Veterans: Your Next Manufacturing Experts

Over the next decade, research shows that a significant skills gap will leave many jobs unfilled in the manufacturing industry. As companies begin to look for new ways to address this challenge, companies like ours (Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems America, or MHPSA) have found an unexpected solution in military veterans. Even though many companies have instituted veteran hiring programs years ago, some are just beginning to realize the untapped potential.

We employ some of the best machinists, welders, and assembly technicians in the nation, due in large part to their previous occupations working on cutting-edge systems for the military. In total, 150 of MHPSA’s nearly 2,000 employees are veterans, including 20% of over 300 employees at our Savannah Machinery Works facility that manufactures gas turbine components and assembles entire engines. Their transferable skills and extraordinary work ethic have proven integral to our ability to build the largest and most fuel efficient 21st century advanced class gas turbines currently in operation around the world.

Final assembly of first U.S. manufactured commercial M501GAC gas turbine at Savannah Machinery Works. This was the first of three M501GAC gas turbines and one steam turbine delivered to Dominion Virginia Power (Dominion) for the Warren County Power Station in Front Royal, Virginia.

At MHPSA’ Savannah Machinery Works facility, employees work with precision on each gas turbine in the assembly area. Veterans represent nearly half of this high performing team.

As companies begin to look for new ways to address the skills gap challenge, companies like Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems America have found an unexpected solution in military veterans.

Technical Experience
The decision to hire veterans for manufacturing jobs was not always obvious, with many veterans finding employment in management, business, and financial operations. At MHPS, we started to see more and more applicants with military backgrounds during the recruiting process. Soon after interviewing or hiring, we quickly noticed that former military service members were well-trained for specialized manufacturing careers.

Many veterans bring a certain base knowledge relative to the tasks manufacturing companies perform. Whether they previously worked on Humvees or helicopters, veterans typically come from an environment where failure to “fix a problem” was not an option – a mindset that is extremely valuable when working on industry leading gas turbines. From their experiences, many veterans come armed with the basic skills required for precision machining, precision welding, and large assembly mechanics with their training and experience associated with working on large, heavy equipment.

Natural Leaders
Beyond their technical expertise, veterans also possess many intangible skills which are desirable in the manufacturing industry. Veterans have a tremendous amount of experience dealing with tough situations and know how to handle critical situations with caution. Our veterans have worked in high pressure situations, such as combat areas. At MHPSA, aggressive production schedules and deadlines come with the territory. Time and time again, our veteran employees successfully navigate high-stress situations and remain calm under pressure. In general, veterans are a group of employees with true leadership skills that companies like ours can rely on to meet everyday challenges.

Business Advantage
By hiring veterans, businesses can come together with military precision. Highly-skilled veterans hired as MHPSA employees help manufacture the most efficient, reliable gas turbines in the United States and around the world. They understand what it means to be precise and understand the criticality of the operations they perform.

At our company’s Savannah Machinery Works facility, our work comes together in the turbine assembly area, the final stage in the process before products go to the consumer. In fact, not only do veterans represent 43% of the workers in this area, this high performance team is led by a veteran. In short, our veterans are key to making this area run efficiently and smoothly.

Veterans also understand the need for workplace efficiency and how to help achieve it. For example, soon after the turbine assembly area’s creation, we wanted to cross-train employees so everyone could work on all parts of the project. However, we found that this approach didn’t allow us to be as efficient as we had hoped. Instead, some of the veterans on the team suggested that based on their previous experience in specialty training, we should consider a new approach that allowed teams to focus on becoming more proficient on certain parts of the turbines. Similar to a military approach, each person was assigned a specific role that serves the greater good. When the company switched to this approach, we significantly increased efficiency and productivity.

Mutual Benefit
We’ve gotten terrific feedback from our vets. Peter Mierke is a Navy veteran and our Director of Operations who oversees the team working in the turbine assembly area. He was in the Navy for seven years and when he left, he wanted to find a workplace where his very specific skill set would be an asset. “When you find a company like MHPSA where manufacturing excellence is coupled with a strong management chain of command that mirrors the experience of many vets, it is an obvious choice to many of us.”

Mierke says he pulls from his military experience on a daily basis, whether it involves training, execution, or professionalism. “I believe those separating from the service have skill sets that allow them to get up to speed quickly. Veterans know how to be trained; they also recognize that failures will occur along the way, which is very important.” Veterans bring to the table a sense of confidence and calmness in the face of adversity. They have often faced life and death situations and are able to think analytically through complex scenarios. This combination of high level skills and a strong mindset have proven to be highly valuable assets in the workplace.

For more information or articles like this, visit www.spectra.mhi.com.

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Sam Suttle
Sam Suttle is Vice President of North America Manufacturing and Repair at Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas (MHPSA), Inc. with responsibility for overall site management and operations for four manufacturing facilities within North America. Suttle joined MHPSA in 2010 as Director of Operations for Savannah Machinery Works and moved into his current role in 2015. Prior to joining MHPSA, Suttle spent 25 years with Westinghouse Electric Corporation, which later became Siemens Power Generation. He held various manufacturing management and engineering positions providing manufacturing and equipment repair services to the power generation utility industry.

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