, and policy factors (AGC, 2014). The inadequacy of vocational and technical education programs, especially at the secondary school level, is a particularly important challenge. The U.S. once had comprehensive vocational programs in high schools. Today, however, such programs have declined, with most high schools shifting their focus to college preparatory programs. The declining attention to vocational programs has in large part been caused by reduced federal funding. Between 2006 and 2014 alone, for instance, the federal budget for career and technical education programs reduced by nearly 30% (AGC, 2014). With funding cuts, many vocational programs struggle with resource constraints, especially given the costly equipment and materials needed to offer vocational training. The implication is that fewer young people are pursuing construction and other technical courses, making it difficult for construction firms to find skilled craft workers.
The problem has further been compounded by declining enrolment into union-based apprenticeship initiatives. Between 2008 and 2013, the proportion of construction employees preferring union representation decreased by 23% (AGC, 2014). This means that union-based apprenticeship programs are not as widely available as they were a couple of years ago. More regrettably, state and federal policies make the creation of similar apprenticeship programs by open-shop contractors difficult. As a result, many construction firms are reluctant to invest in workforce training, worrying that firms may poach their trained employees.
Demographic shifts have also contributed to labor shortage in the construction industry. During the 2008 economic recession, many construction workers left the industry mostly due to layoffs (Beyer, 2017). Unfortunately, a substantial portion of construction workers who left the industry are not interested in returning. Indeed, most of them have pursued advanced education, ventured into other careers, or even retired. Statistics indicate that the number of construction workers presently in search of employment declined from 2.2 million in 2010 to 1 million to 2014, representing a more than 50% decline in a period of less than 5 years (AGC, 2014). These workers would now be serving as truck drivers, equipment operators, engineers, and so forth. In the meantime, most immigrant workers returned to their home countries at the height of the recession, and many of them have not returned to the U.S. owing to, among other factors, better economic conditions in their country and more stringent immigration regulations in the U.S. States with higher immigrant populations such as California and Texas have particularly been hurt by immigration shifts given that 40% of their construction workforce are immigrants (Beyer, 2017).
The age of the average construction worker has also changed. Presently, approximately 44% of the workforce in the construction industry is aged 45 years or more (AGC, 2014). Further, 20% of the workforce is 55 years or order. This means that more than 1 million construction workers will retire in the next one decade, further widening labor shortage in the industry. This problem is likely to persist in the future if measures are not urgently undertaken to address it. In fact, finding qualified craft and professional workers for the construction industry is likely to be more difficult in the future. This poses a substantial threat to the industry, warranting the need to prepare the workforce for construction work in the future.
The need to address labor shortage in the construction industry particularly stems from the associated impacts. Indeed, labor shortage has had severe impacts on the industry. In NAHBs 2016 survey, 75% of construction firms reported that they have had to spend more on wages due to labor shortages (Beyer, 2017). Increased employee expenses have compelled construction firms to deliver projects at higher bids, meaning home and building prices are increasingly higher. Between 2012 and 2017, for instance, median home prices jumped from $151,000 to $196,500 (Beyer, 2017). Also, labor shortage in the construction industry has the potential to undermine the growth of the construction industry and the countrys economic growth at large. As construction firms continue experiencing labor shortages, they will be compelled to offer slower project schedules. For critical construction projects, slower schedules can not only result in client dissatisfaction, but also hinder the speed of economic and employment growth (AGC, 2014). In any case, dissimilar to other projects, construction projects cannot be off-shored they must be executed on-site.
Given the severe implications of workforce shortage, a workforce development plan for the construction industry is imperative. According to AGC (2014), a series of policy initiatives (at the local, state, and federal levels), in conjunction with the private sector, is vital for developing the construction workforce. The initiatives should focus on increasing construction-related training and development opportunities. More specifically, hiring veterans presents a viable solution for workforce development challenges in the construction industry. This is because of two major reasons. First, unemployment amongst veterans is approximately three percentage points higher compared to the general population, with Gulf War II veterans having the highest rate of unemployment (National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, 2013). Unemployment among the veteran population is expected to be even higher in the future given that hundreds of thousands of service members are exiting the military every year, against the backdrop of Americas reduced defense spending and shifting defense strategies.
Most importantly, given the nature of their work, veterans have unique skills and capabilities that make them ideal for construction work (Starich, 2017). Part of military work involves construction tasks. For instance, many service members have direct experience in building or repairing bridges, airfields, and other types of structures. In addition to construction skills, service members are equipped with important leadership skills such as team building, organization, and team supervision. They are excellent team players, dependable, dedicated, goal-oriented, and disciplined. Also, veterans have an admirable work ethic as well as outstanding ability to meet deadlines, work under conditions of pressure, and solve problems. These skills are valuable for project-based tasks such as construction projects. Construction tasks can be daunting undertakings due to their inherent complexity. Thus, the familiarity of military members with complex situations makes them perfect candidates for construction jobs. Several organizations, including the construction industry, are increasingly acknowledging the value of hiring veterans (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Nonetheless, many organizations remain quite unaware of how to get the most out of veterans.
1.2 Statement of Problem
Hiring veterans in the construction industry is not exactly a new idea. Indeed, thee are several organizations that have been committed to connecting veterans with employment opportunities in the construction industry. Veterans Build America, V2C, VIP, Veterans in Construction Electrical (VICE), Build Your Future, Hire Our Heroes, and Helmets to Hardhats are ideal examples (Azhar et al., 2014). For instance, Helmets to Hardhats has been assisting veterans secure construction jobs since 2003. VIP, a much different program, not only helps veterans find employment opportunities in the construction industry, but also offers veterans free construction-related training.
In spite of the existence of programs for paring veterans with construction jobs, quantifying their efficacy remains difficult, in large part due to lack of research in this area. Additionally, most of these programs have experienced significant funding challenges, consequently undermining their effectiveness. As a result, it is not clear whether these programs are having any impact on workforce development in the construction industry. Very few studies have been carried out to determine the positive impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry. This is quite surprising given the widespread shortage of labor in the industry, the valuable skills veterans can offer to the industry, and the existence of programs aimed at pairing the veteran population with construction firms. The few studies that have been conducted in this area (e.g. Azhar et al., 2014) do not offer comprehensive findings. The studies also present methodological difficulties, hence the need for more research. The present research sought to fill this gap in research.
1.3 Research Aim and Objectives
The aim of the present study was to examine how the construction industry can benefit from veterans in terms of workforce development. The study specifically sought to achieve the following objectives:
1. To highlight the skills and abilities military veterans can bring to the construction industry.
2. To highlight efforts made by the government, learning institutions, and construction firms to ensure veterans are hired in the construction industry.
3. To demonstrate the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry.
4. To highlight the challenges of hiring veterans in the construction industry and the implications of those challenges on workforce development.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The present study has significant implications for the construction industry. Despite the widespread recognition that workforce shortage is a serious problem in the construction industry, the industry as a whole has done little to develop its workforce. This places the industry at a significant disadvantage considering that other industries are competing for the same scarce pool of professional and craft workers (Saxton, 2015). Time is ripe for the construction industry to pay greater attention to workforce development. Investing in workforce development is vital if the industry is to become the preferred industry for the millions of people looking for employment, especially veterans. By examining the positive impact of hiring veterans on workforce development, this study, therefore, offers useful insights for players in the construction industry. Construction firms and industry associations will gain invaluable knowledge on how to effectively tap into the skills and capabilities of discharged service members.
Taking advantage of veterans skills and abilities is especially vital for the construction industry. Statistics indicate that veterans are more likely to take up construction jobs compared to non-veterans (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). Indeed, veterans tend to be disproportionately represented in the construction industry compared to non-veterans. This is particularly true in southern states, where the percentage of veterans in the construction workforce is as high as 14% compared to less than 8% for the share of veterans in the entire workforce. In essence, the construction industry is a major source of employment for veterans. Many veterans are attracted to the construction industry by their inability to pursue a college degree. Accordingly, players in the construction industry ought to be fully cognizant of the benefits they can gain from hiring veterans.
Additionally, the study provides the business case for hiring veterans. Whereas business organizations actively support veterans, most of them in practice add veterans to their workforce only if they perceive it to be beneficial for business (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). This is not quite surprising since any profit-oriented business prioritizes profitability over anything else. If business organizations clearly see the business case for hiring veterans, they are likely to hire veterans (Haynie, 2016). This study justifies the business case for hiring veterans in the construction industry.
The study has far-reaching implications for not only the construction industry, but also the government and policy makers. The construction industry occupies an important position in the U.S. economy, accounting for approximately 4% of the countrys total GDP. More importantly, the industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. in terms of output and employment (Saxton, 2015), with annual growth exceeding 12% as of 2014 (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). The growth of the industry, however, is threatened by workforce shortage. The present study has immense potential to influence policies and initiatives that favor the construction industry. The study can serve as a basis for the government to work together with the construction industry and the private sector at large to integrate the hundreds of thousands of veterans exiting service every year into the construction industry. For the government, integrating veterans into civilian employment is a priority.
Government and private sector efforts to address unemployment among veterans are crucial for enhancing the welfare of veterans. Veterans are an especially vulnerable group due to combat-related stress (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). This stress may be compounded by financial difficulties and other challenges specific to veterans such as physical health complications, homelessness, marital problems, and interpersonal difficulties (Berglass and Harrell, 2012). By highlighting the positive impact of veterans on workforce development in the construction industry, this study, therefore, adds weight to the perennial problem of veteran wellbeing.
1.5 Organization of the Study
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Chapter 2 provides an extensive review of literature on workforce development, veterans and civilian employment, as well as the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in general and specifically in the construction industry. Chapter 3 describes and justifies the methods and procedures that were employed to achieve the objectives of the study. Chapter 4 presents the findings of the study and offers an interpretation of the findings. Chapter 5 summarizes the study, ultimately summarizing the study and highlighting recommendations for practice, policy, and research.
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
The aim of the present study was to examine the positive impact hiring veterans can have on workforce development in the construction industry. This chapter provides a comprehensive review of extant literature on the topic. First, the theoretical background of the study is provided, clearly defining the concept of workforce development and describing the importance of workforce development. Next, attention is paid to the participation of veterans in civilian employment, initiatives undertaken to increase veteran employment, and the contribution of veterans to workforce development, especially in terms skills, abilities, and experiece. The review also focuses on the involvement of veterans in the construction industry. Finally, a summary of the review is offered, identifying gaps in research and highlighting the focus of the present study.
2.2 Theoretical Background: What is Workforce Development?
There is no universally applicable definition of the concept of workforce development. Nevertheless, the concept essentially denotes the process of training and preparing workers for jobs in an increasingly complex world (Harris and Short, 2014). The U.S. Government Publishing Office (n.d.) offers a much broader definition of workforce development: a host of efforts, policies, processes, and activities undertaken to develop a productive workforce, identify and address future workplace needs, and equip workers with the skills and competencies needed to effectively fulfill their roles and responsibilities at the workplace. For Haralson (2010), workforce development refers to a wide range of activities, policies and programs employed by geographies to create, sustain and retain a viable workforce that can support current and future business and industry. This definition suggests that workforce development is not a single program it encompasses interconnected solutions aimed at addressing employment needs.
Instead of focusing on businesses, workforce development focuses on people. It is a human resource strategy concerned with enhancing human capital (Harris and Short, 2014). Accordingly, workforce development can also be referred to as human resource development. Nonetheless, this does not necessarily mean that the terms workforce development and human resource management can be used interchangeably. It is important to note that workforce development entails not only building the skills of the workforce, but also establishing systems for matching employers with job seekers (Haralson, 2010). This aspect of workforce development dominates the focus of this study. At any given time, there are millions of individuals without jobs, in large part due to the scarcity of jobs and lack of skills. Workforce development initiatives are important for linking these individuals with relevant job opportunities. Thus, workforce development serves two purposes at the same time. On one hand, it enables individuals to have skills, knowledge, and attributes that match the needs of the workplace and the economy at large. On the other hand, workforce development offers employers a mechanism to convey and fill their demand for skills.
The concept of workforce development is anchored in several theories, including management theory, learning theory, psychology, sociology, lifelong learning, organizational behavior, and economic theory. The concept is not quite new it was first mentioned in the mid 1990s by Harrison, Weiss and Gant (1995) (cited in Comyn, 2008). Harrison and associates sought to distinguish between employment training and workforce development. While employment training pays attention to the supply of skills (supply side), workforce development places emphasis on the needs of the employer (demand side). Accordingly, the workforce development approach is a better approach for developing human capital. This is especially because workforce development goes beyond training to include processes and activities such as collaboration, mentoring, job matching, and employee retention (OLawrence, 2016).
There are two major forms of workforce development: place-based workforce development and sector-based workforce development (Harris and Short, 2014). The first form involves improving the skills and competencies of the workforce in a given location e.g. a neighborhood, county, state, country or region. Place-based workforce development strategies focus on the supply side. The second form denotes efforts undertaken at the sector or industry level. In this form, initiatives are undertaken to match the workforce with industry needs. Dissimilar to place-based workforce development, sector-based workforce development pays attention to the demand side. Irrespective of the form, workforce development is undertaken to adapt to environmental changes (OLawrence, 2016).
As per human capital theory, the concept of workforce development has a much wider scope than just skills development or technical expertise (Leggett, 2013). Workforce development also involves building the social abilities and traits desired by the typical employer. For instance, employers prefer candidates with not only subject matter expertise or knowledge, but also excellent interpersonal, communication, teamwork, problem solving, and leadership skills. They desire individuals with proven integrity, ethical conduct, professionalism, diligence, flexibility, resilience, reliability, and self-direction (Duerden et al., 2014). This expanded scope means that workforce development is concerned with not only achieving full employment, but also enhancing employability. Employability means that an individual possesses the education and skills needed to effectively fulfill a given role in the workplace. Regrettably, many employers are increasingly concerned that most job candidates lack sufficient employability, underscoring the need for greater attention to workforce development (Uhalde, 2011).
2.3 Workforce Development Processes and Initiatives
From the above definition, workforce development entails numerous processes and activities e.g. education, vocational and career-oriented training, pre-employment preparation, mentoring, and increasing access to educational and career opportunities (Harris and Short, 2014; OLawrence, 2016). These activities involve several stakeholders, including the national government, state governments, non-governmental organizations, learning institutions, and the private sector. Indeed, according to Haralson (2010), workforce development encompasses the administration and coordination public- and private-sector initiatives, programs, and policies with the aim of empowering individuals to earn a livelihood as well as helping organizations achieve their goals and objectives.
At the national level, the U.S. government is actively involved in promoting science, math, and engineering courses in high school and higher learning institutions through funding and legislative initiatives as well as partnerships with non-government stakeholders (Uhalde, 2011). The ultimate objective of such initiatives is to develop a workforce that can sustain technical jobs. State government governments are also involved in workforce development. In Tennessee, for example, the state government administers a workforce development program the Highlands Economic Partnership that brings together firms, educational institutions, and the regional chamber of commerce (Elkins et al., 2016). The initiative seeks to align curricula with industry needs, develop workforce skills, and connect jobseekers with employment needs. Public-sector workforce development efforts not only serve business and industry needs, but also contribute to the achievement of state and national economic growth goals (Haralson, 2010).
At the private sector level, corporate organizations participate in workforce development through recruitment, on-the-job training, team development, mentoring, coaching, and talent management processes (Leggett, 2013). These processes are imperative for attracting and retaining a qualified pool of talent. They facilitate positive employee outcomes such as organizational commitment, loyalty, job satisfaction, and retention. A group of organizations may also join to foster workforce development. Such collaborations are especially widespread at the industry level (Uhalde, 2011). Through industry associations, organizations in the same industry initiate programs to promote and sponsor professional development, industry-specific skills training, and employment growth (Haralson, 2010). Industry partnerships enable organizations to address shared problems collectively. For instance,organizations in the construction industry may join efforts to deal with workforce shortage and employee retention issues. Corporate-level workforce development may also be specific to professions (Uhalde, 2011). For instance, there are initiatives specifically targeted at finance, project management, legal, and engineering professions.
Higher learning institutions participate in workforce development by equipping the workforce with subject matter knowledge as well as job skills (Hordern, 2013). In Washington, DC, for instance, the University of the District of Columbia Community College provides residents with free skills training through an initiative dubbed Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning Program (Leer and Ivanov, 2014). Predominantly targeting low-income minority groups, the program was introduced in 2006 to offer free courses relating to four career paths: hospitality, construction, technology, and healthcare. Many other higher learning institutions throughout the country also make significant contributions to workforce development.
Given the multiplicity of dimensions involved, workforce development is quite difficult to achieve without stakeholder partnerships. Indeed, most workforce development efforts involve government agencies, non-governmental agencies, learning institutions, and the private sector (Uhalde, 2011). In the U.S., stakeholder partnerships have played a crucial role in advancing workforce development. The U.S. Council on Competitiveness is an ideal example (Elkins et al., 2016). The council is an initiative that brings together business organizations, universities, and labor organizations to enhance workforce development. The initiative specifically seeks to improve access to high quality education, create jobs, reduce unemployment, advocate for increased investment into science and technology by the federal government, and to boost U.S.s competitiveness in the global economy. Stakeholder partnerships provide synergy and collaboration, making workforce development easier to achieve (Harris and Short, 2014). In addition to corporate-level, regional, and national initiatives, there are worldwide workforce development initiatives (Leer and Ivanov, 2014). The above are just a few examples of the several initiatives undertaken by governments, non-governmental agencies, learning institutions, and the private sector to develop the workforce.
