Conexus plans program to connect veterans with Indiana employers

Conexus Indiana is preparing to launch a national program, INvets, that is expected to connect Hoosier manufacturers with job-seeking military veterans.

Indianapolis-based Conexus, which supports the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, plans to launch the program in late summer or early fall in partnership with five Indiana manufacturers. 

Those partner companies include automotive suppliers Allison Transmission, which is based in Indianapolis; and Faurecia North America, which has operations in Columbus and is building a facility in Fort Wayne. Other partners are automakers Honda Manufacturing of Indiana in Greensburg, Subaru of Indiana Automotive in Lafayette, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Indiana in the southwestern Indiana town of Princeton.

Each of the five partnership companies contributed funds to launch the program, but Conexus declined to disclose the amount.

The program will include two major components: A website where veterans can learn about job opportunities and career pathways at participating employers; and an outreach component in which Conexus staffers will travel to military bases to speak with service members who are preparing to exit the military.

Wes Wood, Conexus’ workforce development manager, will lead the INvets program.

Wood, who is an Army veteran, said INvets will address the unique challenges service members face as they make the transition to civilian jobs.

“A lot of times there is that translation issue” between military skills and their relevance to non-military employers, Wood said.

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Wood experienced this first-hand when he exited the military in 2015 after five years as an infantry sniper. He heard some advice from both military and civilian sources: Don’t talk about what you did in the military.

From day to day, Wood said, his job involved a lot of teamwork, problem-solving and leadership—but those aren’t necessarily the things that civilians think of when they envision a sniper. 

On the other side of the equation, some of the INvets partners said they have had their own challenges when trying to recruit veterans.

Brad Rhorer, assistant senior manager of human resources at Subaru, said the automaker likes to hire vets.

“They’re dedicated with a good work ethic, and they understand teamwork. And those are two big things for us,” Rhorer said. 

So last year, when Subaru was in the midst of a hiring spree, it took two trips to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to participate in on-base job fairs.

The experience was challenging, Rhorer said. He wasn’t sure he was adequately explaining the opportunities Subaru offers.

“Frankly, I wasn’t really sure how to connect with the service men and women.” 

As a result of the Fort Campbell trips, Subaru has hired 25 veterans. “But I think we could have done better, we could have done more if we had a better connection and more understanding,” Rhorer said.

Now that Subaru is part of the Conexus effort, the automaker will use the program as its main way to connect with veterans, Rhorer said.

Conexus hopes that INvets will also help attract some new talent to the state.

People who are transitioning out of the military may be open to moving somewhere new, Wood said, and if they hear about a good career opportunity through INvets, they might consider moving to Indiana.

To that end, Wood plans to visit military bases to make connections with service members as they prepare to leave the service. Initially, those visits will focus on some of the nation’s largest bases: the Army bases of Fort Campbell; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Hood, Texas. Wood will also visit the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

The INvets website will also include information about life in each of the communities where jobs are available.

INvets’ national approach is appealing to Allison Transmission.

The manufacturer has worked with veterans organizations to do focused recruiting, but not on a national scale, said Bill Turner, Allison’s director of education and development. 

“We see it as an opportunity to do more than what we normally do,” Turner said. “It’s really a win/win for us if we can find these folks, help them identify what career they want to take and then bring them on board at Allison.”

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