The American Trucking Association and INOVA Health Systems of Northern Virginia broke new ground in April 2008 as the first formal members of the Army Reserve Employer Partnership Initiative. Within six months, 65 employers had joined, and the program hit a milestone in February with its 200th employer partner.
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Connecting Army Reservists with Civilian Employers

By: Donna Miles

A program that links Army reservists with civilian employers is going strong -- despite record unemployment and gloomy hiring predictions -- as more employers sign on every month so they can hire qualified reservists.

The American Trucking Association and INOVA Health Systems of Northern Virginia broke new ground in April 2008 as the first formal members of the Army Reserve Employer Partnership Initiative. Within six months, 65 employers had joined, and the program hit a milestone in February with its 200th employer partner.

Now Army Reserve officials are laying plans for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to sign on in mid-April at the program's first anniversary. That ceremony will bring the partnership to almost 300 employers.

"We have a huge success here," Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz said of the program he introduced to help the Army Reserve and civilian employers share the same talent pool. "We've got more than 200 companies that have signed up, and another 200 that want to talk to us," he said.

The partners run the gamut, Stultz told about 200 reservists during a recent Pentagon town hall meeting. They include Fortune 500 companies like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and General Electric Company, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., mom-and-pop companies and everything in between.

Stultz called the partnership a win-win for everyone involved. Reservists get a leg up in a competitive job market. Employers who understand their military obligations guarantee interviews for qualified reservists, as well as priority placement for openings.

Meanwhile, the employers have a way to tap into a pool of trained, motivated workers. "With the skill sets we have in our force -- medical, law enforcement, transportation, engineering to name a few -- there's a good demand out there," Stultz said.

Even in a tight labor market, employers are clamoring for workers trained in these skills. One of the program's big selling points is that employers can piggyback on training the military already provides.

INOVA Health System, for example, agreed to hire reservists the Army trains in radiology, respiratory therapy and surgical specialties. The arrangement is helping the company fill critical job shortages, while offering career opportunity to Pfc. Jason Black and other Army reservists.

Black, the first reservist INOVA hired through the partnership, is attending the yearlong Army radiology course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. After he graduates this fall, he'll start working as a radiology specialist at INOVA. At the same time, he'll be assigned to the Army Reserve's 48th Combat Support Hospital at Fort Meade, Md.

Enthusiasm for the employer partnership extends even to industries that have been particularly hard-hit by the financial crisis.

Kenneth Crowley, president and CEO of the Crowley Auto Group in Bristol, Conn., said he's so impressed with the mechanics, accountants, information technology specialists and administrative staff he's hired through the program that he'd like to expand it beyond his nine dealerships.

"We're still involved with the program and will hire good, qualified people, absolutely," he said. "This downturn in the economy isn't going to last forever, and before you know it, we will be needing people and we won't be able to find them."

Fewer people may be buying new cars, but Crowley said that means they're maintaining the ones they already have. That, in turn, drives up the demand for qualified mechanics he's able to hire through the partnership program. "So it's been a lifesaver to us, actually, because what we are lacking in sales, we are making up in maintenance," he said.

Crowley's such a fan of the partnership that he hopes to build on it to benefit the industry as a whole. He's set up a meeting for early next month so representatives of the Army Reserve and a major auto maker can explore ways to award manufacturer-level diesel-technician certification to qualified Army Reserve mechanics.

This, Crowley said, would short-cut what's typically a two-year process before mechanics can work on warranty claims and other specialized tasks.

Reservists would benefit from the arrangement, too. "My thought was, if I got the Army to work with the manufacturer, now these guys get trained while they are serving," Crowley said. "I can hire them right away and start them at a much higher level of pay because they're already certified."

Like other partnership members, Crowley said he knows what he's getting when he hires a reservist. "What makes me like hiring them so much is that they are serious, and they are there to do the job and do it properly and in a spirit of team effort," he said.

Army Sgt. Maj. Nelson Ildefonso, noncommissioned officer in charge of the partnership program, said reservists have characteristics that make them particularly good employees.

"They're skill-rich, but they're also good leaders," Ildefonso said. "They're good followers. They're drug-tested, and a lot of them have security clearances. They're disciplined. They accept leadership and want to move ahead.

"In a nutshell, they've got the characteristics that an employer looks for in an employee," he said. "And that's why the Army Reserve Employer Partnership Initiative has been such a success."

But echoing sentiments of many fellow partners, Crowley said another big attraction of the program boils down to good, old-fashioned patriotism.

"Being an employer partner is more than just having access to great employees," he said. "It is also a way for me to give back and say thank you to individuals who have dedicated themselves to serving our nation."

Stultz got an indication of the demand for his soldiers, and the partnership's reach, during a recent visit to Camp Bonsteel, Kosovo. A reservist who used the Employer Partnership Initiative Web site to seek out and apply for jobs told Stultz he'd hit pay dirt -- even while deployed thousands of miles from home.

"He went on the site and got three different job offers," Stultz told the Pentagon town hall session. "So his big challenge was deciding which of those offers to accept."

"So it's working," Stultz said of the program. "There's no question about it. We get anecdotal evidence every day."


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