2.4 Significance of Workforce Development
Workforce development is a crucial ingredient of economic growth and development (Elkins et al., 2016). Whether at the organizational, industry, local, national, regional, or global level, workforce development plays a crucial role in economic prosperity. Haralson (2010) terms workforce development as an essential component of community economic development in any economic climate. Workforce development is even more important in todays increasingly knowledge-based economy. Organizations, industries, and countries need an educated and competent workforce to effectively achieve their goals and objectives, and to be competitive in the domestic and international marketplace (OLawrence, 2016). A skilled workforce drives innovation, productivity, and business growth, hence enabling an industry or economy to successfully fulfill its needs (Uhalde, 2011).
For business organizations, workforce development is vital for fulfilling workplace demands (Bell et al., 2014). In the contemporary world, organizations grapple with increased environmental uncertainty and greater task complexity. This can be attributed to, among other factors, globalization, technological advancement, political reforms, demographic changes, and socioeconomic shifts. Recruiting and maintaining an adequate workforce with the relevant skills, knowledge, experience, competencies, and abilities is vital for survival in such an environment (Duerden et al., 2014). Essentially, lack of a skilled workforce threatens the existence of organizations in the future. Industries without adequate talent are prone to unnecessarily high labor costs and the inability to achieve their strategic goals and objectives.
2.5 Veterans, Civilian Employment, and Workforce Development
Several organizations and industries are turning to veterans in an effort to develop their workforce. It is important to understand who a veteran is prior to proceeding further. Title 38 U.S.C. 101 defines a veteran as a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable (Harrell and Berglass, 2012: 7). For purposes of this study, a veteran denotes an individual who was in active service in any position in one or more of the many components of the military (Air Force, Navy, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, National Guard, or Reserve), and was discharged honorably. This clarification is important given the shifting character of U.S.s defense strategy. In the wake of military downsizing, the U.S. is increasingly relying on private contractors for military operations. These individuals are not considered as veterans in this study.
Once discharged from active duty, veterans have to adjust to civilian life. Part of this integration encompasses finding a source of income. For many veterans, however, finding employment can be a difficult undertaking due to factors such as the unwillingness of employers to hire veterans (Berglass and Harrell, 2012). A number of government-led initiatives have been introduced to address this problem. For instance, Congress, in partnership with the executive, passed the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act in 2011 (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). The legislation offers incentives (e.g. tax credits and training assistance) for the private sector to hire veterans. Government agencies, especially the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have also introduced offline and online initiatives to increase employment among veterans. These initiatives focus on topics such as pre-separation counseling, benefits briefing, career advice, skills training, apprenticeship, skill translation, and employment coaching (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). In addition, the Office of Personnel Management contributes to veteran employment by giving veterans preference in recruitment processes as well as linking them with HR departments across the government.
Initiatives to address unemployment among veterans have also been launched by non-governmental organizations and the private sector. For instance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce administers the Hiring Our Heroes Program, an initiative aimed at connecting over 500,000 veterans with employment opportunities in the private sector (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). The initiative brings together chambers of commerce and thousands of business organizations throughout the U.S. As of 2012, the program has led to over 9,000 veteran hires. Further, the 100,000 Jobs Mission program is a program pioneered by a consortium of 44 firms with the aim of integrating more than 100,000 veterans into private sector employment (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). As of 2012, firms in the consortium had hired more than 12,000 veterans. Other notable private sector initiatives include Veterans on Wall Street (VOWS) and Wall Street Warfighters.
On the whole, government agencies, non-government organizations, and business organizations have undertaken commendable steps to minimize unemployment amongst veterans. These efforts are aimed at not only addressing unemployment, but also developing the workforce. Success in economic activity and economic development as a whole requires an adequate supply of labor and skills. Given their military background, veterans can significantly contribute to workforce development.
2.6 Impact of Hiring Veterans on Workforce Development
2.6.1. Benefits for Employers
An important concern for many employers with respect to hiring veterans relates to the associated value or the return on investment (Haynie, 2016). Any prudent business organization makes an investment with the aim of creating value for the firm. The returns or benefits accrued must justify the investment made. Business organizations want to be certain that veteran employment programs create value for the firm. What strategic benefits will hiring veterans bring to the organization? How will veterans build the organizations human capital? These are fundamental questions that business organizations want clearly answered prior to investing in a veteran employment initiative. Emphasis on value is not unusual. Firms exist in a rigorously competitive business environment, a challenge compounded by resource constraints (Haynie, 2016). Business leaders grapple with the challenge of achieving more with limited resources. In such an environment, businesses want assurance that adding veterans to their workforce will contribute to the bottom line. Without this assurance, it may be difficult for firms to be committed to hiring veterans.
The huge number of veterans places veterans in an ideal position to contribute to workforce development in the private sector. Every year, hundreds of thousands of service members are honorably discharged from active duty (AGC, 2014). From 2007 to 2014 alone, more than 1.2 million veterans rejoined civilian life (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). Such a huge number provides business organizations with a large pool from which they can draw useful human capital.
2.6.2 Talent, Skills, and Abilities
Workforce development is not just about having adequate workforce numbers it is also about skills and abilities. The most important value veterans bring to the private sector stems from their unique talent. Haynie (2016: 5) describes veteran talent as a differentiated human capital resource within the firm. This means that veterans come with skills and abilities that non-veterans may be deficient in or may not have. Veterans gain these skills from their service in the military. Military experience equips veterans with the ability to organize and lead teams (Vashdi et al., 2007). Compared to non-veterans, veterans are more skilled in developing team goals and objectives, outlining team member roles, designing work plans, formulating action plans to achieve specified goals, as well as working in task-oriented groups (Institute for Veterans and Military Families [IVMF], 2012). With workplace tasks increasingly becoming complex, the significance of teamwork and effective leadership cannot be overemphasized. In fact, most organizations now desire individuals with outstanding teamwork and leadership abilities. Veterans excellent teamwork skills make them ideal candidates for private sector jobs (God-Sanchez, 2010). If hired in the civilian context, they can contribute to the development of high-performing teams.
Harrell and Berglass (2012) point out that anyone who has led a team of combatants has the ability to lead a project team or a sales team in the civilian context. Team leadership in the civilian workplace generally encompasses giving direction and motivating followers. Team leaders in the military context do that every day, making them suitable candidates for private sector jobs (Schindler, 2016). Majority of college graduates lack leadership or management experience, meaning that someone who has been in the military is one step ahead in terms of leadership experience. Though the civilian workplace is substantially different from the military workplace, veterans can readily apply their experience to leadership roles in the civilian workplace.
Another skill veterans bring to the civilian workplace is the ability to follow instructions (Haynie, 2016). Ordinarily, the military is characterized by hierarchy and chain of command. Subordinates are taught to follow to the letter orders given by their superiors. Though contemporary organizations are ever more shifting to less hierarchical or decentralized structures, the prevalence of centralized structures is still widespread. Organizations that want to maintain and enforce hierarchy can count on veterans. However, it may be argued that hierarchy has no place in todays world. Whether hierarchy is advantageous to an organization or not is beyond the scope of this paper, but the ability to follow instructions, processes, and structures is a crucial skill in the workplace (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). For instance, workers are expected to comply with government and/or industry rules and regulations in the execution of their everyday responsibilities. The military is a place of rules, meaning that veterans are good at adhering to rules.
Veterans are also taught to work under pressure. Resilience is an important skill for success as a military member (IVMF, 2012). Given the character of military work, service members must be capable of overcoming adversity and hardships. They must be able to excel and accomplish goals in environments that the typical human being may not. Resilient behavior can be valuable in the civilian workplace (Haynie, 2016). In an ever more complex world, personal, professional, and organizational endeavors can fail. Individuals with the ability to cope with such situations without a doubt make better candidates. Veterans are such individuals (Harrell and Berglass, 2012).
Military experience instills a strong work ethic into veterans (Schindler, 2016). In a changing world, lack of work ethic, mostly among the millennials, is especially a crucial challenge facing the contemporary employer. Many young employees today lack the character and discipline portrayed by baby boomers and earlier generations. Since veterans are taught to be hardworking, virtuous, dependable, mature, diligent, mission-oriented, and effective time managers, they can add enormous value to an organization (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). The unique work ethic of veterans is further evident in their exceptional faith in co-workers, ability to trust their leaders, loyalty, and organizational commitment. These behaviors have extensively been associated with high individual productivity, effectiveness, and morale, which can positively influence organizational performance (IVMF, 2012).
Veterans are also entrepreneurial (Haynie, 2016). Military work generally involves complex and uncertain situations. In such an environment, service members must be quick decision makers. They must be creative, innovative, analytical, and great problem solvers. Working in the combat environment also requires one to be effective and have an unrelenting desire for achievement (IVMF, 2012). These skills are vital for solving the complexity of the combat environment. If transferred to the civilian context, these skills can be of great value to an organization. The relevance of these skills particularly stems from the dynamic nature of the environment in which organizations operate. In the face of constant political, regulatory, technological, and socioeconomic shifts, organizations must be agile, decisive, and quick actors.
In addition, veterans have experience in diverse and cross-cultural contexts (IVMF, 2012). The nature of military work exposes veterans to not only combat environments, but alsotasks relating to construction, emergency response, and humanitarian assistance. This makes veterans particularly proficient in transferring sills across tasks and contexts. Service members also have work experience beyond their home country, meaning more exposure to diverse cultures (Schindler, 2016). As a result, veterans are more likely to be culturally sensitive compared to non-veterans (Haynie, 2016). With such diverse experiences, the veteran population offers a unique source of talent for employers, hence a valuable resource to have.
The value of veterans to the private sector further stems from their extensive exposure to technical training (Haynie, 2016). Typically, military training involves not only combat-related training, but also technology training. In fact, service members tend to have more advanced technological training and technical expertise compared to their non-military counterparts (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Exposure to advanced technology makes veterans distinctively capable addressing organizational challenges using technology-based solutions (IVMF, 2012). This is a particularly important skill in a world that is increasingly technology-based and in search of technical experts. Today, virtually every organizational process and activity relies on technology and technical processes. Thus, employing veterans gives an organization an upper hand in terms of exploiting technological solutions and technical expertise.
2.6.3 Empirical Evidence
The scarce empirical evidence in this area demonstrates that hiring veterans can positively affect workforce development. Based on in-depth interviews with 87 individuals drawn from 69 companies in diverse industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, mining, retail, financial services, education, healthcare, and transportation, as well as representatives from DOD, VA, and DOL, Harrell and Berglass (2012: 5) show that hiring veterans is good for business. Participants in the study, who held diverse positions in their organization ranging from HR positions to executive positions, particularly identified the skills and abilities of veterans as the major source of the benefits. They reported veterans character, discipline, resilience, team work abilities, effectiveness, and leadership skills as valuable for organizational success. Compared to civilians, veterans tend to be receptive to structure and hierarchy, making personnel management easier. When translated to civilian careers, these skills and abilities can be beneficial for an organization (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016)
The value of Harrell and Berglasss (2012) study lies in the fact that it offers the perspectives of business organizations. Business organizations play a crucial role in integrating veterans into civilian life, hence are valuable sources of information about the experience of hiring veterans. Furthermore, the study draws on the perspectives of businesses with diverse characteristics in terms of age, industry of operation, location, and proportion of veteran workforce. This improves the generalizability of the findings.
Sixty-two percent of the firms included in Harrell and Berglasss (2012) study indicated that they actively sought to recruit veterans. They hired veterans through channels such as base visits, military career fairs, partnerships, employment websites, web portals, headhunters, and employment referral. An additional 13% reported that though they were not actively seeking to recruit veterans, they would give preference to a veteran applicant as opposed to a non-veteran applicant. This is an indication that business organizations in diverse industry settings acknowledge the importance of hiring veterans. Indeed, many business leaders have increasingly sought to positively change the employment situation of veterans (Haynie, 2016). The recognition of the business case for hiring veterans is further evident in the initiatives organizations that hire veterans put in place to support veterans. In Harrell and Berglasss (2012) study, about 50% of the firms that actively sought to hire veterans reported offering mentoring programs and networking support to their veteran hires to maximize their effectiveness at the workplace.
2.6.4 Challenges of Hiring Veterans
Despite the benefits of hiring veterans, a number of challenges are involved. Harrell and Berglasss (2012) study identifies the difficulty of translating military experience to the private sector as a major obstacle employers face in recruiting veterans. More specifically, many veterans are unable to package their skills and adeptness in a manner that resonates with the civilian workplace, a problem compound by the inability of civilian organizations to understand the specific military skills that are relevant for their workplace. This difficulty can be attributed to, among other factors, the stark organizational culture differences between the military and the civilian context (Gudmundsson, 2016).
Closely related to the challenge of skill translation is the problem of skill mismatch. Many employers express concerns that veterans lack relevant skills, industry expertise, and/or a college degree in spite of their excellent leadership and teamwork abilities (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). As such, employers fear that veterans may not effectively execute high-level jobs in the civilian context such as executive management (Schindler, 2016). Additionally, though veterans may have the relevant skills, they may lack other critical qualifications (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). For instance, medical practice in the civilian setting requires certain certifications. Military medics may not have these certifications at the time of exit from active duty, presenting integration difficulties.
Other challenges identified by Harrell and Berglass (2012) include negative stereotypes, concerns about military deployments in the future, the need for acclimation prior to civilian employment, and the difficulty of locating veterans. These challenges have also been noted elsewhere (Azhar et al., 2014; Gudmundsson, 2016; Schindler, 2016). Negative stereotypes can especially be a hindrance to veteran hiring. Owing to veteran exposure to combat, employers may be concerned about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental complications associated with military experience. Employers may also perceive veterans as less flexible and less communicative compared to non-veterans, making employers reluctant to hire veterans (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Furthermore, employers may be worried about future deployments. It is not uncommon for discharged service members to be recalled to active duty. If a veteran is recalled, the employer would be compelled to look for a replacement, a process that can often be costly and time-consuming.
The above challenges can be addressed through adjustments to government policy (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). For instance, DOD, together with VA and DOL, should be more responsive to the needs of veterans during the transition from military to civilian life. These agencies should also be more involved in public-private partnerships aimed at supporting veterans as well as in assisting private sector organizations evaluate the suitability of veteran candidates.
Notwithstanding the associated challenges, there is a business case for hiring veterans. Veterans offer not only a large pool of prospective candidates, but also exceptional skills and abilities. In a labor market flooded with candidates with similar qualifications, having a unique skill puts one ahead of the competition. Compared to fresh graduates, an individual with military experience is likely to have stronger leadership, teamwork, organizational, and problem-solving skills. A reasonable employer would undoubtedly pick the latter. Such an individual is more likely to be high-performing, productive, and committed to the organization.
2.7 Workforce Development and Hiring Veterans in the Construction Industr
Recognizing the negative impacts of skill gaps, players in the construction industry players have been more committed to workforce development. For instance, the Contractors Workforce Development Assessment (CWDA) was introduced to facilitate an objective assessment of contractors commitment to workforce development (Saxton, 2015). Results of this tool are among the criteria used to select contractors and subcontractors. Contractors committed to workforce development are more likely to register higher productivity, reduced lower absenteeism, reduced turnover, and improved safety performance compared to those not committed to workforce development. Construction firms have also increased commitment to workforce development by analyzing skill and labor shortages in the local labor market on an ongoing basis (Saxton, 2015). Such evaluations enable industry players to identify the measures that can be undertaken to ensure a sustainable workforce, such as hiring, training, and advocacy.
The construction industry has especially been at the forefront in terms of providing employment opportunities to veterans, which is an integral step towards workforce development. For instance, more than 100 construction firms have launched an initiative to employ over 100,000 discharged service members by 2019 (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). The initiative is part of the Joining Forces program, an initiative introduced by the Obama administration to find job opportunities for veterans in the private sector. Other notable construction industry initiatives include Veterans Build America, V2C, VIP, VICE, Build Your Future, Hire Our Heroes, and Helmets to Hardhats (Azhar et al., 2014).
Helmet to Hardhats is a nationwide program launched in 2003 to help veterans find employment opportunities in construction firms (AGC, 2017). However, the program has recently been experiencing funding challenges, consequently hindering its effectiveness. A more recent program, though much smaller, is V2C. The program also faces significant funding challenges. VIP differs from most construction industry-related initiatives. The program provides both employment in the construction industry and construction-related apprenticeship. It basically involves 18 weeks of training while the veteran is still at the military base, followed by 2 weeks of transition assistance to ensure a smooth transition to civilian employment (Azhar et al., 2014). All this support is provided free with the help of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters, Welders and HVACR Technicians. The program was initially introduced at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Lacey, Washington before spreading to other bases in the country. On its part, the Build Your Future program seeks to equip veterans with National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) credentials (AGC, 2017).
