JUNE 4, 2018 - VOL. 54 No. 8

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Hiring service members makes great business sense

By Sarah Werner
the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce

Families and businesses in the Sioux Falls area have always understood the value and sacrifices of our nation's veterans and service members. From Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City to the wide spectrum of military installations in Sioux Falls, the State of South Dakota has a rich history of military service. Through the decades, we have established ourselves not only as a state-wide community that supports veterans, but welcomes them - and their families - with open arms.

"Sioux Falls is very military veteran-oriented and veteran-friendly, with the Veterans Council, VFW, Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce's Military and Veteran Affairs Committee and more." Senior Chief Gary Rosenberg, Navy Operational Support Center, is originally from Long Island, New York, and has moved every three years to various assignments, including California, Hawaii and Washington. He plans to spend the next three years of his naval career in Miami, Florida. But after all the places he's been stationed, Rosenberg plans to retire in Sioux Falls. "I've only lived here for two years," he says, "but I love it here. For me personally, it's got all the amenities of a big city with the benefits of a small town. I definitely think it would be a great place for an up-and-coming young family as well."

In addition to the "small, but not too small" feel that the area is known for, Sioux Falls also attracts military families through a variety of accommodating job opportunities. Healthcare industry leaders Avera Health and Sanford Health have each taken active roles in recruiting veterans and service members. Both healthcare providers work extensively with the Department of Defense to better prepare themselves and their military hires for the transition to civilian life.

"Sanford Health proactively educates and provides familiarization training to our Talent Acquisition Team to better understand veteran and service member experiences and assist in connecting that expertise to our career opportunities," states retired Capt. Paul Weckman, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and Director of Veteran and Military Affairs at Sanford Health. "We also recognize that a great challenge for transitioning service members is communicating the transferability of their military skills and experiences into the civilian workforce."

The Sanford Health Department of Veterans and Military Services helps service members obtain health care and wellness services, navigate insurance coverage and offers family support services and veteran community outreach. Sanford Health has also set up an online portal for veterans and service members seeking jobs at

Both Sanford Health and Avera Health employers realize that hiring active military personnel grants them access to some of the most highly trained and disciplined job candidates on the planet. In return, they are more than willing to work with these service members' demanding schedules.

"One reality that employers must keep in mind is the potential scheduling conflicts - for example, weekend drills and two-week training in the summer," advises Lynne Hagen, Human Resources Officer with Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center. "We believe it's important to work around the scheduling and deployments in support of these employees, and would never count these against a potential job candidate."

Because of the time commitment service members need away from work, military job applicants are looking for local employers who not only understand the transition to civilian life but are flexible and accommodating of their continued service.

"I feel that the largest challenge in my civilian employment is work-life balance," shares John Neth, Director of Grant Compliance and Financial Reporting for Avera Health. Neth has served in the South Dakota Army National Guard for nearly 17 years. "I had a supervisor once say, 'If the five-to-eight isn't working, the eight-to-five won't either.' Military members have an eight-to-five civilian career, a five-to-eight family life, one weekend a month and two weeks a year with potential deployments, which can be a very delicate balancing act and sometimes difficult."

Neth recently returned home from a 10-month deployment to the Middle East along with the rest of the 153rd Engineer Battalion. He currently serves as a company support section leader in the distribution platoon of the Forward Support Company.

"There are many factors that weigh into the transition between military and civilian careers," says Neth, "but ultimately, it is very dependent on the individual. I have been blessed to work and serve with phenomenal teams at both Avera and at my National Guard unit, which make the transitions back and forth smoother. The military has taken great strides in identifying difficulties experienced by transitioning military members and have developed resources and programs to help individuals transitioning."

To better understand the needs of their military employees, both Avera Health and Sanford Health work closely with Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a volunteer program through the Department of Defense. ESGR works with employers, not only to help them better transition skills and military experience into the civilian workplace, but to educate an understanding of military life among local business owners.

Through their Bosslifts Program, ESGR transports employers from their worksite to the training location of their service member employees. There, they can witness first-hand what it is their employee does while out for a military leave of absence.

"When employers see and experience what their service member does, they gain insight to the value of employing a service member and they grow a greater appreciation for the sacrifice they make when away from the workplace," states Laurie Fluit, Bosslift Coordinator for South Dakota ESGR. "As an employer, you are vital in enabling your employees who are members of the National Guard and Reserve to serve our country. Moreover, your active support and encouragement are critical to their success."

In addition to programs like Bosslifts, ESGR also offers a variety of educational opportunities and job fairs for both business owners and service members, as well as free employer training and support.

Many businesses in the Sioux Falls area have already recognized the unique benefits that service members can bring to their workforce. On top of special training programs and tax credits available through the Department of Labor, local employers have access to highly trained and uniquely qualified job candidates.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, employers that hire service members aren't just investing in an exceptional employee. Military personnel possess a strong work ethic, with the ability to follow through on assignments, even under difficult or stressful conditions. Service members also have a strong sense of duty, accountability, and teamwork and are trained to utilize a variety of cross-functional skills, such as adapting quickly to changing conditions and creative problem solving.

"The United States military transfers over to marketable skills in civilian business extremely well," states Battalion Chief Michael Clauson of Sioux Falls Fire Rescue. After 21 years of service to the state and nation as a United States airman, Clauson has found his experiences to be more than marketable in the Sioux Falls area. "The skill sets that military personnel obtain are some of the best in the world because of the training and education they receive. It takes a very special person to commit to the military and place the lives of their fellow team members ahead of their own."

Both the Sioux Falls area and its wide spectrum of military installations provide ample opportunity for local service members. But more than that, military families want to work here because local business owners understand the benefits of hiring service members.

"I have had many employers in South Dakota tell me they would hire any and all service members that would apply to work for their company," states retired Brigadier General Ron Mielke, Project Manager and one of 13 principals with TSP, Inc. As an active member on both the chamber's Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and Military Task Force, retired Brig. Gen. Mielke also understands the value of supporting local service members outside of the office.

The Military and Veterans Affairs Committee sponsors the annual Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day programs, and hosts events like The Stars and Stripes Awards, for which they encourage local business owners to get involved. The Military Task Force also supports local service members by assisting military leaders in the retention and expansion of units in the region. This ensures that local reserve and guard members have nearby units to serve with while working in the Sioux Falls area.

"We find military service members to be disciplined, drug-free and responsible," says Mielke. "They show up for work, are willing to learn new skills, have leadership skills and know how to work as a team. They are just great employees."

The greater Sioux Falls area has defined itself as a community that thanks its veterans and service members with more than just appreciation. It's a place where military families want to live and work. It's a place where business owners know to expect more than just competence from their workforce. Sioux Falls businesses do more than simply say "thank you" - they hire heroes.

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