Thursday, July 03, 2014

Schneider introduces bill to ease vets path to manufacturing jobs

Military veterans will have an easier path into a manufacturing career if legislation proposed Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) becomes law.

Schneider introduced a bill to provide veterans a stipend under the GI Bill that they can use during an internship with a manufacturer at a roundtable discussion Wednesday, July 2, in Wheeling with former military personnel and factory operators.

The law would allow veterans to use money already available for education after military service and apply those funds to an internship program where they get on-the-job training learning manufacturing skills.

The original GI bill was introduced 70 years ago last week toward the end of World War II to assist veterans’ return to civilian life.

“There’s nothing like on-the-job training to prepare you for what you will actually do,” Schneider told a group of 10 that included two veterans who recently found skilled jobs. “Veterans will have an easier path into manufacturing if the GI Internship Program Act becomes law.”

One of Schneider’s inspirations to introduce the new bill came from Rand Haas of the Veterans Rapid Employment Initiative (VREI). He has developed a program that gives former military personnel a short course in manufacturing and job counseling to secure a position.

“Veterans who have never seen manufacturing before get a two-week boot camp. We help them see if it is a good fit,” Haas said. He also thinks Schneider’s proposed legislation is a logical next step. “They need an opportunity to have an internship.”

One Marine veteran who benefitted from Haas’s program and would have liked to have taken advantage of Schneider’s proposal is Tim Chung of Palatine. He left the Marine Corp in 2001 and is now a machinist for Weigel Tool Works in Wood Dale. It is an automotive tool and die shop, according to Chairman Martin Weigel.

A manufacturing job was never something Chung considered until he met Haas. When Schneider asked whether a career in manufacturing was ever suggested to him in high school, Chung said it was actually discouraged.

Instead, he said, he “bounced around from retail job to retail job” until he joined the military. He started at Weigel March 31, and said he is thrilled to be there.

“Where else can you work with power tools all day and get paid for it?” Chung said.

Schneider recognizes employers may be reluctant to hire inexperienced veterans, particularly those in small-to-medium size businesses. He said another reason he is proposing this particular addition to the GI bill is to reduce that lack of enthusiasm.

“Any time people make a capital-intensive decision, they do it very carefully and hiring someone is capital-intensive,” Schneider said. “What we’re proposing can help alleviate that.”

With the GI stipend in hand, the employer can pay less during the training period.

Industrialists like Weigel and Eclipse Aerospace General Manager Andy Neild as well as Terry Iverson, president and CEO of Iverson & Company, a seller and servicer of machine tools, are already disposed to hiring former military personal.

“They are ideally suited to fill needs in manufacturing,” Iverson said. “They know how to take commands and have a great work ethic. They know how to make decisions and turn on a dime.”

Finding a manufacturing job takes more than an interest and GI bill assistance. Navy veteran Jeremy Parrish of Arlington Heights credits Haas for teaching him the skills necessary to land the job he secured March 25 with Eclipse in Wheeling. The company services Eclipse private jets made in New Mexico. A stop at Eclipse was part of the VREI boot camp.

“Rand (Haas) told us how to sell ourselves,” said Parrish, who he had an inkling he wanted a job at Eclipse because of a previous interest and background in the industry

“I was selling myself to Andy (Neild) under the table, telling him what I can do,” he said. It worked.

Schneider, an industrial engineer himself, knows firsthand why internships are a critical part of building the nation’s manufacturing work force. He believes critical aspects of the jobs cannot be learned in classrooms.

“You have to smell it, you have to hear it to understand what’s going on,” Schneider said of operating an industrial machine. “It’s the only way to get to know what it is like. That’s why I like internships.”

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