Whereas the recruitment of veterans in the construction industry has been on the rise, little research has been conducted to demonstrate the impact the veteran population can have on workforce development in the industry. In their qualitative study, Azhar et al. (2014) demonstrate that labor shortages in the construction industry can be addressed by hiring veterans. Following interviews with contractors, veterans presently working in the construction industry, as well as groups committed to fostering partnership between veterans and the construction industry, the study specifically found that the veteran population provides a sustainable source of qualified workers for the construction industry. It was established that veterans have a strong work ethic, leadership skills, and unique capabilities to thrive in teamwork environments, making them ideally suitable for construction jobs.
However, for the construction to fully benefit from veteran talent, Azhar et al. (2014) recommends the following: formation of enduring relationships between contractors and the military, provision of opportunities for veterans to link with contractors, and provision of veteran-targeted training initiatives for veterans to acquire specific skills prior to leaving the military. Azhar et al.s (2014) research is a valuable contribution to workforce development in the construction industry. The study not only demonstrates the positive impact of veteran hiring on workforce development in the industry, but also offers recommendations for maximizing the partnership between the construction industry and the veteran population. Even so, there is need for more research to further validate the positive impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the industry.
2.8 Chapter Summary
Overall, workforce development is an extensively researched area. Literature demonstrates that workforce development is instrumental for meeting the present and future needs of businesses and industries. One of the strategies stakeholders have resorted to in an effort to enhance workforce development is hiring veterans. Organizations, industries, and government agencies have acknowledged the value of veterans military experience to the private sector. In spite of this acknowledgement, little research has been conducted to demonstrate the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development. Scarcity of research is particularly true for the construction industry. Several initiatives have been launched by construction firms alongside the government and other stakeholders to take advantage of veteran talent, but it is not clear whether these initiatives have a positive impact on workforce development in the industry. This is a cause for concern given the critical role of the construction industry in the economy and its preference by veterans as a source of employment. Based on a qualitative approach, the present study sought to fill this gap in research by examining how hiring veterans can positively impact workforce development in the construction industry.
CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
This chapter describes and justifies the methodology and procedures utilized to achieve the objectives of the study. The chapter first describes the research philosophy, research approach, and research design employed. Next, the target population, sampling strategies, the research instrument, validity and reliability concerns, as well as data collection and analysis procedures are identified. Finally, ethical concerns and limitations of the study are highlighted.
3.2 Research Philosophy
Also referred to as research paradigm, research philosophy denotes the set of principles, beliefs, and assumptions that inform scholarly inquiry (Bryman, 2008). Research philosophy dictates the approaches and procedures the researcher employs to conduct research. It determines the relationship between the researcher and the subjects and how the researcher interprets findings.
In general, research may be conducted within the positivist paradigm or the interpretivist paradigm. Under the positivist philosophy, knowledge is assumed to be external, universal, and generalizable (Bryman, 2008). The primary objective of positivist research is to examine relationships between two or more variables. The researcher achieves this by employing quantitative techniques such as experiments and surveys. Also, the researcher focuses on a large sample. A large sample enhances the generalizability of findings since the sample selected should typically be representative of the larger population under study. The character of positivist research has implications on the relationship between the researcher and the subjects (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). As the researcher seeks to understand relationships between variables, the researcher does not cultivate a close relationship with the subjects. It would even be quite difficult to forge such a relationship when focusing on a large number of subjects. A major demerit of positivist research is that it does not provide an in-depth understanding of theresearch phenomenon (Creswell, 2014).
In-depth inquiry is enabled by interpretivist research, which sees knowledge as subjective (Bryman, 2008). In other words, knowledge is not generalizable it is contextual, situational, or circumstantial. This means that different individuals interpret their world differently. To ensure in-depth inquiry, interpretivist research focuses on a small sample and employs qualitative techniques such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, and observations. Such techniques enable the researcher to cultivate a closer relationship with the subjects (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). A close relationship gives the researcher an opportunity to understand the perspectives, experiences, and worldviews of the subjects with respect to the research phenomenon (Creswell, 2014). This is one of the major advantages of interpretivist research. Nonetheless, interpretivist research can be costly and time consuming as it mainly relies on qualitative techniques. Additionally, due to the small sample used, generalizing the findings of interpretivist research beyond the subjects is often problematic.
For many researchers, choosing between the two philosophies can usually be difficult, especially due to the strengths and weaknesses of each philosophy (Bryman, 2008). Researchers often desire to achieve conclusions that are both generalizable and comprehensive. Nonetheless, reaching such conclusions can only be achieved by employing more than one paradigm in one study mixed methods research. All in all, research philosophy is largely dictated by the research question. The aim of the present research was to understand the positive impact hiring veterans can have on workforce development in the construction industry. Given the research aim, the interpretivist philosophy was deemed appropriate. Essentially, the research did not seek to examine causal relationships between veteran hiring and workforce development. Rather, the study sought to understand the perspectives of construction firms, learning institutions, and veterans with regard to the positive contributions hiring veterans can make to workforce development in the construction industry. This made the interpretivist paradigm more appropriate for the research.
3.3 Research Approach
Research approach may be either deductive or inductive. The deductive approach is mostly used in positivist or quantitative research (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). The approach involves starting with a hypothesis. The researcher develops the hypothesis based on extant literature or theory. Data is then collected to test the hypothesis. The findings obtained can then be used to make inferences about the larger population. The deductive approach is also known as the top-down approach (Bryman, 2008). The objective of deductive research is to examine causality. This means that the deductive approach would not be appropriate for the present study. As mentioned earlier, the research philosophy chosen dictates every other aspect of the study from research approach to data interpretation.
The inductive approach ideally resonates with the nature of the present study. Dissimilar to deductive research, inductive research starts with collecting data (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). The researcher then examines the data to develop a theory to explain the research phenomenon. Also referred to as the bottom-up approach, the inductive approach is mostly associated with qualitative research, though some qualitative studies may have aspects of the deductive approach (Bryman, 2008). The objective of inductive research is not to examine causality. Instead, inductive research seeks to explore a given research phenomenon in depth.
3.4 Research Design
Qualitative research may take one of the following designs: ethnography, phenomenology, action research, ground theory, and case study (Creswell, 2014). The aim of ethnographic research is to describe a groups cultural attributes. The researcher interacts with a given cultural group to observe, record, and analyze its cultural patterns. Phenomenological research seeks to examine the lived experiences of subjects. The researcher seeks to understand the meanings and perceptions subjects attach to the research phenomenon. Phenomenology is usually applied when little is known about the research area in question. Grounded theory involves collecting and analyzing data with the aim of developing a theory to account for the research phenomenon. In other words, the theory is grounded in the collected data. Action research largely involves advocacy. The findings of action research are aimed at solving identified problems. Ethnography, phenomenology, action research, and grounded theory were not ideal for the present study.
Given the nature of the study, the case study design was deemed more appropriate. The purpose of case study research is to provide a detailed description of the experiences of an individual, a group, an organization, or a community (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). The researcher directly observes or interacts with the subject to understand their experiences. Case study research may also entail describing events and processes (Creswell, 2013). In other words, case study research does not necessarily have to be people-focused. The present study focuses on the construction industry. It is a case study of veteran hiring and workforce development in the construction industry. Though case study research may be costly and time consuming, it enables the researcher to gain a deeper understanding of the case study (Creswell, 2014).
3.5 Target Population and Sampling
The study focused on four groups. Group 1 comprised a private construction company. The company was selected using convenience sampling. Convenience sampling is a non-probability sampling approach that involves selecting subjects on the basis of their accessibility and proximity to the researcher (Denscombe, 2010). For the researcher, convenience sampling was especially important for minimizing data collection costs. Even so, selection bias is a major problem in convenience sampling (Kothari, 2004). Group 2 comprised a veteran-owned construction company. Many private construction firms work with veteran-owned subcontractors. This is enabled by government incentives that encourage private companies to hire veteran-owned subcontractors to perform a portion of the work. Subcontractors must be certified through the VA business model and must hire veterans.
Group 3 comprised an institution that offers education and training to veterans, while Group 4 targeted veterans working for a construction company. Convenience sampling was also used to locate participants for Group 2 and Group 3. For Group 4, however, snowball sampling was used. Snowball sampling entails recruiting future participants based on referrals from preceding participants (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). In other words, existing participants recommend their peers, friends, or acquaintances for future interviews. The sample builds up like a snowball, ultimately resulting in sufficient data for the study. In total, six participants were selected to participate in the study (one participant for Group 1, one participant for Group 2, one participant for Group 3, and three participants for Group 4). The table below summarizes the number and characteristics of participants in each group.
Number of Participants
Representative of a private construction company
Owner of a construction company
Administrator at a higher learning institution offering training to veterans
Veterans working in a construction company
3.6 Research Instrument
The research instrument is the tool the researcher uses to collect the required data (Bryman, 2008). In qualitative research, a number of techniques can be used to collect data: observations, focus group discussions, and interviews (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). Observation basically involves watching (unobtrusively) the subject in its real world setting. The researcher often takes field notes, photographs, and videos to document the observations made. This technique is mainly used when there is need for both oral and visual data. Focus group discussions are interviews the researcher holds with a small group of participants. This technique enables the researcher to collect information from several participants in a single session, thereby saving time. Observations and focus groups were not appropriate for the present study.
Interviews were deemed the most appropriate instrument for the research. Indeed, the use of interviews in qualitative research is widespread (Creswell, 2013). Interviews are necessary when there is need for one-on-one interaction between the researcher and the subjects, and for conducting in-depth interrogation. The researcher basically poses oral questions to the interviewee and gets oral responses. To obtain the required responses, the interviewer must create a warm atmosphere. Whereas interviews facilitate in-depth interrogation, a number of shortcomings are worth noting. First, arranging interviews can sometimes be difficult since the interviewer must slot the interview in a time that is convenient for the interviewee. Additionally, interviewees may keep on postponing interviews, consequently delaying data collection. Another disadvantage is that the interviewee may be controlling. In fact, a successful interview session calls for skill and experience (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015). The researcher must retain control of the session. Also, the researcher must create rapport with the interviewee to ensure the interviewee shares their thoughts and feelings freely. Another challenge is that analyzing interview data can be a daunting endeavor as the researcher often has to listen repetitively to the recorded interviews or transcribe them.
There are two types of interviews: structured interviews and unstructured interviews (Kothari, 2004). Structured interviews are interviews with predetermined questions. Prior to the interview, researcher formulates the specific questions to pose to the interviewee. The questions are then arranged in the order they will be posed. This helps the interviewer to remain on topic throughout the interview session. An unstructured interview on the other hand is informal in nature there are no predetermined questions or a particular order of asking questions. In the present study, a structured interview was crucial. This ensured orderly interview sessions. More importantly, given the nature of the research topic, it was useful to have a predetermined set of questions focusing on specific themes such as veteran skills and veteran hiring techniques.
Interviews may be administered face-to-face or over the telephone (Denscombe, 2010). Telephone interviews minimize the time and costs associated with administering interviews as the interviewer or interviewee does not have to travel to the location of the interviewee or the interviewer. This is especially beneficial when there are significant geographical distances between the interviewer and the interviewee. Nonetheless, telephone interviews can be a challenge. For instance, it may be difficult to maintain the attention of the interviewee as the interviewee may be distracted by other things in the course of the interview such as other phone calls, colleagues, and other surroundings. Moreover, telephone interviews may not be sufficient for in-depth interrogation. Due to these challenges, face-to-face interviews were deemed appropriate for this study. The appropriateness of face-to-face interviews especially stemmed from the accessibility and proximity of the subjects to the researcher.
3.7 Interview Questions
As mentioned earlier, four groups of participants were included in the study. There were different questions for each group. Each group was asked 8 researcher-developed questions. Each interview lasted approximately 30-40 minutes.
Interview Questions for Group 1 Private Construction Company Representative
For Group 1, the researcher focused on understanding the companys veteran hiring practices, government-led incentives for hiring veterans, contributions made by veterans to the company, as well as methods used by the company to find veterans. The following questions were posed to this group.
1. Does your company actively seek to hire veterans?
2. What are some of the positions presently or historically held by veterans in your company?
3. Does your company have a program or initiative specifically dedicated to hiring or training veterans? If not, is there a possibility of introducing one?
4. From your experience, what is the greatest contribution made by veterans to your company? In other words, are there benefits direct or indirect of hiring veterans?
5. In your experience, are there notable differences between veterans and non-veterans in terms of workplace behaviors such as work ethic, teamwork, and leadership?
6. Has your company received any assistance from the government direct or indirect in relation to hiring veterans?
7. Have you as a company experienced any difficulties in hiring or locating veterans?
8. What do you think your company should do to make veteran hiring simpler?
Interview Questions for Group 2 Veteran-Owned Construction Company Representative
Questions for Group 2 focused on understanding how veterans acquired their skills: did they acquire their skills from the military or a combination of other sources? The following questions were posed to Group 2.
1. What motivated you to start a construction company?
2. How did you acquire your skills? Did you acquire them from the military or a combination of other sources?
3. Does your company actively seek to hire veterans? If not, why?
4. Does your company offer any support or on-the-job training specifically for veterans?
5. In your experience, how has hiring veterans benefited your company?
6. To what extent is it easy for your company to find veterans?
7. As a veteran-owned construction company, what is the biggest challenge you face in incorporating veterans to your workforce?
8. Would you recommend recently discharged veterans to pursue self-employment in the construction industry?
Interview Questions for Group 3 Representative of an Institution Offering Education and Training to Veterans
In Group 3, the researcher was interested in obtaining information about the services and support the institution offers to veterans, on-the-job training, co-op programs, as well as on-site recruitment and job fairs. The following questions were posed to this group.
1. When and how did your institution starting offering education and training to veterans?
2. What are the goals and objectives of the program?
3. How has the program evolved over the years?
4. Do you think veterans are an ideal match for construction jobs? Why?
5. In what ways do you help veterans find jobs in the construction industry? Do you organize and hold job fairs, on-site recruitment, and similar initiatives?
6. In your experience, what are the major challenges you have faced in offering training and education to veterans?
7. In what ways, do you think the challenges can be addressed, and how can the partnership between veterans and the construction industry be strengthened?
8. What is the future of your program?
Interviw Questions for Group 4 Veterans Working in a Construction Company
Questions for Group 4 were aimed at getting information about how veterans were or are hired by the company, additional training offered after recruitment, and the perceived extent to which the military prepared one for entry into the civilian workforce. The following questions were posed to this group.
1. Why did you choose to seek employment in the construction industry after retiring from the military?
2. How did your employer hire you? In other words, through what channel(s) were you employed in the construction industry? Did you have any connections with individuals in the construction industry or did you participate in programs or organizations that link veterans with construction jobs?
3. Has your employer offered you any form of training or support after employment? If not, would you like your employer to offer additional training and support?
4. To what extent do you think the military prepared you for entry into the civilian workplace?
5. Did you undertake any construction-related training or jobs while in the military?
6. Are you aware of anyone you served together with in the military who is presently working in the construction industry?
7. Did you or have you considered employment outside the construction industry? If yes, why?
8. Would you recommend the construction industry as a source of employment to recently discharged veterans?
3.8 Validity and Reliability
An important question in research relates to validity and reliability. Ensuring validity and reliability is important for enhancing the strength of research findings. It is often assumed that validity and reliability tests are only relevant for quantitative research. This is not the case ensuring validity and reliability is also vital in qualitative research (Creswell, 2014). Instead of the terms validity and reliability, qualitative researchers often use terms such as authenticity, confirmability, transferability, dependability, stability, and credibility (Creswell, 2013). These terms are used to avoid positivist connotations in qualitative research.
Qualitative researchers can rely on several techniques to ensure quality findings. These include external audits, peer review, triangulation, member checking, audit trails, pilot testing, negative case analysis, prolonged engagement, providing rich descriptions, and stating researcher bias (Creswell, 2013). To guarantee quality findings, the researcher should employ two or more techniques. In this case, triangulation, peer review, external audit, and rich descriptions were used. Triangulation involves verifying the findings using other sources. Peer reviewing and external auditing are quite similar. They entail inviting a fellow researcher or an external examiner to evaluate the research design, research instrument, and findings of the study. Finally, providing rich descriptions encompasses conveying a rich, thick description of the subjects experiences, perceptions, and thoughts (Creswell, 2013: 209). It also involves providing a comprehensive description of the subjects, the study setting, as well as the procedures used to collect and analyze data.
3.9 Data Collection
Data was collected from four groups of participants: Group 1 (a representative from a private construction company); Group 2 (a representative from a veteran-owned construction company); Group 3 (a representative from an institution that offers education and training to veterans); and Group 4 (three veterans working in a construction company). Following formal approvals and scheduling of the interviews, interviews were conducted in the following order: Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, and Group 4. The interviews were recorded using a tape recorder.
3.10 Data Analysis
Compared to quantitative data, analyzing qualitative data is usually tedious and time consuming. The first step of data analysis included transcribing the recorded responses. Following transcription, a thorough content analysis was undertaken to identity meaningful themes in the transcribed data (Kothari, 2004). The identified themes were then reported using rich, qualitative descriptions.
