By COL. BLAINE HEDGES
Most Kentuckians are well aware of our two major military installations, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox. However, it is possible that many of our citizens may not realize the multiple benefits these installations provide our state. For that reason our organization, the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs (KCMA), has as its vision to ensure that Kentucky achieves its full potential in supporting and partnering with our military, while creating enduring economic opportunity for the commonwealth.
KCMA's mission is broad and comprehensive. It addresses all matters of military significance by advising and nesting efforts with key stakeholders, protecting and growing our military installations (which have a $12 billion economic impact to the state) and expanding Kentucky's defense-related industry. In addition, KCMA is focused on improving the quality of life for our service members, veterans, and their families. One aspect of that part of our mission is where I will focus in this article.
As Kentucky's economy grows (the recent $1.5 billion expansion of Amazon in northern Kentucky is a recent example), Kentucky's labor resource will need to grow with it. Businesses of all types choose to locate in an area where they will have a skilled labor pool from which to hire. Through our military installations, the commonwealth has a ready-made stream of highly-motivated, skilled labor. However, many of those individuals do not elect to remain in Kentucky after their time of service is competed.
Fort Campbell in Christian County and Fort Knox in Hardin County are home to thousands of military personnel. Those personnel are receiving high quality training in a vast number of disciplines that can translate to valuable skills for civilian employers. Every month more than 450 individuals who have completed their obligation to military service attrition out of the military and into civilian life.
These military personnel are strong in what human resources professionals call, "soft skills."
They know the importance of being on time, they know the value of a "team first" mentality, and they know how to function as part of a larger unit to achieve goals. These skills, combined with the training they have received for their particular military discipline, make them an attractive commodity for employment.
However a large number from the Fort Campbell area are currently not remaining in Kentucky. Instead, they are leaving the state to embark on their civilian life. Many are moving across the southern border to settle in Tennessee. So what else can Kentucky do to convince more of these veterans to make this their "Old Kentucky Home?"
One area where states and municipalities can provide assistance is in closing a perceived gap between military training and civilian or industrial certifications. "I often say that in the realm of human resources, the military and civilian worlds speak the same language but often have different dialects," says Katie Lopez, director of military and government affairs at the Christian County Chamber of Commerce. "In some cases the terminology that the military uses to describe a skill-set is different than in the civilian world, even though the skills themselves may translate quite well."
Because of the development of those aforementioned "soft skills" employers are getting something extra when they hire former military personnel. Therefore, it may take a bit of extra effort on the part of their HR officials to "translate" the military dialect. At the same time, hard skills such as electronics or instrumentation training received in the military may need to be enhanced a bit to be viable in industry.
Government entities can be a liaison between the private sector and departing veterans to ensure open communication between the two and to facilitate translation between those differing human resources dialects to transfer military skills to industrial certifications. Government can also be a liaison between existing military programs like the "Soldier For Life" Transition Assistance Program that teaches outgoing soldiers everything from interviewing to job search skills. Finally, the continued expansion of public/private partnerships in workforce development can provide veterans with a fast track if they need to supplement their military skills to become viable industrial employees.
When military personnel become Kentuckians, employers, the veterans themselves, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky all benefit. The Governor's Commission on Military Affairs is committed to ushering in the time when they can influence the vast majority of veterans to make their homes here.
Col. Blaine Hedges, U.S. Army, Retired is Executive Director of Kentucky's Commission on Military Affairs.