Veteran-focused hiring could make a critical impact on our industry’s workforce shortage.
By Robert Meyer, CWD/PI
Specifically within the drilling industry, this issue has created secondary problems such as commercial driver licensing (CDL), state driller and pump installer licensing, and finding people who will be in the industry for many decades. As we continue to transition beyond COVID-19 and all the impacts on our business that came after, it is imperative that all sources of people are evaluated carefully.
As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who was hired into the groundwater industry directly from the military, I am offering both a proposal to increase veteran-focused hiring efforts and a guideline to improve success rates and ultimately retention of high-quality human resources assets.
Identify Parts of the Problem
To begin resolving the problem is to identify what are the most basic parts of the problem.
The first topic that is top of mind is what is it exactly we need from those individuals who are hired and onboarded into our industry?
As I ask this question of company owners, drilling managers, project managers, and drillers—I find a resounding response: Someone who is not afraid of a little work and who shows up.
This bar as described is incredibly low and stems from more than two years of pain—regarding reliability and dependability in terms of shifting needs of the modern employee, in terms of evaluating to what degree we need to bend to the needs of the modern employee, and in competing with benefits available to people who choose not to work. We can and should set higher expectations.
Those individuals exiting military service offer an excellent talent pool for a variety of reasons. Regardless of what type of groundwater work your company performs, it is hard work that requires diligence, preparation, and persistence. These are fantastic qualities that all company owners would like to have in every single one of their employees, and can easily be found in members exiting military service.
Where groundwater companies have been challenged, in my view, is a lack of willingness to trust an individual to perform prior to seeing them in action. As a result, starting wages are depressed to a point that becomes nearly untenable to maintain without working seven days a week or 14 to 16 hours a day. Additionally, there seems to be little attention given to other forms of compensation.
If you spend any amount of time on the Water Well Guys group on Facebook, there is almost always another guy who is willing to work on a Sunday, cut prices a little bit to get the work, and do whatever it takes—even if it is at the expense of the industry.
As informed owners and managers within the industry, we all know these kinds of strategies will not propel our companies into the future. We must keep our eyes on the ball to ensure longevity.
All employees entering the workforce want some basic things: compensation, predictability, safety, and a path to success. The hardest part for most of us is providing that path to success as each individual grades success differently. When applying this to hiring veterans, they are people too. They have families, they have interests and hobbies, and they would like to succeed in life.
I have seen people act as if veterans are going to enter their company and be nearly robotic-leading machines. This expectation sets them up for failure as would any other new hire. Veterans still require training, mentorship, guidance, and an understanding of who they are as a person. Our companies all need to improve our defined paths to success, improvement, and growth.
Leveraging Beneficial Experience
The other side of this discussion is that veterans have been exposed to a large-scale corporation (the government) and have seen how things can go when run inefficiently. This experience is invaluable to a drilling business. This is the single most beneficial experience to leverage from a veteran: identifying and resolving inefficiencies, as inefficiencies lead to mission failure.
We must be able to adequately convey what our mission is, ranging from the grandiose (10 years) to the miniscule (today). Once we have a description of the mission, we can then define failure criteria and success criteria. These principles are not limited to hiring veterans only. These apply to teaching and motivating all employees.
Locating Veterans to Hire
How do we locate these veterans to hire?
This is the biggest question which is a multi-sided problem and requires the cooperation of trade organizations, state workforce development commissions, trade schools, and contractors working together.
There are military bases all over the United States. However, generally when people exit the military, they are provided money to move back to their home of record, which is where many of them return. As a result, just because you have a base in your backyard doesn’t mean you have a talented pool of people available.
Some companies invest money in going on recruitment trips in order to find and attract military members who would already be relocating back to where these companies are located or who are unsure where they will go and are open to options.
In any event, what is critical is that we do a great job of communicating the value of working within the groundwater industry.
Our industry’s reputation rides on the backs of those in the field behind a rig every day. This reputation relies on their level of education and ability to communicate the needs of the day, the year, and the decade.
Robert Meyer, CWD/PI, is the vice president of drilling operations for Talon/LPE Ltd. in San Antonio, Texas. He is a licensed driller in Texas. His experience includes geotechnical investigations, cathodic protection, in-situ remedial injections, environmental soil and groundwater sampling, monitoring wells, extraction wells, recovery wells, water production wells, and injection wells.