3.11 Ethical Issues
Adhering to ethical guidelines is important when conducting research, especially in terms of formal approval as well as upholding subject autonomy and anonymity (Bryman, 2008). First, formal approval to conduct the study was obtained from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Any research involving human subjects must have IRB approval. Second, participation in the research was entirely voluntary and based on informed consent. Participants were informed of their choice to take part in the study and to withdraw their participation at any point they wished without any consequences. Most importantly, the research was conducted in accordance with the relevant guidelines on privacy and data protection. Participants were not required to provide any personal information. Also, personally identifiable details such as names of individuals, organizations, and institutions were not included in the final report. Finally, no monetary incentives were provided to encourage participation in the research.
3.12 Limitations of the Study
While the present study provides valuable knowledge on the positive impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry, it is important to note a number of limitations. First, the case study nature of the research presents generalization difficulties. The study specifically focuses on the construction industry, making generalization to other industries quite difficult. Generally, each industry has unique attributes, meaning that findings from the construction industry may not be representative of other industries. The qualitative approach used also hinders generalization. Given the small sample used, coupled with lack of quantitative techniques, it would be important to exercise discretion while generalizing the findings beyond the participants.
CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
This chapter presents the findings of the study. First, a brief description of the participants is provided. Next, participants responses to the interview questions are reported, along with interpretation of the findings. The responses are presented in accordance with the research objectives specified in Chapter 1. The study aimed to: 1) highlight the skills and abilities military veterans can bring to the construction industry; 2) highlight efforts made by the government, learning institutions, and construction firms to ensure veterans are hired in the construction industry; 3) demonstrate the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry; and 4) highlight the challenges construction firms face in hiring veterans and the implications of those challenges on workforce development.
4.2 Description of Participants
In total, six participants were interviewed. Groups 1 to 3 had one participant each, while the fourth group involved three veterans working in the construction industry. In essence, a 100% response rate was achieved all participants targeted to take part in the interviews did so. Group 1 comprised an executive at a private construction company. EMJ Corp is a large-sized, privately held Construction Company headquarter in Chattanooga, TN operating in Texas. With more than 50 years operational experience, including individuals, companies, and institutions. It is involved in, among other construction services, offices, warehouses, churches, hotels, multifamily residences, hospitals, as well as solar and wind farms.
Group 2 comprised a veteran owned and operated construction company. The company serves diverse clients, including individuals, companies, and institutions. To include: construction site cleanng, floor sealing and waxing, janitorial services, erosion control, pressure washing, as well as signage, joint sealing, and vacuum truck services. Group 3 comprised an administrator (with a military background as well) at a higher learning institution that offers training to veterans in an effort to prepare them for civilian careers. The institution offers several courses targeted at veterans, including construction-related courses. Also, the institution connects veterans with internship and employment opportunities.
Finally, Group 4 comprised three veterans working in a construction company. The three veterans held different positions: one a veteran who formerly owned and ran a construction company. This veteran is a particularly interesting case study. The veteran started his own construction company after leaving the military. The company provided construction-related services such as pressure cleaning and concrete sewing. For various reasons such as financial constraints and shortage of work, however, the company did not do well, compelling the veteran to return to formal employment, but still in the construction industry. The general contractors he worked for as a subcontractor were impressed with his work ethic and discipline and offered him a job as a superintendent; the second one a project engineer with about a year in the company; and the third one also a project engineer, but newly employed and a reservist at the same time. The reservist is also an interesting case study. Upon exiting active duty, he initially went into the real estate industry, but after a failed attempt ventured into the construction industry, where he got a job as a project engineer. In spite of his status as a reservist, his company still hired him. The recorded interview responses were transcribed and read several times to identity themes. The themes are reported and discussed in the succeeding sections of this chapter.
4.3 Veteran Skills and Abilities Useful for the Construction Industry
The first objective of the study was to highlight the skills and abilities military veterans can bring to the construction industry. All participants were asked questions relating to this aspect. More specifically, the researcher sought to understand whether the company actively sought to hire veterans, to know what skills and abilities differentiate veterans from non-veterans, and to know how the companies from which the respondents were obtained had benefited from hiring veterans, particularly with respect the unique skills and abilities veterans brought to the companies. Also, the researcher sought to understand why veterans are an ideal match for construction jobs and whether veterans working in the construction industry perceived their military-acquired skills as helpful for their construction jobs. Respondents identified five skills and abilities unique to veterans: work ethic, teamwork and leadership skills, organization and ability to follow orders, resilience and problem skills, and cross-cultural exposure. The figure below summarizes these skills and abilities.
4.3.1 Work Ethic
Group 2 respondent explained that though his company did not actively seek to hire veterans, it had hired 12 veterans over the past three years, and would love to add more in the near future. As a veteran and a proprietor in the construction industry, the respondent was ideally placed to elucidate why veterans are uniquely suitable for construction jobs. One of abilities the respondent alluded to was work ethic. After working in the food industry for nine years, he co-founded a construction company alongside a partner. However, as narrated by the respondent, the company did not do well as his partner did not have the same drive or work ethic he had, compelling him to venture out on his own:
That’s how I started my own company. I stayed there at HCC for about eight months, nine months, and then moved on. Started a company with a Marine. That didn’t work out because he didn’t have the same drive that I did, or work ethic.
You know, all veterans aren’t created equal. Some have the right skill set, and I’d say the mindset. It’s really a matter of character and not of anything else.
That’s kind of my whole modus operandi so to speak is, do the right thing, do it all the time, do it in budget, do it on time, and people pay you.
Though Group 2 respondent identified his difficult childhood as the one thing that motivated him to be hard working and to start his own company, he pointed out that his military experience was instrumental in reinforcing his work ethic:
I think the inherent values I received came from just growing up in the country, being a hard worker. You know, having a village raise you, so to speak, but you know just those work ethic that I learned when I was, you know, 12 years old driving a hay truck for my grand-daddy. You join the military and that just enhanced it…..Aided me in my leadership ability, and the ability to solve problems and analyze issues, et cetera.
According to two of the respondents in Group 4, some of the aspects that differentiate veterans from non-veterans are hard work, determination, discipline, and drive. The respondent explained that military members are taught to get the job done in the right way no matter what:
In the military it’s like, okay, we’re going to do this until we get it done, and we’re going to get it done right. Your subordinates may hate it, but they know they’re going to have to stay there and get it done and get it done right.
I had some experience with hiring a veteran in my previous career that I immediately saw the benefit: the disciple, the organization, the drive and motivation. I recognized that skill set and those attributes being very affective and translatable to a project manager, to a construction supervisor, a foreman, which is a lot of what the vets that I’ve worked with, they have experience with.
These sentiments were shared by a veteran who formerly owned a construction company, but abandoned self-employment in favor of formal employment. He narrated to the interviewer that his company hired him mainly because of his hard work, discipline, determination, and performance:
Just past performance … Always been there, always did what I say I was gonna do. I was one of their preferred contractors. I actually socialized with the PM outside of work, too, so he knew I was a stand-up guy. He didn’t have any problem recommending me … or hiring me.
It did, and with the construction business you have to have discipline. You have to … you work outside, you work long hours, you work with a lot of … lack of a better word, difficult people. And so, the self-discipline that the military taught me helps you excel in this industry.
For most of the respondents, a strong work ethic is one of the aspects that set veterans apart. Work ethic essentially denotes a work philosophy characterized by hard work, meticulousness, dedication, loyalty, reliability, conscientiousness, and positivity (Chester, 2012). The importance of work ethic at the workplace cannot be overemphasized. This is particularly important at a time when work ethic has been diminishing. As intimated by Group 1 respondent, finding candidates with a strong work ethic is increasingly becoming difficult. This is a concern not only for the respondents company, but also many employers out there. As baby boomers and older generations exit the workforce, more young people are entering the workforce. This presents a daunting challenge for many employers due to lack of work ethic amongst a significant portion of young workers.
Why is work ethic important for the construction industry? The construction industry is a unique industry due to the nature of the work it is involved in. Construction projects are critical projects in the sense that they must be delivered on time, on budget, and with the expected evel of quality. With such tasks, the importance of a diligent, disciplined, self-driven, committed, hardworking, and goal-oriented workforce cannot be overemphasized. Without such a workforce, delivering quality projects on time and on budget may be a challenge. A workforce that exemplifies a strong work ethic is vital for achieving client satisfaction, avoiding or minimizing liabilities, and enhancing the bottom line.
The sentiments of the respondents with respect to veterans work ethic resonate with extant literature. According to Schindler (2016), veterans have an admirable work ethic. They bring to civilian organizations a unique set of skills and abilities that can be rare among non-veterans. With millennials increasingly comprising majority of the workforce, finding a strong work ethic can be quite difficult as many millennials have little or no sense of organization and diligence. Most veterans possess the work ethic every employer yearns for. Thus, many civilian organizations purposely target veterans to benefit from their strong work ethic. They see veterans as important for enhancing commitment and loyalty to the organization (Berglass, 2012; Harrell and Berglass, 2012). For employers in the construction industry, a good work ethic is especially essential for achieving organizational goals and objectives (Azhar et al., 2014). This perhaps explains why construction firms are increasingly turning to veterans. Though non-veterans may have a strong work ethic, veterans are likely to have a stronger work ethic due to their military background.
4.3.2 Teamwork and Leadership Skills
When asked why veterans are a valuable asset to the construction industry, respondents categorically described veterans as excellent team players:
When I’m in the military I have my team, and I’m in charge of that team. So I’m in charge to the end of accomplishing the mission.
You know, it’s a, number one it’s a controlled work environment, and it’s a teamwork environment. So the veterans I have I mean they’re good teamwork, I mean they do good teamwork….
Veterans bring to the workplace not only a strong work ethic, but also outstanding teamwork skills. Teamwork in the military setting is very crucial. Whether it is in the battle zone or during humanitarian assistance, troops are taught to work as a team. In the military, teamwork is important for getting things done and accomplishing a mission. The teamwork skills embodied by veterans are what every prudent employer desires.
Teamwork in todays workplace is essential. Many employers increasingly desire individuals with teamwork abilities. The importance of teamwork especially stems from the ever more complex character of workplace tasks (Bateman, Snell and Konopaske, 2016). In the wake of changing customer preferences, increased competition, political and regulatory shifts, industry dynamics, and technological advancements, workplace tasks have an added level of complexity, warranting individuals with the ability to work in such an environment. With teamwork, executing workplace tasks becomes much easier. Individuals combine their efforts and ideas to execute a task in a way a single individual may not.
Teamwork is even more essential in the construction environment (Azmy, 2012). Construction work is largely project-based. In other words, tasks are executed in form of temporary projects projects with deadlines. Once a project is delivered, the next project is embarked on. In such an environment, teamwork is a crucial ingredient of success (Harris and McCaffer, 2013). Typically, executing a project requires a team of professionals, each handing a specific job the project manager, the procurement manager, the human resource manager, the head of marketing or public relations, the head of legal affairs, and so forth. In addition to the project team, a project will involve external stakeholders such as strategic consultants, public officials, and subcontractors. Effective collaboration among all the stakeholders involved is vital for ensuring project success.
According to Azhar et al. (2014), a common element between construction and military work is teamwork. This makes veterans suitable candidates for construction jobs. When veterans transition to the civilian workplace, they are less likely to struggle with working in a team as they are already used to a teamwork environment. Compared to non-veterans, veterans are likely to be better team players, making them more fit for jobs that require teamwork.
Veterans are not only better team players compared to non-veterans, but also better leaders. The military equips veterans with leadership experiences that give them an edge over their non-veteran counterparts:
… If you’re looking at just in general, like the soldier, a marine, airmen, sailor that gets out after four years in the service or whatnot, and then you have their peers that went to high school, went to some trade school, went to some journeymen program or whatnot and got those qualifications and all that skills that they who the recruiter is going to hire? That’s a point that a lot of veterans, younger veterans that are getting out are trying to compete with those guys down here that have had four or five, six years of technical training to be a plumber, to be an electrician, to be a carpenter, whatnot. And these guys, what do they have over these guys?
I’ll tell you, what you mentioned right there. For five years these guys have been ingrained, right time, right place, right equipment, right attitude. Right there, so you show up on time, you know where you’re going, you’ve thought ahead, you got the right uniform, the right equipment with you, and most importantly, you got the right attitude.
And if you do that, these guys may have all the qualifications and skills in the world, but I’ll tell you, the vast majority of their peers down here don’t understand those four concepts. They’re not going to show up on time, they’re not going to show up with the right equipment, at the right place, and they’re probably not going to show up with the right attitude. And that’s how these guys have to sell themselves to these guys, because again, you cant teach those. You can teach a guy how to swing a hammer or install an electrical panel or whatnot, but it’s very hard to teach somebody to show up with the right attitude every day on the job.
… a lot of student veterans don’t know what they want to do, but they have a lot of strengths: leadership, communications skills, those kinds of things. When you get E4 and E5 and above, they’re not even familiar with the construction science degree plan and what those folks do after they graduate but they’re tailor-made for it. They have the leadership experience, they know how to communicate up and down with multiple different entities in a very fluid environment, they know how to motivate people and their work crews, it’s very similar to the military experience. You can kind of think of the work crew as the enlisted team, or the builder and some of the other folks as kind of the officer folks out there in the military. There’s a direct correlation so they understand that construction world and environment just intuitively.
Some respondents even unequivocally stated that leadership is something one cannot be taught:
Yeah. Absolutely. That’s again, that’s a different piece of the construction industry or any industry that I think a lot of employers miss when they look at these veterans getting out, like a rifleman. What skills does he have over the guy that’s been in technical school for four years? I’ll tell you, that’s the skill that you want, is the guy that’s going to have those abilities. But that’s just me.
One thing they were looking for was leaders, and because I didn’t know anything about food or facilities. I’ve got, you know, what it takes inside. They said, “We can teach you the job, we an’t teach you leadership,” so they hired me.
Well see I just want a leader, I don’t care what their skill set is. If they can lead, I can teach them the rest of it. If they can lead and learn, that’s the thing. People look for skills, but they don’t always necessarily transfer over, so I would take an infantry guy all day, every day, with no clue about construction, but he knows how to lead. He knows how to take care of equipment and is responsible. You know?
Leadership is important in todays work environment. Bertocci (2009) defines leadership as the ability to direct and guide a group of people towards achieving a defined goal or objective. Leaders are individuals who can solve complex puzzles individuals with insight, individuals who can see what others may not see, and individuals with the ability to offer guidance. Construction work is complex owing to the dynamic nature of the industry. Unexpected events may lead to significant changes in project aspects such as scope, budget, and duration (Harris and McCaffer, 2013). Tackling such complexities underscores the need for individuals with leadership potential.
By the time military service members are exiting active duty, they have undertaken numerous leadership responsibilities, giving them an advantage in the civilian workplace compared to non-veterans. According to Harrell and Berglass (2012), a troop leader without a doubt has the potential to be a project leader in the civilian context. As one climbs up the hierarchy, they are designated to lead a battalion or a group of that sort:
And so, I think the most important thing, as it comes to me, is leadership though. That’s something that we are privy to, and, essentially, we are taught day one, and not after stepping off the bus. I mean we’re taught that as we are signing up and swearing in. That’s when it starts.
Such experiences expose veterans to leadership, giving them an opportunity to hone their leadership skills. A person who has previously led a troop has the ability to provide direction and motivate others (Schindler, 2016). These are some of the important characteristics of an effective leader (Bateman, Snell and Konopaske, 2016). Regrettably, most college graduates lack such abilities, mostly because they do not get an opportunity to acquire leadership skills. College graduates may have degree qualifications, but their lack of leadership experience is often a limitation. This suggests that a veteran is likely to perform better than a college graduate in terms of leadership.
Military experience does not just teach veterans leadership skills it also teaches them to be servant leaders or leaders who lead from the front:
I think there’s a distorted understanding of the military, where it’s delegation, delegation, delegation. Well, that’s false, it’s not delegation. Usually, the best leaders that I ever came across, where they were in the weeds with you too.
I think, and I’ll finish with this, is that … and I can go all day talking about this, is that you have a boss, and then you have a leader. Leaders are up front, they’re leading the fight to complete the tasks and objectives. They’re asking for assistance and help along the way, but also they know how to coach and mentor their team members. Bosses will tell folks what to do and not get involved. They’ll be pointing and saying, “This, this,” but they won’t even understand the systems or the requirements or what is actually needed on the job. That’s what I think the most important thing is, and all those ideas directly translate to the construction industry.
It’s never been about money with me. It’s about serving, pride in workmanship, and quality work, and when you do those things, people pay you.
On the whole, veterans leadership potential can be of immense value if effectively translated to the construction industry.
4.3.3 Organization and Ability to Follow Orders
Respondents described veterans as people with a commendable ability to organize, achieve specified goals, and formulate work plans:
As a military officer, you’re given the mission and then you take that mission and you go through the MDMP, I’m sure you may be aware, the military decision making process, seven steps. You know, receipt of the mission, you do a mission analysis, develop courses of action, you war game those courses of action, you choose a course of action, you publish the orders, and then you execute. And that’s really, if you take those seven steps and take some of the military jargon out of that and apply it to the construction industry, it’s the exact same process.
