Finding work for Manitowoc-area veterans

February 20, 2012

From “Finding work for Manitowoc-area veterans” — Wisconsin veterans looking for work have two high-profile supporters — President Barack Obama and Gov. Scott Walker.

“Our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it,” Obama said in his January State of the Union as he outlined a new jobs program for veterans.

“It is unacceptable to think that any man or woman who has served our country would return home and not be able to find a job,” Walker said in his State of the State.

With about 15 percent of veterans unemployed, considerably higher than the citizenry-at-large, those who served in the military, irrespective of decade, can reach out for job-seeking help.

Jim Warner’s passion is to match veterans with job opportunities.

“When people hire a veteran, I think they will be very pleased and will want to hire more. Veterans have stick-to-it-iveness and are highly trainable with transferable skills,” said Warner, a U.S. Navy veteran who works for the state Office of Veterans Employment Services.

Warner primarily works in Green Bay but comes to the Manitowoc County Job Center on Thursdays to meet with veterans and also “speak with employers to gain their support in giving veterans an interview.”

He helps veterans who have just returned from the military — though many of them take advantage of education benefits and go to college — as well as those who have become displaced workers several or many years after wearing the uniform.

Like Tony Jones, who served in the U.S. Marines for four years and was discharged in 1998.

“Improvise, adapt and overcome” is the unofficial mantra of the Corps, and Jones said his military experience helped prepare him to serve Orion Energy Systems in production process control.

He’s been with Orion for about a year, with the company taking advantage of a “Work Opportunity Tax Credit” that was part of the federal Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

Scott Gilson, Orion’s vice president of human resources, said military experience is “one more plus” in a job applicant’s column, though, usually most important is having a particular skill set the company is seeking.

Still, succeeding in military life includes being flexible and open-minded about new strategies and approaches and those are traits Orion looks for in its 280 employees, including Jones and eight other veterans.

Kevin Crawford, Orion’s senior vice president of governmental affairs and corporate communications, lauds Walker’s focus on veterans.

Crawford said providing strong education and job benefits is a way to help retain Wisconsin veterans who have returned to the U.S. to resume their civilian lives.

Get back to work

Steve Ignera was one of about 40 city of Manitowoc workers whose jobs were eliminated at the end of 2011.

“I would like to return to the job market as soon a possible,” said Ignera, a Parks worker for 27 years. “If you’re off any longer than a year employers tend to wonder what’s wrong with this person.”

The Army veteran is appreciative to Warner for helping him write a resume and cover letter “to bring out the skills I have.”

Ignera also takes advantage of federal law mandating veterans to have access to Job Center postings on the Internet 24 hours ahead of nonveterans.

He plans to go to Fox Valley Technical College in spring for a three-week diesel truck driving school, to augment the commercial driver’s license he previously used driving trucks for the city.

“I enjoyed working outdoors and the city had real good benefits … it was all very hard to give up,” Ignera said. “Now, it’s like I’m starting over.”

“Steve is very enthusiastic and doesn’t want to ride unemployment for a year … he is motivated to go to work,” said Warner, who wants those he advises to “feel good about themselves.”

Warner said it is not just skilled labor openings that he tries to match with veterans. “It is also people who in their military careers have been professionals in administration or accounting or human resources,” he said.

Project management

Lisa Mrotek Miller and her husband, Barry Miller, both 41, are Army veterans on a mission to land post-military positions.

A Lincoln High School graduate, Lisa Miller retired in 2008 as a master sergeant after a 20-year career that included serving as a senior munitions logistics supervisor in Uzbekistan and Kuwait.

With her mother residing in Manitowoc, Miller has bachelor’s and master’s degrees and would like to go into property management or take advantage of her background in human resources and marketing.

The couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary Saturday and had an offer accepted on a Manitowoc house last week. They also have purchased a small storefront downtown on Quay Street they are renting out.

Last week also was significant for the Millers because Barry’s retirement papers were approved. His last day in uniform as an acting sergeant major will be Aug. 13.

But he said his departure date can probably be moved up should a new employer want to bring him onboard sooner.

“I’d like to get involved in project management … help a company whether it be with a labor dispute or, perhaps, a logistics flow issue,” he said.

Miller said private-sector employers should find value in the resiliency that is critical to successful military careers.

He said many military veterans also have faced tough life-or-death situations testing their ability to carry out critical tasks under pressure.

Miller said he is always grateful when citizens express their support to him as one who has defended America but said employers shouldn’t hire him only because of a tax credit.

Hire veterans because of their resilience, leadership flexibility and ability to get the job done, he said.

The Millers said they are excited to be new homeowners in Manitowoc with Barry citing an affinity for the downtown and Lisa expressing a fondness for running along Lake Michigan.


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