Thursday, December 7, 2023

Military veterans could ease N.C. labor shortage

More than 21,600 active-duty personnel at North Carolina bases are projected to leave the military this year. Over a four-year period, beginning in 2022, the total is expected to be nearly 75,000.

This was in a presentation by Joshua Levy, a senior policy analyst at the N.C. Department of Commerce. He was presenting last week at a follow-up meeting to February’s Emerging Issues Forum to continue a task force discussion about veterans and the workforce.

At a time when companies are struggling to hire, there’s a lot of interest in veterans who are transitioning to civilian life. North Carolina has one of the largest concentrations of military in the nation, more than 101,000 active-duty personnel at places such as Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, and the Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City. The importance of veterans to our workforce was part of a larger report on the military’s economic impact on North Carolina that Levy and other N.C. Commerce staff prepared last fall for the N.C. Military Affairs Commission and the N.C. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in conjunction with the consulting firm Regional Economic Models.

One point Levy made is that not all of those separating veterans will be staying in North Carolina. A lot of them are from California, Florida and Texas and other states and will be headed back home. But the same is probably true of North Carolina natives who are based now in California, Florida and Texas. Many will come back here.

Interestingly, a Fayetteville State survey of military personnel, mostly from Fort Bragg, said that 40% planned to stay in North Carolina, Levy said.

Some 44% of the survey respondents said they planned to work full time when they got out, and another 36% planned to enroll in college full time. Their top desired job areas were logistics/operational management; maintenance and repair; information technology; and government administration.

Levy cited a Pew study of post-9/11 veterans that showed that 42% of respondents said that they were overqualified for their first post-military job, based on their experience and training. 

“That’s another issue to kind of be aware of,” says Levy. 

There are many nonprofits focused on helping transitioning veterans and military spouses get jobs and educational opportunities. There is a list of links on the state web site of organizations like North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME), a public-private partnership. Helping  veterans – and encouraging them to settle here – is a major focus of the military affairs commission and the military and veterans affairs department.

One of the task force recommendations was to create a comprehensive online portal to services for veterans.

The leader of the task force, Mike Mullins, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, talked about the “sea of goodwill” facing transitioning service members. 

“Veterans have so many different organizations and options to consider. And many of these veterans, keep in mind, have never even had civilian employment. Think about it. Four or five years in the military, or maybe somebody who went into the Army as a lieutenant and they get out as a captain or even as a lieutenant colonel, and they’ve never had civilian employment in their lives.

“So it can be really overwhelming. Think about the hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations that exist in the United States that help veterans and family members, not only with employment but with a variety of other challenges that they face. It can be a daunting task to navigate through these difficult waters and determine what is the most beneficial source to go to and resources to use for them,” says Mullins, director, defense industry initiatives for N.C. State’s Industry Expansion Solutions service.

One of the task force members, Erin Ananian-Gentile, says many female service members who separate from the military are subsequently unemployed or under-employed, and “a lot of their worries have to do with child care.” There is also some confusion among employers about veterans’ disability levels.

“Even if someone comes out of the military with a total and complete disability of 100%, that doesn’t mean they can’t perform a job as good as anyone else. It’s just the way the military rates them,” says Ananian-Gentile, who works for the North Carolina Military Business Center in New Bern.

Another task force member, Tyler Klemas, one of 2,000 veterans who work at Duke Energy,  says one barrier to recruiting veterans is how job descriptions are advertised, particularly by the largest companies. 

“If you look at a job, and you’re a transitioning veteran, and you see the position and it’s ‘You must have a degree in this, and you must have this, and you must have this.’ And there’s so much red tape and rules and regulations and the experience and stuff like that that the veteran needs to have. Whereas, when it’s a smaller business owned by a mom and pop or somebody who has a construction company or something like that, they can actually bring that veteran in. . . and say, ‘OK, they may have to learn a couple things here and there but they’re a good person, probably be a good employee, a good leader.’”  

ENC’s aerospace economy

In Kinston last week, another group was talking about the impact of the military as it relates to the state’s aerospace sector, and particularly the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) part of it. The Eastern North Carolina Aerospace MRO Forum was held at North Carolina’s Global TransPark, an aerospace and aviation industrial park built around an 11,500-foot-long runway that was once the old Kinston airport.

Today, it is home to flyExclusive, one of the largest private jet companies in the nation, and its MRO facilities, as well as Spirit AeroSystems, which builds components for aviation giants such as Airbus. In recent years, GTP has added a helicopter-repair facility operated by the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center East, a giant MRO at MCAS Cherry Point in Havelock.

The forum heard from Navy Capt. Randy Berti, FRC East’s executive officer; Col. Kathryn Roman, commander of the 4th Maintenance Group at Seymour Johnson; and Capt. Tad Wilson, commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s Aviation Logistics Center.

These facilities, which overhaul military aircraft, are part of the reason that defense spending supports around 11% of the state’s jobs and represents a nearly $80 billion impact on gross state product, nearly 13%.

Because it is in Elizabeth City, in the northeastern corner of the state, the Coast Guard’s ALC is probably less well-known than the other military installations in North Carolina. Wilson described his facility as being in “eastern Eastern North Carolina.” Nearly 2,000 active-duty military, civilian employees and contractors work at the ALC.

All the Coast Guard’s around 210 aircraft – planes and helicopters – come to the ALC every four years for maintenance. The ALC also upgrades aircraft, which involves significant engineering work. 

The installation is also the warehouse hub for aviation parts for the Coast Guard’s 26 air stations around the country, and performs software development for the service’s logistics IT.

Wilson said to the college educators in the room: “If you make a kind of person, we employ that kind of person and we need more. We have every skill set in the entire breadth of things that you call logistics, not just aviation maintenance folks.” 

More military

Last week, at the Angus Barn restaurant in Raleigh, the Research Triangle Regional Partnership was holding its 2023 State of the Region dinner to bring together business and community leaders from the 13-county region. The main speaker was Lt. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). 

Lt. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga

He described Fort Bragg as the Army’s “premier power-projection platform.” 

“I want you to understand the treasure you’ve got right down the road here. Unlike any other military base in the world. In the world. Not just the United States. In the world. Collectively, the special operations forces, the 82nd Airborne, the wide variety of forces at Fort Bragg – we’re prepared to rapidly deploy around the world to respond to a crisis or a conflict at a moment’s notice.

“I like to say, when the president dials 9-1-1, he dials 910,” the area code for Fayetteville. By population, he noted, Fort Bragg is the largest military base in the U.S., with 51,000 military, 72,000 family members, 21,000 civilians and contractors and 125,000 retirees in the area. The local economic impact is around $8.3 billion annually. 

His command, USASOC, is composed of 36,000 soldiers in 17 U.S. and two overseas locations. “We’re perpetually deployed, all the time, 3,000 people, 70 to 80 countries every single day,  even at the height of the counter-terrorism war, we’ve been working with our partners around the globe to take on our adversaries as well as counter-terrorism threats on your behalf to keep the homefront safe.”

He said that the military needs help from private sector R&D to counter our adversaries.

“We call this the special operations, SOF-space cyber-triad,” to give national leaders more options to “deter those who would threaten our freedom.”

“It means people have to be experts in disciplines that are beyond each traditional form of warfare. We need warriors proficient in coding, unmanned systems, artificial intelligence,  space-based capabilities. The military alone cannot develop these systems and methods to win the next great conflict. It rests a lot on the shoulders of the people in this room. We need you as our teammates and partners in protecting the nation.”  

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