It’s really the same process of any project manager but it just relates so well to a project manager of a construction company. You’re given a mission, you’re given a project, you’re given … you take that and you do a mission analysis on that project or analysis of what’s the end state, what’s your goals, what resources do you have, what’s your timeline, what’s your budget. You take those, you develop a course of action, how you’re going to reach that end state, just like you would how you’re’ going to reach that mission accomplishment at the end of your military objective. And you form a plan. You form a schedule. You publish that schedule, and then you go out and execute.
Any organization certainly requires individuals with the ability to organize work, formulate action plans, utilize resources effectively, and accomplish assigned tasks within the specified schedule. Such abilities are especially valuable in the construction industry, where projects are characterized by defined objectives, budgets, and schedules (Harris and McCaffer, 2013). With their military background, veterans are distinctively capable of designing action plans. They have the ability to formulate mission goals and to outline operational and tactical strategies for achieving those goals. This makes veterans ideally suited for construction jobs.
Veterans are also taught to follow the chain of command and to comply with instructions:
If I need them to do something, I’m going to tell them to do it and they’re going to do it. I don’t mean dictatorship kind of deal, but they know there’s a rank and there’s a structure and they know who’s in charge.
… We understand structure, we understand discipline, we understand documentation, which is huge to.. on the operations side in construction.
And one of the things that we’ve always seen is there’s a level of protocol that our veterans are used to abiding by. Right? There is a chain of command, for lack of better term. And there’s a protocol on how to address things and how to get things taken care of or solve problems. That takes a level of professionalism and focus. Not everybody has that. Some people may think they can walk down the hall and talk to the president just because he’s convenient and he’s there. They don’t necessarily understand what that protocol is. They’ve been taught to go to the top to get the answers you need, but the reality is that protocol is something that every workplace has. And I think our veterans understand it very well.
Any workplace has rules and procedures which always have to be followed (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Compliance with rules and procedures is imperative for maintaining the integrity of work. It is essential for ensuring work processes flow flawlessly, ultimately contributing to the achievement of organizational goals and objectives. The construction industry is no different. Whether it is procuring materials/services, evaluating sub-contractors, or formulating the project plan, construction professionals follow strict rules and procedures (Harris and McCaffer, 2013). This is important for ensuring the delivery of projects in accordance with the stipulated quality, time, and cost specifications. Mistakes in adhering to rules and procedures can be cosly. For instance, failure of the project manager to comply with the set guidelines for assessing the suitability of sub-contractors can lead to the selection of incompetent sub-contractors, ultimately resulting in severe consequences such as substandard work, delays, cost overruns, and conflicts with the client.
Given their military background, veterans are best suited for jobs that require strict compliance with procedures. Military experience equips veterans with the capacity to follow rules (Vashdi et al., 2007). Military work is very structured. Service members are taught to follow rules and obey commands from their superiors. As a result, processes and activities have to follow a certain order since there is no room for mistakes. In such an environment, people must be organized and obedient. They must work within the stipulated procedures and processes. In fact, failure to comply with standard procedures could result in severe penalties, including dismissal from service and even imprisonment. The ability to follow instructions makes veterans a particularly useful talent for civilian employers. Characterized by stringent procedures and a strict hierarchy, the military generates individuals who could be valuable to the civilian workplace, especially the construction industry (Haynie, 2016). By hiring veterans, therefore, the construction industry can develop a stronger and a more fruitful workforce.
4.3.4 Resilience and Problem Solving Skills
The study also found that military experience equips veterans with invaluable problem solving skills and the ability to work under pressure:
In the military, the best plans never make it past the first bullet, and it’s pretty much the same in the construction industry. No matter how much you plan, the first nail or the first scoop of dirt that goes in a project, something’s going to go wrong.
So what do you have to do? That’s when you have to rely on good judgment and your experience to handle those tough problems under stress, under weather conditions, budgetary conditions, time constraints, whatever. That’s what military officers do. They figure out how to get it done. That’s what a project manager or construction individual in general is supposed to do. So I think that’s just the perfect next step or segway into this industry. I see other than the uniform you’re wearing and the place and your actual mission, the process is almost identical to what a military mission is and a construction project is. There’s no difference.
In the military you’re dealt with a lot of problems and you have to solve them, and a lot of those problems are life or death, and so you’re able to make decisions in a stressful environment. And especially in a combat environment, and it rolled over into construction where you’re making very, very important decisions that are worth a lot of money and time. And that really, really … I think that’s the biggest asset that I brought forward from the military.
Resilience and problem solving skills are crucial for not only the military, but also the civilian workplace. Indeed, the contemporary workplace is increasingly complex, compelling employers to hunt for individuals with extraordinary analytical, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. Given the dynamicity of the operational environment, individuals must be quick decision makers. Without such abilities, significant opportunities can be missed to the disadvantage of an organization. Employers also desire individuals who can cope with pressure. As Haynie (2016) puts it, resilient behavior is crucial in the civilian workplace. Given the ever more sophisticated nature of workplace tasks, individuals are bound to come across mentally stressing situations. The stress may further be compounded by personal difficulties. Ordinarily, employers want individuals who can cope with difficult situations.
Resilient behavior and problem solving skills are particularly valuable in the construction environment. As mentioned before, the construction environment is a complex one (Harris and McCaffer, 2013). On the surface, a finished construction project such as a building may appear to have been completed straightforwardly. However, the complexity involved in taking the project from inception to completion can only be understood by someone directly involved in the project or one who understands what it takes to accomplish a construction project. The project may have involved a tight deadline, a tight budget, difficult clients, uncooperative stakeholders, and so forth. As such, construction tasks require individuals who can quickly solve problems and work under pressure.
By virtue of working in the military, veterans can be ideal candidates for construction jobs. Veterans have a wealth of experience in working in environments non-veterans may find unbearable (IVMF, 2012). They are taught to excel amidst adversity. Right from training to the battlefront, resilience is an important characteristic for any service member. Veterans are taught to be strong in the face of hardships and to overcome difficulties. Difficult situations are bound to arise (e.g. unanticipated risks and death of colleagues in the combat environment), hence the need for resilience. Without resilience, accomplishing mission objectives would be quite difficult. Such abilities, according to Azhar et al. (2014) can be valuable for the construction industry.
The military also teaches veterans to be entrepreneurial problem solvers (Haynie, 2016). In an environment of adversity, a service member must be a problem solver. As problems emerge, solutions must be found: military staffers must be quick decision makers. They must be capable of adjusting tactical plans when necessary and adapting to unexpected circumstances in the battlefield.
That’s kind of how, what brought me to construction was there’s a ton of it going on in Dallas, and there’s a lot of opportunity, but not only opportunity, problem-solving, because I’m a servant number one, and a problem-solver. If I can help you solve your problem, then I get paid for that.
Given the nature of military work, military experience gives one a persistent desire for achievement (IVMF, 2012). Such a desire enables military service members to overcome the complexity associated with the combat environment. Construction firms can benefit from these abilities given their need for innovativeness, creativity, agility, and flexibility.
4.3.5 Cross-Cultural Exposure
One of the respondents mentioned a particularly interesting aspect. He stated that military experience exposes one to diverse cultural settings around the world:
So I think you know, going to leadership schools within the Army, you know going all over the world, broadened my perspective a lot.
A strong work ethic as well as teamwork, leadership, communication, and problem solving skills are obviously valuable skills one gains from the military. However, it is easy to overlook the cultural experiences veterans acquire from the military. During their years of active duty, many veterans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, many veterans have been involved in humanitarian assistance in Central America, South America, and Africa. Serving in various countries around the world gives veterans an opportunity to interact with locals in foreign countries, hence learning a few aspects of foreign cultures.
Cross-cultural knowledge is important for the modern work environment. As a result of globalization and immigration, workplaces are increasingly characterized by a culturally-diverse workforce (Bateman, Snell and Konopaske, 2016). One is better placed to interact with colleagues from other cultures if they have prior cross-cultural experiences. With the modern work environment becoming more culturally diverse, the significance of a culturally competent workforce cannot be understated. Indeed, workforce diversity is an issue that hasgained increased scholarly and policy attention in recent times. There is now greater push for employers to pay more attention to workplace cultural diversity.
The cross-cultural experiences veterans gain from the military make them ideal candidates for construction jobs. This is particularly because a significant portion of construction workers are cultural minorities (Beyer, 2017). Having a culturally diverse workforce necessitates cross-cultural competence. Haynie (2016) posits that veterans are likely to be culturally sensitive compared to non-veterans, hence more appropriate for the construction industry.
4.4 Initiatives that Integrate Veterans into the Construction Industry
The second objective of the study was to highlight the efforts made by the government, higher learning institutions, and construction firms to ensure veterans are hired or integrated into the construction industry. The researcher sought to know whether the companies in which the respondents were working had any programs or initiatives specifically dedicated to hiring or training veterans, and whether the companies had received any assistance from the government in relation to hiring veterans. Also, the researcher wanted to know in what ways the institution of higher learning helped veterans find jobs in the construction industry, how the respondents had found jobs in the construction industry, and whether the respondents felt the military had prepared them for jobs in the civilian workplace.
4.4.1 Construction Industry Initiatives
The construction industry utilizes several techniques to integrate veterans into the industry. One of the respondents stated that his employer actively sought to hire veterans. The respondent explained that the company had several veterans holding operations positions:
The positions that we have that I am aware of … Now I’m not aware of every position. But in my organization we have superintendents, and there’s varying levels of superintendents. All the way from entry level, which we call our level one, level two, up to our senior and lead superintendents. Senior and lead superintendents, they manage larger projects and manage people. We have our project engineers, our project managers, and our executive team, being directors, vice presidents, and executive vice presidents. And of course our pre-construction department, which are our pre-construction managers, directors, and executive members of the pre-construction department. In that group, primarily, our veterans are in the operations side. Predominately superintendents. We have a handful as project engineers. And that project engineering program is really a training around and a rotation for all the different departments. You spend some time in the field, spend some time in office working with project managers, and then you spend some time in the pre-construction department working with the pre-con managers.
Construction firms further integrate veterans into the industry by offering veterans additional training and support after employment:
You know, they’ve offered the standard stuff that all project construction individuals here in the company get. I went to the OSHA 30 class as soon as I came on board, CPR, first aid. They also do … so I signed up as a project engineer, hopefully to be a project manager in the near future. So every month we do project engineer training, conference whatever you want to call it, where we get together, bring in the experts in whatever topic that we have every month and we go over that stuff to get us to the next level. And then I haven’t taken them up on it yet, but EMJ here is also very forward looking in our careers and want to help us move forward in professional development, so if I wanted to take some sort of construction management course online or through a local avenue they would support that as well. I just haven’t taken them up on it yet.
They hold training modules or training sessions, I guess … yeah, training sessions, every month. And they do have courses available to employees on a web-based program.
Yeah, we train and develop. That’s another thing, in my world training is teaching people how to do. Development is teaching them how to think. So I don’t want to have to tell you to do everything. I want you to think through it on your own, and come up with a solution and bring it back and say, “Hey, this is what we’re encountering. This is what I believe we should do about it. What do you think?” Not the other way around of, oh we got a problem, what do we do? Well I don’t need to make all the decisions for you. That means you’re trained to do and not to think. So, you’re not developed yet. So we do training and development. So how I do development is I go out and ask a series of questions, get people to start thinking. So that the next time they encounter a situation like that, they can think through it on their own.
We don’t have anything that targets veterans specifically, but that project engineering program that I mentioned is … kind of opens the door for graduates coming out of college. Individuals that have been in the trades. They’ve maybe worked for drywall … subcontractors. Have been electricians, foreman, steel-erectors that come into our program and get an introduction to those different areas of responsibility. And it’s a great transition for all of our veterans coming out of the military. They get an opportunity to see those different roles and responsibilities, get to spend some time there supporting the PMs, the supers, and the pre-con managers. So they can really get themselves acclimated to what building construction’s about and find out where their interests lie.
In addition to actively hiring veterans and having internal programs for developing veterans skills after employment, the construction industry integrates veterans into the construction industry through partnerships with government agencies and non-profit organizations. Three respondents in Group 4 indicated that they joined the construction industry through a non-profit organization known as Orion Talent Solutions, which organizes headhunting initiatives:
… I knew nobody. I knew nothing about the construction industry. My wife will tell you, don’t give me a hammer because I’ll probably end up in the hospital. So as I was getting ready to retire, I contacted Orion International. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it….
It’s a headhunter, a military officer to transition headhunting service and they looked at my background and told them I want to be a project manager, not necessarily in the construction industry at that time. I just said I just wanted to be a project manager, manage whatever projects, and they were putting together a construction specific hiring conference here in the Dallas area because of the need for project managers and construction professionals. They saw my civil engineering background and they thought I’d be a good fit for that conference, so I said, “Yeah, sure. Absolutely, I’d like to go.”
So I came down here. First interview I had was with … and … here at … and apparently they liked what I could offer the company so they offered me a job just right after that. So literally just one interview and the job offer. So I felt I was pretty lucky in my job search as I retired. Only had to do one interview.
We … call them headhunters, coming out of the military. They’re basically consultants who worked with organizations like EMJ, and the consultants would ask the industries like EMJ or corporations, “What is it you’re looking for? A candidate?” “Well we want,” blah, blah, blah, “we want military,” and blah, blah, blah. I was screened by one of the headhunters and I attended a hiring fair…
…. we work through a good program called Orion … and I don’t remember the whole name of the company and what they necessarily do. They had approached us, our recruiing department, and initially our recruiting department wasn’t necessarily interested.
Orion integrates veterans into the civilian workplace through an initiative dubbed Veterans Build America. For over two and a half decades, the organization has been connecting veterans with jobs in diverse sectors and industries, including engineering, manufacturing, technology, energy, and distribution. The organization is one of the largest veteran career placement organizations in the U.S. Many construction firms in search of veterans rely on the organization. The organization not only links veterans with employment opportunities, but also provides them with transitional resources and support relating to aspects such as resume writing and interview preparation. Also, the organization connects veterans with other veterans who have passed through the program.
One of the ways Orion connects veterans with civilian jobs is through career fairs. In partnership with construction companies, the organization organizes career fairs through which veterans in search of jobs meet prospective employers.
Orion was one of the companies. We were one of the first construction companies that approached them. I sold them on the idea of putting together a construction related career fair because they were looking for companies in this area that were hiring. I told them to look for construction companies in this area that were hiring. Their veteran and construction career events now are their larger events because they’ve made that connection and correlation between the two.
As described by the respondents, the construction industry has made some efforts to integrate veterans into the industry. It is clear that construction firms understand the value veterans can bring to the industry. Construction firms are increasingly seeking to recruit veterans in large part owing to the shared challenges they face (AGC, 2017). It is common for industries to solve problems collectively. This is particularly true when the problem is a shared problem. A shared problem means that the problem affects (directly or indirectly) every player in the industry. The construction industry faces significant workforce challenges (AGC, 2013; Azhar et al., 2014). This warrants a shared problem solving approach. For the industry, hiring veterans presents a viable solution. Veterans come with skills and abilities that can be readily transferred to the construction environment.
Besides Orion and its Veterans Build American initiative, there are other industry initiatives and partnerships for integrating veterans into the construction industry. Joint Forces is an ideal example. The nationwide program was launched in 2011 by First Lady Michelle Obama together with Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Bidens wife. With the support of the public and private sector, the initiative seeks to equip veterans with the tools and resources they require to succeed after discharge from active duty. The aim of the program was to connect tens of thousands of veterans with employment opportunities in the civilian sector, including the construction industry. The initiative not only links veterans with employment opportunities, but also focuses on veteran education and wellness. Many construction firms are part of the initiative, and have recruited veterans through the initiative (AGC, 2017). As more and more veterans join the construction industry, such initiatives will continue gaining momentum.
Even so, there is need for the construction industry to do more. One of the respondents was convinced that more partnerships between construction firms and more organizations like Orion would go a long way in enhancing the recruitment of veterans into the construction industry:
The challenge is we only have one source. And that’s this Orion recruiting, Orion staffing company. I’m confident there are more companies out there that do this, that assist in that transition from, “We hire veterans,” to job placement in the civilian marketplace. We’re just not aware of it. I would expect there to be more. We should reach out to more. They should reach out to us. But right now that’s the only company that we’re working with, and we’re only doing it once a year. Partially because that’s … There are so many good candidates that we see. We’re typically offering three positions a year. That’s six people every two. I mean, so far, based upon our demand, we’re able to satisfy a lot of our immediate demand from the folks coming from Orion. That’s not everybody, but it’s most. But I think our other offices have tried it. I don’t know that they’ve pursued it much. But there ought to be more companies out there would help place veterans in the civilian market.
Another respondent stated the need for the construction industry put more effort in integrating veterans into the industry, especially by reaching out more to veterans offices within institutions of higher learning:
Construction industry understands the value that veterans bring to the company, the need to reach out to the campus veteran offices. I would caveat that to say you have to find the right person, or people, group of people in those campus veteran offices. If you reach out to the folks passed with the GI Bill certifications and that end of the business, they may not be too interested in building a greater partnership with a corporate entity out there. Find the folks that are the resource, support, and overall success, getting that piece of the campus veteran support. Those are the folks, sometimes they’re in the career center, find the internships or ways to connect with these veterans that are family friendly, financial friendly, to help them succeed through graduation.
4.4.2 Learning Institutions Initiatives
Institutions of higher learning also play a crucial role in integrating veterans into civilian employment. One of the respondents interviewed in this study was from an institution that prepares veterans for civilian careers. The institution is one of the largest universities in Texas, and has a Veterans Services Office through which honorably discharged veterans are trained for civilian employment. The institution, which was founded as a military academy, is renowned for its relationship with the military. More specifically, the office identifies, develops, and provides uniquely tailored resources and programs to active duty veterans, National Guard, as well as dependent survivors and their families in an effort to prepare them for civilian:
We do this, one of our foundational, sort of philosophical approaches is what we call application to vocation. Most schools will start to support their military affiliated students when they show up to start class, and their support tends to end when they graduate. We start at first contact with perspective students, we’ve got a very robust military admissions capability, then we support them while they’re here, then we help them with career placement in our partnership with the career center and we stay in touch with them after they graduate. That builds our veteran network for a lot of different resources, for networking, development, corporate mentoring, and those kinds of things.
A key element of the program is that the institution starts preparing veterans while they are still in active duty. Veterans nearing discharge enter the program so that they have the required skills and resources by the time they are formally exiting. The institution helps veterans choose the degree program that best fits their needs. According to Group 3 respondent, this is crucial for ensuring veterans undertake the courses they choose to completion. Upon completion of the training, participants are awarded a certification. Veterans who have undertaken the program work in diverse settings, including construction, manufacturing, and telecommunication. Given its reputation, most employers in the region looking to hire veterans often contact the insitution. The institutions support for veterans goes beyond formal training. Once veterans complete training, the institution connects them with employment opportunities in the civilian sector. More interestingly, the institution maintains contact with veterans even after they have graduated.
Though the institution offers various courses to student veterans, construction science is one of the major courses it offers:
Right now we have about 1300 current and former military students at Texas A&M, construction science has been the single most enrolled major for the past five or six semesters running because they are perfectly aligned.
This sentiment further supports the fit between military experience and the construction industry.
The involvement of higher learning institutions in workforce development is not a new thing. For centuries, higher learning institutions have been churning out graduates for the job market. From vocational colleges and community colleges to Ivy League universities, higher learning institutions equip students with the knowledge and skills required to perform tasks in the workplace (Hordern, 2013). In essence, higher learning institutions play a crucial role in building human capital. Without these institutions, employers would struggle to find qualified candidates. They would experience immense difficulties in locating individuals with the prerequisite qualifications to perform their jobs.
Some higher learning institutions offer programs specifically aimed at veterans. Through partnerships with government departments, particularly VA, many community colleges, vocational colleges, and four-year universities across the country offer veteran-specific training programs. The Veterans2College (V2C) program is a good example. Introduced by Bradman University in conjunction with the Bradman Foundation and the University of Arizona, the program seeks to increase veterans access to educational, employment, and networking opportunities (Bradman University, 2010). The program has notable similarities with the program offered at the institution from which Group 3 respondent was obtained. Such programs play an integral role in helping veterans transition into civilian employment.
There are even programs that specifically focus on construction training. Through partnerships with local workforce development boards, industry associations, and other relevant stakeholders, some colleges offer veterans training on construction, thereby enhancing their employability in the construction industry. The institution from which Group 3 respondent obtained offers, among other courses, construction-specific courses, an indication that the institution recognizes the match between veterans and civilian construction jobs. There are other institutions that offer construction-specific training. Del Mar College, a Texas-based college, is one of such colleges. The college offers a 164-hour program aimed at equipping veterans with skills for the petrochemical construction industry (Eddleman, 2015). The program focuses on aspects such as construction safety, construction mathematics, as well as building codes and inspections. Del Mar College offers valuable lessons for colleges that prepare veterans for civilian employment, especially in the construction industry.
Colleges can be of immense help to the construction industry in terms of addressing workforce challenges. There is need for industry leaders to increase collaboration with colleges so as to train veterans for construction jobs. As the industry grows, the demand for professionals and craft workers will be on the rise (Azhar et al., 2014). Construction firms can meet this demand by working together with colleges to tap veteran talent. As Eddleman (2015) puts it, the availability of veterans who have the discipline, work ethic and capacity to learn new skills quickly presents a favorable working environment to respond to industry needs while enhancing the professional skills of veterans and providing further job opportunities in high-demand, high-wage industries such as the construction industry. Through college-led initiatives, veterans can acquire the credentials and certification needed to work in the construction industry.
Higher learning institutions also assist veterans enter into civilian employment by organizing career fairs, recruitment drives, and internship programs (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Group 3 respondent added that:
The next, your follow up question about organizing job fairs, recruitment similar initiatives, our office is not big enough. We have a very strong partnership with the campus career center. We work with those folks two, three times a week for various events and we will connect all of our veterans with a lot of different employers. In the construction science field, that department does very, very well on their own. They have a very extensive internship program that’s actually required, so we try to find opportunities for internships that are relatively local. There’s a lot of degree plans that require internships and what our academic side and our employer side don’t realize for veterans, the internship can be the equivalent of another deployment for the family. They have to go to Seattle, D.C., they have to create a second household in many cases. It can be a financial burden, if we can get them an internship with all the construction that’s going on within the local area here or within an hour, hour and a half away, Austin, Houston, then they may not have to establish that second household, less financial stress, and we can get them hooked up with employers from Texas. So we work the internship side and then the department, the construction sciences department holds their own job fairs, but they don’t have to work real hard at the job fair for construction science because the vast majority of those students will have two to three offers going into their senior year. They have very close to 100% employment rate out of graduation.
It is not uncommon for higher learning institutions to organize recruitment drives. Recruitment drives bring employers closer to prospective candidates, hence minimizing the complexity of job searching. For veterans, college-organized career fairs play an important role in opening up employment opportunities. Ultimately, this can make positive contributions to workforce development in the construction industry.
4.4.3 Military-Led Initiatives and Other Initiatives
In addition to construction industry and learning institutions initiatives, there are military-led initiatives for integrating veterans into the construction industry. While most respondents felt that the military had not prepared them for construction jobs, a few informed the researcher of the existence of such programs within the military. One of the programs is referred to as PC2, a program offered in various military bases across the U.S.:
I was offered some, but I didn’t get the opportunity to explore those opportunities, because I was working at the time of my transition, I was the assistant S3 to the battalion commander. They had a couple of training programs at Fort Sill, and I think with the Soldier for Life TAPS program, the transition program that they have in the military now, they offered some courses. They didn’t offer a lot, but I think there was a stigma at the time, and I just didn’t take them up on it. It would have been interesting, because it was pipe-fitting and fire sprinklers, which actually would have opened my eyes to what our sub-contractors do.
Another way the military supports veterans integrate into civilian employment is through the GI Bill:
I did get the GI Bill. I got that. And I went two years to a community college, which I’m very fortunate for that. They paid for that. They had a … a group of people that helped you transfer what you did know into credit hours for … that would go on my transcript. I can’t remember tht group that does that, but yeah, they did help with that. Other than that, yeah, just the GI Bill.
As described by the respondents, the military is considerably involved in preparing veterans for civilian employment. Indeed, programs such as VICE, VIP, and Helmets to Hardhats, among other programs, are administered by the military with the support of industry associations and non-profit organizations (Azhar et al., 2014; AGC, 2017). This partnership enables veterans to attend the programs at no cost. Furthermore, the military has its own initiatives through which veterans are prepared for civilian life. Through legislations such as the GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill, veterans can pursue college courses after leaving the military. Also, the VA supports veterans with entrepreneurship training, on-the-job apprenticeship, correspondence training, flight training, employment referrals, as well as a host of online resources to help with the transition process. In addition, military bases organize career fairs and headhunter initiatives to connect veterans with employers (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Even so, in spite of VA benefits and other government initiatives, many veterans lack college qualifications, making their transition into civilian employment difficult (Bradman University, 2010). Accordingly, it is important for the government to increase its support for initiatives aimed at helping veterans transition into civilian employment.
Besides the GI Bill program and initiatives such as PC2, the government mainly through the military has several other initiatives through which veterans are integrated into the construction industry. Some of these initiatives include the Veterans in Piping (VIP) program, the Veterans in Construction Electrical (VICE) program, and the Helmets to Hardhats program (Azhar et al., 2014). The VIP program is sponsored by United Association (UA), an association of plumbers, fitters, welders and service technicians. It is a free 18-week program that prepares veterans for construction jobs while they are in the military base. After the training, participants you get two weeks of transition assistance just to ensure they transition to civilian employment smoothly. Upon completion, participants obtain an industry-recognizable certification. The VICE program is a 14-week program that prepares veterans for electrical work. Participants learn not only technical stuff, but also non-technical stuff like job preparedness and workplace discrimination. After completion, participants of the program can work in various fields, including construction, manufacturing, telecommunication, and utilities.
The Helmets to Hardhats program is a nationwide program that assists veterans secure employment opportunities in the construction industry by offering skilled training and linking veterans with construction firms (Azhar et al., 2014). The free program is linked to apprenticeship training initiatives approved by the federal government, which is a plus for its credibility and appeal to the veteran population. Also, the training is provided by construction industry associations themselves. This means that participants get to learn from instructors with first-hand experience in the industry. Even more interestingly, participants earn while they learn. By participating in such programs, veterans enhance their suitability for the construction industry (Bradman University, 2010).
Government and military-led programs have important implications for workforce development. First, given the huge numbers of veterans who exit the military every year, the programs go a long way in addressing unemployment among veterans. Upon retiring from active duty, veterans have at their disposal tools, resources, and opportunities they can take advantage of to pursue civilian employment. For the construction industry, these resources and opportunities are particularly valuable. Through partnerships between the military, learning institutions, and non-profit organizations, veterans intending to join the construction industry acquire invaluable skilled training. This makes it easier for veterans to pursue jobs in the construction industry.
In spite of the governments efforts in integrating veterans into civilian employment, and more particularly in the construction industry, there is still room for improvement. One of the respondents pointed out this his employer had not received any assistance from the government (direct or indirect) in relation to hiring veterans:
Not that I’m aware of. There had been mentions … been talk that there’s financial incentives, or tax credits associated with hiring recent veterans, but I don’t know if we’ve ever pursued that. I don’t even know if it’s really even available.
This indicates that there is still a gap that needs to be filled. DOD, VA, and other government agencies ought to do more to integrate more veterans into the construction industry, especially by forging more robust partnerships with the construction industry.
4.5 Impact of Hiring Veterans on Workforce Development in the Construction Industry
The third objective of the study was to demonstrate the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry. Though questions relating to this objective were posed to all groups, focus was specifically on Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3 respondents. Respondents from these three groups possessed significant experience working with veterans and held substantive positions in their respective organizations. Their insights were, therefore, useful in understanding the contribution of veterans to workforce development in the construction industry. For the three groups, the researcher specifically sought to know in what ways hiring veterans was beneficial to workforce development.
4.5.1 Veteran Talent and Transferability to the Construction Industry
Based on responses from the interviewees, it was clear that the biggest contribution veterans can make to workforce development in the construction industry is through their unique talent and skills, which can be readily transferred to the construction industry. An earlier section of this chapter extensively describes the valuable talent construction firms can draw from veterans: a strong work ethic, organizational skills, the ability to follow instructions, resilience, problem solving skills, as well as cultural competence. These skills are especially valuable given the worrying skill gaps in the construction industry. The respondents stated that they sought jobs in the construction industry because they felt that the industry resonated more with their military background:
Well I think an army officer which I was, and a project manager in the construction industry are one and the same really. Both jobs … it’s just the outcome or the mission or the project is the only thing that’s different. You use the same tools, you use the same leadership qualities, management skills that you learned in both to do either job. So I think it’s an easy transition or a natural transition to become an army officer into a construction project manager.
Once a marine, always a marine. I did a little research. I think, because the correlation between the military and construction are so strong, that it almost mirrors each other. If you look at the military, it’s a projected organization, they’re based on projects. If you look at a mission, it’s a project.
Anything you do in the military correlates directly to the construction industry. Not only because of the philosophy, or the ideology of a project and a mission, but in the tasks, objectives, tracking logs. But it’s the safety requirements, the collaboration, bringing different pieces together; sub-contractors, general contractors, you can think of that as like a battalion of infantry armor and artillery working for a higher echelon.
Veterans are very mission-minded, they’re also safety oriented wich is a must in construction science. They bring those strengths which can be directly applied to that field, I think to a much greater degree than many other fields that exist out there.
One of the respondents noted the distinctive skills and abilities veterans have as their greatest contribution to the construction industry:
You know, in my opinion, the best contribution that I’ve seen thus far … I’ve specifically hired, recently, four project engineers that were recent veterans, and what I liked the most about these individuals were their life experiences, their maturity, and their ability to take a task, own it, be accountable, and have a level of responsibility and dedication that is unique. And I say that … We hire a lot of college graduates. They are still learning how to be adults. They are still learning how to be professional. Still learning to live on their own. And the work ethic, in some cases, not saying always, the work ethic has to be taught, this being, lot of cases, their first professional exposure. What I love about our vets is they already have that dedication. They already have that focus. They have that discipline. They are used to taking direction. They’re active listeners. They won’t interrupt you and answer questions before you’re finished asking the question. Very detailed. Very attentive. They take those experiences, that training, and apply it to what you’re looking for. So that in my opinion is the best attribute is those life experiences and the ability to take a task and finish it. It’s really somewhat unique to have somebody in a entry level position that already has a level of experience and maturity that we expect.
A crucial aspect of workforce development involves attracting and retaining the right talent. To achieve their goals and objectives, organizations must have a qualified workforce they must have the right people for the job. This boils down to talent acquisition the process of obtaining individuals with the required skills, knowledge, qualifications, and experience. Talent acquisition is an important element of the workforce development process (Harris and Short, 2014. Without acquiring the right talent, achieving workforce development goals may be difficult.
For the construction industry, acquiring the right talent has been a challenge. As mentioned previously, it is increasingly difficult for construction firms to find strongly qualified professional craft workers. This aggravates the industrys workforce development challenges. Nevertheless, veterans incomparable talent can be useful in addressing this challenge. According to Haynie (2016), veterans offer differentiated human capital. They offer a one of a kind talent pool a talent pool you cannot compare to any other. Experience in the military makes veterans an attractive source of talent for the civilian sector (Vashdi et al., 2007; God-Sanchez, 2010; Harrell and Berglass, 2012), especially the construction industry (Azhar et al., 2014).
Military experience makes veterans adaptive and flexible. In the military, one works not only in the battlefield, but also in non-combat contexts:
In the military, you got a mission. You finish that mission, you move on to a totally different mission. You move, you PCS, you may be doing a totally different job every year, every two years, every three years, just like in the construction industry. So you’re familiar with that life, you’re familiar with taking a project from the beginning to the end and then jumping into a new project right after that and then just moving to the next project, and that’s what project managers in the construction industry do.
As a result, one gains the ability to transfer their skills from one task or context to another. Veterans can be equipment operators, field engineers, and project supervisors at the same time. Many non-veterans do not have that kind of flexibility. This is talent the construction industry can take benefit from.
The usefulness of veterans for the construction industry further stems from their immense exposure to technical training and expertise. Exposure to technical training is one of the most important advantages veterans have over non-veterans in the civilian workplace (Schindler, 2016). During training and in the course of active duty, service members are equipped with a great deal of technical skills and knowledge. They are taught not just about guns, but also several other technical aspects, such as hardware, software, and equipment operation. Most non-veterans do not have this advantage.
With technical experience from the military, veterans are best suited for technical construction jobs. Harrell and Berglass (2012) assert that veterans generally have more advanced technical knowledge compared to non-veterans, making them more ideal for technical jobs in the civilian context. IVMF (2012) adds that veterans immense exposure to technology make them exceptionally capable of applying technology-based solutions to complex organizational challenges. For the construction industry, therefore, hiring veterans would be beneficial in terms of having a technically knowledgeable workforce.
Most jobs today require some level of technical expertise. Whether it is operating a computer or using an information system, technical skills are increasingly important. The need for technical skills is even greater in the construction industry. For instance, construction professionals rely on software to handle critical tasks such as budgeting, scheduling, cost control, risk management, stakeholder management, and procurement management (Harris and McCaffer, 2013). This means that having technical knowledge is an added advantage in the construction environment. Technical resources are required for not only administrative work, but also actual construction work such as architecture, excavation, transportation, and building. These processes require complex equipment such as excavators, trucks, and tractors.
4.5.2 Workforce Shortage and Veterans Preference for Construction Jobs
Workforce shortage is a major challenge facing the construction industry. It is increasingly difficult to find qualified professional and craft workers. Several reports have identified workforce shortage as a cause for concern for the construction industry. According to Azhar et al. (2014), the professional and craft workers presently available in the market are not enough to fulfill the burgeoning labor demand in the U.S. construction industry. This concern has also been noted elsewhere (Groves, 2010; Beyer, 2017). The industry will require a greater supply of technical and non-technical professionals to overcome this demand. Furthermore, the available workers lack the skills and qualifications required for construction firms (AGC, 2013), meaning that the industry must invest more in skill development.
Workforce challenges in the construction industry have been attributed to a number of factors. For instance, there has been diminished interest in construction careers on the part of most young people (Azhar et al., 2014). Reduced focus on vocational training at the high school level has compounded this problem (AGC, 2014). With reduced federal funding, most secondary schools no longer offer vocational training, instead shifting their attention to preparing high school students for college. Other challenges include reduced enrolment into union-based apprenticeship initiatives, unfavorable federal and state policies, employee turnover, and increased ageing of the typical construction worker (AGC, 2014; Beyer, 2017). These challenges have negatively affected workforce development in the construction industry by contributing to workforce shortage. It is now more difficult than ever before to find qualified construction workers.
The construction industry must address the problem if it is to successfully meet its long term goals and objectives. The industry has recorded booming growth snce the recession, but the problem of workforce shortage is increasingly threatening to derail the gains the industry has made in the last few years (Azhar et al., 2014). A survey conducted by NAHB in 2016 outlines the negative impact of workforce shortage in the construction industry (Beyer, 2017). The report highlights the costs construction firms are bearing with as a result of workforce shortage, especially with respect to human resource costs, project costs, and project schedules. These challenges have the potential to affect economic and employment growth negatively given the critical position occupied by the construction industry in the economy (AGC, 2014), underscoring the need for a solution.
An adequate supply of labor is crucial to the survival of any industry. Industries require a sufficient pool of qualified talent to achieve their goals and objectives. Without sufficient labor and skill availability, productivity is affected firms are unable to fully exploit the opportunities presented by the market. The construction industry undoubtedly presents significant opportunities for construction firms. Nonetheless, the pursuit of these opportunities is hampered by workforce shortage. For the industry to achieve its full potential, the problem of workforce shortage must be addressed.
The veteran population is a vital source of workers for the construction industry. The industry can take advantage of the population to address the problem of workforce shortage. Annually, more than 150,000 veterans leave active duty (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). This means that in the last five years alone, more than 750,000 veterans have exited the military. These numbers are expected to be even higher in the future given Americas shifting defense strategy (National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, 2013). An increasingly huge number of retiring veterans presents the construction industry with a large pool from which they can draw useful human capital. Veterans have skills and abilities that can be immense value to the construction industry.
Taking advantage of veterans is especially a feasible solution given veterans marked preference for construction jobs. Indeed, compared to non-veterans, veterans are more likely to pursue construction jobs (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). A respondent remarked that:
… When I was getting out, when I was retiring, I really didn’t have construction necessarily project management on the radar. I have a civil engineering degree so I was looking more in the civil engineering field, maybe design, architecture field initially. It didn’t take me very long to kind of gravitate toward the construction field once I kind of got it in my head thinking about it. I’m like, “Yeah, that’s perfect. That’s a perfect segway into what I want to do.” So a little bit at the beginning, but once I understood the construction industry, that this is where I needed to go, I went full force into this.
Other respondents working in the construction industry also portrayed their strong preference for construction work:
I’ve always had a great interest in construction. I’ve always wanted to be a builder and I’ve always wanted to do something with construction. It’s just a genuine interest that I’ve always had and something that I want to be a part of. I like that it’s … well, I don’t know if it is, but I know it’s one of the top three oldest professions in human history.
So I think that’s why I’ve always had a great interest with it. It’s just getting to see the fruits of your labor and all the hard work at the end of the day, is kind of what appeases in projects and completing tasks. I think that was the thing, is getting to see the fruits of your labor. Versus something like IT and project management, you’re building something, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, and you never really get to see it. But a building, that will last a lifetime, if you build it right.
Prior to that I was in the TV media business. Graduated from California State University in Chico with a communications background. Somewhat well rounded, but always had a foot in the construction environment. I have a passion for construction. Love what I do. The best part of what I do is the people I get to work with. So that’s kinda me in a nutshell.
When asked whether he was aware of other veterans working in the construction industry, the reservist remarked that:
Yes, I do, I do. Not only that but I have friends, my brothers friends who are marines, who are currently working in the industry. Im actually recruiting to get these folks as our sub-contractors. Theyre young but they’re hard working, experienced, and I think they would help change the industry.
Other respondents also indicated that they were familiar with other veterans working in the construction industry, further bringing out veterans preference for construction jobs. Veterans may have various reasons for preferring construction jobs, but one respondent remarked that with a construction job, he was better placed to have more time with his family.
… I have looked at trying to do something closer to home so I can … ’cause I’m married and want to see my wife more than two days a week. The problem, there isn’t … Construction is just … Unless I went into the oil business, the construction business gives me the most opportunity, and financially rewarding than any other area so that’s why I’m sticking with it.
For veterans, a job that offers work-life balance can especially be more fulfilling. Due to the nature of military work, veterans spend much of their time away from their families. As such, many veterans are likely to prefer a civilian job that enables them to compensate the time they did not spend with their family during active duty.
On the whole, there is perhaps no group that prefers construction jobs more than veterans. In fact, veterans striking preference for construction and other technical jobs is a phenomenon supported by statistics. Statistics show that veterans are generally overrepresented in the construction industry compared to non-veterans (Manzo, Bruno and Duncan, 2016). This indicates that the construction industry is a preferred choice of employment for many veterans. This may be attributed to their wealth of military-acquired technical skills as well as their lack of college degrees. Construction firms can exploit this preference to their advantage. Given veterans preference for construction jobs, luring them to the industry may not be difficult.
4.6 Challenges of Hiring Veterans and Implications on Workforce Development
The final objective of this study was to understand the challenges construction firms face in hiring veterans. Questions relating to this objective were posed to all groups. Generally, respondents noted that though veterans possess valuable skills for the construction industry, locating veterans with the required skills and effectively integrating them into the industry can be a daunting undertaking.
4.6.1 Difficulties in Adjusting to the Civilian Workplace
From the responses provided, it was clear that the transition from the military to the civilian workplace is a problem for both veterans and employers. When asked the biggest challenge he faced in his transition from the military to the construction industry, one of the respondents remarked that:
I think it would be the … I don’t really know how to put it … not quite being in charge. When I’m in the military I have my team, and I’m in charge of that team. So I’m in charge to the end of accomplishing the mission. If I need them to do something, I’m going to tell them to do it and they’re going to do it. I don’t mean dictatorship kind of deal, but they know there’s a rank and there’s a structure and they know who’s in charge. In the construction industry, you have your team, you have your construction team, your project tam, and I consider everyone working on that project as a team member. The subcontractors, the city officials, the ownership, the client, everybody here in the office, the support staff and all. But when you’re out there on site as a superintendent or project manager, there’s a small team that you can actually physically really tell them what to do, and then you have to use a lot of additional skills to persuade subcontractors to do what they’re supposed to do. You have to go the stick and the carrot method. With subcontractors, really the only stick you have with them is money. If you don’t get out of here, you’re not going to finish your scope, we’re not going to pay you this month. If they got 10 other jobs, then they may say, “Well, I just can’t get there. I can’t do it.” I don’t know if I’m making my point.
Yeah, I found it hard to deal with civilians. I had a very different mindset. Some of the friends that I grew up with, I still talk to today, but others, when I got out, we didn’t see eye to eye on things. Either politically or socially, and so it took a little while. I was in a very high speed unit and deployed a lot, so we were…
Yeah … we were going from that to civilian life, it was a … it took a while.
Such sentiments mainly stem from marked cultural differences between the military and the civilian workplace. As a result, many veterans may take some time before they adjust to the civilian culture. The time veterans need to adjust to civilian employment affects recruitment decisions (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). Employers are likely to be reluctant to hire freshly separated veterans due to adjustment concerns. Indeed, it is common for employers to prefer veterans with corporate experience as opposed to freshly retired veterans, especially for high-level positions such as management positions. This reduces the time needed to orientate veteran hires. In other words, on-boarding someone with some experience in the civilian context is usually easier compared to someone without any corporate experience.
Reluctance to hire veterans may pose challenges for efforts aimed at addressing workforce shortage in the construction industry. Nonetheless, this is a challenge construction firms can effectively deal with. Mentorship is one way through which this challenge can be addressed (Bateman, Snell and Konopaske, 2016). Through mentorship programs, veterans especially freshly separated veterans can be assimilated into corporate culture more easily. Mentorship essentially involves assigning individuals within the organization preferably individuals with a similar background but with corporate experience to help newly employed veterans adjust to the corporate environment or even start a business. This strategy has proven to be useful in orientating veterans into corporate culture (Harrell and Berglass, 2012).
Group 2 respondent was convinced that mentorship is crucial for supporting newly separated veterans adjust to civilian culture whether it is starting a business or working for a company:
So you have to have, I would recommend a veteran coming out seeking self-employment, if they’ve got a good mentor.
Been there and done that. I mentor three guys right now, or three businesses right now, that are veteran-owned, that I help start. I’m still very actively engaged in their business because they don’t know what they don’t know. You know, now I’m four years in. Some of those are two/two and a half years in. Some of the pitfalls that I encountered I’m able to help them not encounter those same things, so they are more successful at two and a half years than I was at two and a half years, but it’s because they got a good mentor. The mentoring programs I think are essential to a veteran getting out and starting his own business.
I wouldn’t have failed for lack of trying, I would have failed for lack of knowledge.
The views of Group 2 respondent are especially valuable given his experience as a veteran and a proprietor in the construction industry. Mentorship is crucial for providing veterans with the support they may require to successfully integrate into the civilian environment. Whereas most veterans bring valuable skills, adapting the skills to the civilian workplace is important. This can be achieved via mentorship initiatives within an organization. Such initiatives are vital for building the skills of veterans and adapting their skills to the civilian workplace.
Differences between the military and the civilian further emanate from differences in work discipline and the determination to accomplish a task. As it emerged, veterans tend to be more determined to accomplish a given tasks compared to non-veterans:
In the military it’s like, okay, we’re going to do this until we get it done, and we’re going to get it done right. Your subordinates may hate it, but they know they’re going to have to stay there and get it done and get it done right. Subcontractor’s not quite that way. You tell them, “Hey, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do it right and we’re going to stay until we get it done.” They’re going to look at you like, “No, we’re not. 5:00 we’re heading home.” And then you’re like, well crap. What am I going to do? That’s a hard transition.
Yes. And I think I’m a nice guy, but once you got to get something done, you got to get something done and you have to figure out a way you can do it. Sometimes that’s a little hard transition to make.
Such differences further make it difficult for veterans to adjust to the civilian workplace. A veteran working in a construction firm is likely to be robustly determined to complete a project perfectly. However, working alongside colleagues without a similar level of determination can pose challenge to a veteran.
Another respondent identified lack of camaraderie in the civilian workplace as the major difficulty in terms of transitioning from the military to civilian employment:
I think the camaraderie piece is still … it’s still hard. As explained by the respondent, the military is quite different from the civilian workplace in terms of building interpersonal relationships, solidarity, and team spirit. In the military workplace, the tendency of looking for one another is common. For someone coming from a military background, a work environment that pays little attention to camaraderie can feel somewhat alien.
4.6.2 Skill Mismatch and Lack of Industry Experience
There were concerns about mismatch between veterans skills and business needs as well as lack of industry experience. A respondent pointed out that:
… a lot of companies I don’t think would take that risk. They want the guy who, oh yeah, you’ve been a project engineer for a couple years or you have some sort of construction knowledge. So I’m thankful they took the risk on me and I hope it pays off. I think they can see that it does, I hate to use the term soft skills, but you know what I’m talking about. Management, leadership, those kind of skills. They were looking for those skills as well and that’s why they gave me a chance, and hopefully I’m not letting them down.
According to Group 2 respondent, veterans may have a useful skill set, but that does not necessarily guaranteed that they will succeed in the civilian workplace. He explained that though he had hired 12 veterans over the past three years, only two were remaining at the time of the interview, with majority of them failing to fulfil expectations:
Like I said I’ve hired 12 and all of them failed except for the two that are with me now, because they just, number one didn’t have the right mindset. Many veterans are looking for a job and that’s not really how I operate. The first thing you got to do is you know, quality of workmanship, pride in what you do, want to serve, and then you’ll get paid. So I don’t know that it’s had a positive mpact or a negative impact, it just has no impact. I’ve got 59 employees and only two veterans, which I would love to have more, but they’ve got to be of the right mindset and work ethic, and all of that.
The respondent further emphasized the importance of industry experience for veteran success in the corporate environment:
I’ll tell you this, if I would have gotten out of the army and started a business on my own, I would have failed. I would have failed. Just because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. What helped me was I went to work for a corporation and moved up the ladder fairly quickly, and became a district manager over two universities with over 40 million dollars in business. So, that helped me to understand business concepts and how business works in the real world.
The problem of skill mismatch and lack of industry experience is not an uncommon challenge according to Harrell and Berglass (2012). Most veterans only have a high school diploma, with very few of them having a college degree. Even those with a college degree may not have any industry experience, presenting difficulties for employers in terms of consideration for management roles. Indeed, though they have leadership experience, most veterans are deficient of the industry-specific experience and expertise required to undertake senior responsibilities in an organization. This makes it quite difficult for employers to consider veterans for high-level management roles. Even without industry experience, it is not uncommon for veterans to apply for senior roles in a corporation. They assume that their 20 years of experience in the military, for instance, can be readily transferred to the corporate environment. Many employers, however, are not willing to take this risk. Instead, most employers are likely to consider veterans for more junior roles initially and elevate them after some time. This reluctance is understandable to some extent. Senior leadership and management roles often require individuals with some level of industry experience. For the construction industry, for instance, firms would ordinarily desire individuals who understand the dynamics of the construction industry.
Whereas the challenge of skill mismatch and lack of industry experience is a significant challenge, employers ought to acknowledge that veterans possess commendable learning capabilities given their military background they can learn while on the job:
… I’m really thankful for EMJ and the rest of the EMJ team. They went out on a ledge and took a little bit of a risk to hire me, because I have a civil engineering degree that kind of relates, but I had no construction background, no construction necessarily specific instruction industry knowledge. I don’t know anything about project scheduling or pro corp, P6, estimate. I don’t know nothing of that. But I think … and … the pro director here and the rest of the EMJ team, have the vision or the wisdom to see that you can teach that to anybody.
You can teach those skills, because I remember in the interview they asked me, they were like, “Can you read construction documents?” I’m like, “Do I have any training or knowledge or specific instances where I could say I had a construction document that I could go do? No. I have not done that. But I can read schematics, I can read a plan, I can read a map. I know elevations. I can look at a piece of paper on the terrain and figure out, yup this is … I can make the link from what’s drawn on paper to how it applies to the project or to the mission.” So I had to sell it like that.
On their part, veterans must acknowledge the inherent differences between the military and the corporate environment. They must understand that senior roles in the corporate environment require industry expertise. Accordingly, veterans must be willing to take the time to learn the ropes.
4.6.3 Difficulties in Locating Veterans
Another respondent identified the challenge of finding veterans, particularly due to lack of a database of veterans or veteran-owned businesses:
I love veterans, I want them to succeed. I want them to come and work for us. You know, one of the things I was thinking about was creating a database for small veteran-owned businesses that veterans could tap into that database. I mean maybe I’m not hiring, but if you’re the right fit for our company and our culture, I’ll hire you. Whether I need you or not, I’m going to hire you, because you can help me grow. If you’re the right one. So if there was a database out there like that, that a veteran could, like I talked to a guy yesterday, I’m in Georgia at Fort Benning. He’s getting out in seven months. I said, “Have you started your transition yet?” He said, “No, I’m still too busy doing work.” I said, “Brother, you gotta start right now growing your network. You should have started five years ago,” because that’s one of the pitfalls that I ran into is heck, I didn’t start my transition until a month out. Which is way too late. You gotta increase your network. If there was some sort of database of small veteran-owned businesses where you want to live and you could call that owner, or call, you know, whoever and say, “Hey, I’m getting out, This is my skill set, do you have any openings, or do you foresee any opening in the near future?” You know, and I would always grant an interview because I’m always looking to help a veteran transition.
In spite of the existence many online platforms through which employers can find veterans, finding the right veterans can be a challenge for many employers. The multiplicity of the websites is in itself a challenge. As Harrell and Berglass (2012) put it, a plethora of websites can be overwhelming for prospective employers, and can even turn them off. For an employer intending to hire veterans for the first time, the websites can be even more confusing. With many websites, an employer may not know which website to use or how to differentiate the best from the bogus. This problem is further compounded by the fact that most websites require employers to pay to list vacancies. With too many websites, an employer wants to be certain that the money spent on listing vacancies for veterans does not go to waste. The difficulty of locating veterans can have negative implications on workforce development in the construction industry.
A solution that appears feasible is a single database of veterans looking for jobs as well as veteran-owned businesses. A centralized repository of veterans or veteran-owned businesses would make it easier for construction firms to locate veterans with the skills they require (Harrell and Berglass, 2012). With a single database, an employer would only have to browse through the database and pick the resume that perfectly meets their skill needs anytime the employer is looking for veteran candidates.
4.6.4 Concerns over Redeployment
One of the respondents interviewed was a reservist. He explained that sometimes he had to be recalled to duty:
Yeah. I’ve found I was able to fill some of those gaps, I think, in the reserves, and I find myself filling those gaps whenever I have my one weekend a month, two weeks a year, obligation for my reserve unit.
This can be challenge for many employers. According to Harrell and Berglass (2012), employers may be reluctant to hire veterans who are likely to be recalled to active duty in the future. It is common for reservists and guardsmen to be redeployed. As redeployment may extend for several weeks or months, an employer may have to refill the gaps left by recalled veterans. A prudent employer may avoid this risk by choosing not to hire veterans altogether. For the construction industry, future deployments may be detrimental to productivity given the nature of construction work construction projects are often temporary or short-term in nature. Though the reservist did not identify future deployment as a concern fr his employer, it is a challenge that cannot be ignored.
4.6.5 Other Challenges
Respondents identified other challenges that may hinder construction firms from hiring veterans. One such challenge is resource constraints. This challenge is particularly a major concern among small to mid-sized businesses. Due to their limited financial strength, many small to mid-sized businesses may not be able to cover benefits for veterans:
The other thing is benefits if they’re not retired. I don’t have benefits right now.
Oh, it kills a small business.
Yeah and that’s, you know, it’s 78% of the American population is employed by small business, but a bill like Obamacare kills it.
Big companies, yeah, they can survive, but small guys like me, not so much.
Other challenges relate to financial difficulties and age:
The biggest challenge with veterans. Like I said, I think many of them are just looking for a job. They’re stressed because they just got out. I believe that we as a military have done a disservice to our veterans. Especially those that are single, because you can spend your entire paycheck and you still got three meals, and you still got a place to live. We don’t teach them fiscal responsibility. We teach them responsibility for others and you know weapons systems and equipment and stuff like that, but their fiscal responsibility is kind of lacking, for a better term. Those are some challenges that I’ve faced is when I want to get, “I don’t have any money. I want to get paid next week,” I pay every two weeks. Many of them can’t last a week. You know, they get their first paycheck and it’s gone over the weekend, and then they’re broke and can’t get to work. That’s a problem that I’ve had with some of the younger veterans. Some of the older guys that are retired, are retired mentally and they don’t have the same drive and disciplines that got them to retirement. They’re looking for something easy, and what we do is not easy.
Another respondent remarked that:
The major challenges in education to veterans is … it’s all about the transition from the military to higher ed. It’s getting them to engage while they are on campus. A lot of student veterans are very busy, they’re older, they’re married, they have children, many are working to supplement the GI Bill and get benefits. They tend not to engage for a lot of various practical reasons, but if we can get them engaged on campus in some of the organizations, professional student organizations, it tends to help that transition to higher ed. They connect with different peer networks and if they practice that transition to that new environment here in higher ed, once they transition out and work for a construction company [inaudible 00:14:21] and they join that tribe they’ll understand how to transition out of college to that workforce much better. So getting them to engage and support their transition, getting them to ask for help. The war mentality is one of the big obstacles we face, in the military they would ask for help from our peers and our buddies but you didn’t want to be seen as the weak link. When they come to higher ed they don’t always have that network, they don’t always know who to ask for help and they perceive asking for help might get them labeled as being that weak individual. Professors and staff in higher ed see that as a sign of strength, it’s a very different environment so convincing them that it’s okay to ask for help, beating down that warrior mentality, getting them to ask for help before a problem is potentially catastrophic they should walk in the door here and say, “Hey, I may be having a problem because I’m going to run out of GI Bill next semester”, if we could get that six months ahead of time you’ve got the financial support network that we can prevent that from becoming a catastrophic failure.
Whereas veteran benefits, financial difficulties, and age were identified as challenges that could influence hiring decisions, there is little or no support for these factors in extant literature. There is perhaps need for more research in this direction.
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
5.1 Summary and Conclusion
The aim of this study was to understand the positive impact hiring veterans can have on the construction industry. The research was informed by the scarcity of research in this area. The study specifically sought to achieve the following four objectives: 1) to highlight the skills and abilities military veterans can bring to the construction industry; 2) to highlight efforts made by the government, learning institutions, and construction firms to ensure veterans are hired in the construction industry; 3) to demonstrate the impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry; and 4) to highlight the challenges of hiring veterans in the construction industry and the implications of those challenges on workforce development.
Based on in-depth interviews with six individuals in the construction industry and with experience with veterans, the study found that veterans can positively affect workforce development in the construction industry. Respondents identified the unique skills and abilities possessed by veterans that make them ideal for construction jobs: a strong work ethic, teamwork and leadership skills, organizational skills, the ability to develop action plans, resilience, problem solving skills, and cross-cultural competence. Non-veterans may possess these skills, but the nature of military work generally makes veterans better in these skills than non-veterans. The military is characterized by, among other aspects, hierarchical structures, rules and procedures, complex tactical environments, teamwork, hardships, and routine action plans. These characteristics shape veterans into goal-oriented, analytical, crafty, creative, and entrepreneurial individuals.
The value of these skills in the construction industry is far-reaching. The industry continues to grapple with considerable skill gaps against the backdrop of reduced pursuit of construction courses, budget cuts for vocational training in secondary schools, policy adjustments, and demographic changes. As identified by the respondents, workforce shortage in the construction in the construction industry is a cause for concern. The industry can take advantage of the exceptional veteran talent to address the workforce challenges they face. Having a competent workforce is crucial to the success of the industry. Growth in the industry has been on an upward trend in the last few years, but pursuing the opportunities presented by the industry is increasingly hindered by workforce shortages. If the industry is to successfully fulfill the growing demand for construction projects, it must look to veterans.
The importance of strong workforce skills for workforce development cannot be overemphasized. Adequate supply of the required skills means that an organization or an industry is able to develop a workforce that supports the achievement of organizational or industry objectives. For the construction industry, workforce development is imperative. The industry lacks a sufficient supply of professional and craft workers, presenting significant workforce development challenges. If this problem is not immediately addressed, construction firms may soon not be able to fulfill their promises to the market, which could lead to undesirable outcomes such as increased employee costs, higher project costs, and delayed project schedules. As the respondents noted, veterans possess incomparable talent that can be helpful to the construction industry in terms of workforce development.
The value of veterans for the construction industry stems from not only the distinctive talent they bring to the industry, but also their huge numbers. Annually, hundreds of thousands of veterans retire from the military. This has contributed to a large pile of veterans without employment. The pile is expected to be even larger in the future as more and more veterans are discharged from active duty in the face of Americas changing defense strategy. The respondents were convinced that the huge number of retiring veterans presents a large pool from which construction firms can draw differentiated talent. Given the growing demand for labor in the construction industry, a massive talent pool is essential.
Various stakeholders have introduced wide-ranging initiatives to take advantage of veteran talent. This study found that construction firms, learning institutions, the military and non-profit organizations are extensively involved in integrating veterans into the construction industry. For instance, construction firms contribute to veteran transition into civilian employment by actively seeking to hire veterans and provide on-the-job training for veterans. On their part, learning institutions, non-profit organizations, and the VA support veterans by equipping them with civilian skills and linking them with employment opportunities in the construction industry. They provide training, online resources, as well as opportunities for veterans to meet prospective employers such as career fairs. It is particularly crucial to note that most of the initiatives identified involved partnership and collaboration between stakeholders. Partnerships help stakeholders to work together for the benefit of veterans.
In spite of the positive impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry, the respondents pointed out a number of challenges: difficulties in adjusting to civilian life on the part of veterans, skill mismatch, and difficulties in locating veterans on the part of employers. These challenges have the potential to hinder workforce development in the construction industry. Measures should, therefore, be undertaken to address these challenges. Construction firms can address the problem of adjusting to the civilian workplace by introducing mentorship programs, whereby veteran hires are assigned an experienced individual in the company to offer the support a freshly hired veteran requires. The problem of skill mismatch can be tackled by giving veterans an opportunity to learn while on the job. Finally, the challenge of finding qualified veterans can be dealt with by introducing a single repository of veterans looking for civilian jobs.
In conclusion, workforce development is undoubtedly an issue that the construction industry must pay greater attention to. In the wake of growing labor shortages, construction firms generally agree that it is a challenge that needs a solution. As demonstrated by this study, veterans offer a viable solution for the industry given their military-acquired skills and abilities. Nonetheless, getting the most out of veterans may not be as straightforward as one may think. Indeed, workforce development in the construction industry is unlikely to be solved by one stakeholder or with a one-dimensional solution. Accordingly, the problem requires a multi-solution approach. This is particularly because of the diversity of the root causes of the problem employee turnover, policy changes, reduced attention to vocational training, and demographic changes, just to name but a few. Addressing the problem, therefore, requires the involvement of several stakeholders. It requires not only construction firms and industry associations, but also government agencies, learning institutions, and construction non-profit organizations.
In the end, hiring veterans boils down to the business case. What do construction firms stand to gain as a result of hiring veterans? What business value do veterans bring to the industry? These are the most fundamental concerns for the construction industry. By virtue of their skills and abilities, veterans can be a renewable source of talent for the industry. Essentially, the business case for hiring veterans is compelling. With a stronger workforce and an adequate supply of labor, construction firms would stand to gain in terms of increased productivity and improved bottom lines.
5.2 Strengths, Limitations, and Suggestions for Future Research
Given its qualitative nature, this study provides in-depth perspectives on the positive impact of hiring veterans on workforce development in the construction industry. More specifically, the study involved individuals in the construction industry as well as veterans working in the construction industry. Being in the construction industry and having a veteran background, these individuals provided rich insights in relation to the skills and abilities veterans can bring to the industry as well as challenges associated with hiring veterans. Like in this case, one of the major strengths of a qualitative study is the in-depth knowledge of the research phenomenon it provides.
Nonetheless, the qualitative nature of the research design is a weakness in itself. The study only involved six participants. Even though the study offers rich insights on the research topic, such a small sample presents generalization difficulties. In other words, attempts to generalize these findings beyond the participants should be done with discretion. It is imperative for readers to understand that the study was conducted not for the purpose of reaching generalizable findings, but for the purpose of offering a comprehensive understanding of veteran hiring and workforce development in the construction industry. More importantly, the study focused specifically on the construction industry. Given differences from one industry to another, these findings may not be relevant for other industries. Simply, just because veterans skills can be useful for the construction industry does not necessarily mean that they would also be useful in another industry. More research is needed to offer easily generalizable conclusions.
Finally, research on veteran hiring and workforce development in the construction industry is still underdeveloped. There is need for more research to offer more insights on this topic. For instance, it is imperative to understand exactly which veteran skills are useful for the construction industry and which ones are not. Does the industry need veterans technical or non-technical skills, or both? Are technical skills more important than non-technical skills? It is also important to understand which initiatives are more effective than others industry initiatives, learning institutions initiatives, or military-led initiatives. Future research should shed more light on these areas.
5.3 Practice and Policy Implications
The findings of this study have crucial implications for a number of stakeholders, including the construction industry, learning institutions, and the government (policymakers).
5.3.1 Implications for the Construction Industry
The construction industry is arguably the largest beneficiary of this study. The industry continues to struggle with the challenge of labor shortage, with the challenge expected to be even greater in the future given the tremendous growth the industry is experiencing. First, it is vital for construction firms to be actively involved in hiring veterans. As the industry experiences a shared problem, firms across the industry ought to relook their recruitment processes with a view to increasing the proportion of veterans in their workforce. Rather than hiring veterans by chance, veterans should have clear hiring policies that empower their recruitment managers to purposely reach out for veterans. This way, construction firms are likely to recruit more veterans, consequently increasing their chances of locating qualified professional and craft workers.
Construction firms should as well introduce in-house or on-the-job training initiatives for enhancing the skills f their veteran hires. One of the challenges identified in this study is the challenge of orientating freshly separated veterans to the civilian workplace. Construction firms should have programs specifically targeted at orientating veterans. Mentorship programs would be especially valuable. In an organization that actively hires veterans, newly hired veterans are likely to find corporate experienced veterans already working in the organization. A mentorship programs that involves paring up freshly hired veterans with experienced veterans can be useful in helping freshly separated veterans navigate the supposedly alien corporate culture.
Further, the construction industry should build strong relationships with veterans even prior to their retirement from active duty. The construction industry comprises several construction firms spread throughout the country. Out of these, only a few firms have the resources, time, or will to reach out to the military with the intention of hiring veterans. Equally, veterans can be hard to reach once they exit the military. As a result, it is imperative for the construction industry to start the process of locating veterans much earlier as opposed to when they retire from duty. In conjunction with unions and non-profit organizations, construction firms should contact veterans before they are separated from the military. This can be achieved through initiatives organized jointly by the industry and the military such as career conferences and career expositions. Such initiatives would give the industry an opportunity to engage veterans earlier on before discharge. On their part, service members nearing retirement or discharge would get an early chance to learn about employment prospects in the construction industry as well as the relevance of their skills for the construction industry. .
A number of unions in partnership with the military already offer military facility-based training programs, but this is not enough as the programs mainly target discharged veterans. Service members need to be familiarized with employment opportunities in the construction industry prior to becoming veterans. This means that players in the construction industry ought to establish a stronger presence in military bases. The good news is that there are even military bases with construction-related focus such the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy Construction Battalion (Seabees). These bases provide an ideal starting point. The construction industry can start campaigns in these bases before progressing to other bases.
Construction industry players can gain even more from stronger relationships with the military by introducing comprehensive construction-related training programs at military bases. Such programs should specifically target service members nearing retirement. As service members would already be familiar with employment opportunities in the construction industry thanks to ongoing interaction with the construction industry, they are likely to be more willing to join training programs offered at the military base. Offering training opportunities at this stage would be effective because of two reasons. First, it is easier to reach service members before they leave the military. Additionally, as veterans are still federal employees before their exit from the military, their living and housing expenses are accommodated by the government. Accordingly, veterans would be much more able to focus on the training since they would not feel the pressure to find employment elsewhere to supplement their unemployment benefits.
Establishing stronger presence and offering construction-specific training in military bases can be particularly valuable in addressing the challenge of locating qualified veterans. As discovered in this study, construction firms experience difficulty in finding veterans. With strong presence in military bases, it can be easier for construction firms to find veterans. It would be even much easier if military bases offer construction-specific training to veterans nearing retirement. Military bases would be the first option construction firms resort to whenever they want to recruit veterans. Construction firms would be assured of finding the skills they require.
Finally, the construction industry should place greater emphasis on the business case for hiring veterans. As demonstrated in this study, construction firms can gain from the distinctive skill set veterans have, especially in terms of teamwork, leadership, character, discipline, diligence, resilience, and dependability. Companies that hire veterans should seek to establish whether these skills actually have any value for business. They should monitor the number of veterans they hire and their performance. Such data is important for justifying the business case for hiring for hiring veterans. With performance data available, firms doubting the value of hiring veterans are likely to be persuaded to look out for veterans.
5.3.2 Implications for Learning Institutions
Learning institutions are also important stakeholders in addressing workforce development in the construction industry. They are involved in offering not only general civilian employment skills, but also construction-specific skills. Also, learning institutions are involved in connecting veterans with prospective employers. Learning institutions need to do more to prepare veterans for employment in the construction industry. Presently, there are not as many learning institutions offering construction-specific training to veterans as desired. The few colleges that offer training focus on general skills such as resume building. Learning institutions, especially vocational and technical colleges, can do more by paying greater attention to construction-specific courses.
Partnering with the construction industry would be particularly important in achieving this objective. The construction industry understands its needs better than anyone else. Construction firms have perfect knowledge of the skill gaps they have and what can be done to close the gaps. By partnering with the construction industry, learning institutions can design and deliver more relevant construction courses for veterans. Industry players can also support learning institutions in training veterans by offering funding. Furthermore, partnership between industry players and learning institutions would be crucial in increasing veterans access to internship and/or employment opportunities in the construction industry. More importantly, construction firms would locate trained veterans with much ease.
5.3.3 Implications for Policymakers
The government especially through DOD and VA has been committed to helping veterans transition into civilian employment. DOD and VA programs support veterans in advancing their education after retirement, finding potential employers, and enhancing their employability in the civilian workplace. These initiatives go a long way in supporting workforce development. However, there is still room for improvement. First, given that the construction industry is a major source of employment for veterans, it is important for the government to partner with the industry and other relevant stakeholders to establish a central repository for locating veterans. Currently, there are several websites through which employers can find veterans, but as demonstrated in this study, the array of websites presents a challenge to employers. With a centralized database, it would be easier for employers to search for veterans with specific skills. For instance, an employer in the construction industry would just need to go to the construction category in the database.
DOD and VA should also increase their support for initiatives administered by the construction industry and learning institutions to increase veterans access to employment in the construction industry. Construction firms, unions, and colleges are already offering training, career fairs, web-based inforational resources, as well as employment/internship opportunities to veterans. These initiatives can go further than imagined with greater DOD and VA support. The support can involve funding, allowing the construction industry to have greater presence in military bases, and enacting policies that increased the pursuit of construction-related training by service members nearing retirement.
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