Why veterans make an excellent fit in manufacturing

QAD Redzone’s Lance Olmstead returned to civilian life after years of service. He’s since landed in manufacturing & wants more veterans to join the sector

According to the 2021 census, there are 16.5mn veterans in the USA – totalling 6.4% of the adult population. Lance Olmstead served as a non-commissioned rifleman in the United States’ Marine Corps from 2002-2010, and he’d recommend it to anyone debating whether or not they should join the service.

“Once I exited the line of active duty and returned to civilian life, I gained a unique perspective of the world around me, especially the civilian workforce,” he says.

Olmstead realised that many skills he gained throughout his time in active service could be applied to the civilian world, such as integrity and strategy-based leadership, which gave him a leg up against his peers in the business world. 

Now Olmstead serves as the SVP of Enterprise Sales & Head of EMEA at QAD Redzone, where he spends his time supporting his fellow veterans back into civilian life and encouraging businesses to employ them. 

“I first joined Redzone in its formative years as a Continuous Improvement Coach, a hands-on practitioner position recruited to implement QAD Redzone’s 90-day results-driven frontline coaching programme,” said Olmstead. “My background in organisational leadership was refined through my tenure in the United States’ Marine Corps. This has ensured our product and coaching model work together to deliver productivity improvements and a culture change, both of which are the hallmarks of using QAD Redzone.”

Software development company QAD Redzone was founded in 2013 and is based in Miami, Florida. Over 1000 manufacturing plants use their technology. 

“Our cloud-based Connected Frontline Workforce (CFW) application drives rapid, tangible increases in plant productivity and employee retention,” says Olmstead. “Our coaching team integrates with customer plants for 90 days to help them master the QAD Redzone solution and trains every worker in the ways they can best use these tools to improve their day-to-day operations.” 

The aim at QAD Redzone is to give more autonomy and authority to frontline manufacturing workers by streamlining and revamping the way they interact with their colleagues and management. 

Transitioning from active duty to manufacturing

When Olmstead returned to the civilian workforce, it became clear to him that there were several misconceptions regarding the relevant skills of active-duty members and veterans. 

“It became imperative to articulate my skill set in the most effective way possible to reflect the high level of professionalism and efficacy I – and other service members – obtained from the military,” he explains. 

Most challenges veterans face when re-entering the workforce begin with the misconceptions employers have about veterans’ skill sets, making it difficult to clearly articulate what these individuals accomplished and how they can support the civilian workforce. 

“Active duty members have highly-developed skills the business industry looks for in top candidates – such as leadership skills built on integrity and strategic thinking – but, at times, it can be difficult for veterans to articulate how those skills were developed through active duty work,” Olmstead continues. “There is an added pressure to accurately display these skills to achieve a job that equally matches their own abilities.”

Another challenge some veterans face is a lack of intensity in the average workplace. 

“Most veterans feel an intense change of pace when they re-enter the civilian workforce, as their new occupation is drastically different from being in the line of duty,” explains Olmstead, who firmly believes that the manufacturing sector is one of the best-emerging industries for transitioning veterans. 

“Manufacturing has a clear objective and mission,” he says. “You either hit that objective or you don’t. It’s a very black-and-white field, very similar to the military. A person that has been on active duty can thrive in an environment like manufacturing because they are able to move their team toward an objective – or a victory. In other industries, goals aren’t as clear cut, but in manufacturing, everything is set up naturally to work in team environments, where everyone is working to support one objective.”

How the manufacturing sector can support veterans

“For many veterans, career progression is the main focus for life following active service,” says Olmstead. 

To best support this population, the manufacturing industry can look inwardly to see how they can create merit-based promotion paths that prioritise milestones and accomplishments rather than tenure or seniority. 

“Creating a new purpose for former military service members will set manufacturing apart from other industries,” he says. 

While many businesses are keen to outwardly support the troops, some can be hesitant to employ a veteran. From his own personal experience, Olmstead knows that some employers still believe in the outdated stereotypes surrounding veterans from nearly 80 years ago. 

“Veterans today are eager to enter the workforce and reapply the skills they have learned from their time in active duty to civilian life. I would advise them to simply meet with a few veterans to discuss their skills,” he says. “More than likely, these employers will see there’s more crossover between the two paths than they realise.”

To the veterans who have returned from active duty and are looking for a job, Olmstead would encourage them to pursue a career in manufacturing. After all, out of the Fortune 500 companies, 163 CEOs are ex-Marines. 

“The head of NASA is a Marine. The former CEO of Bank of America was a Marine. The founder of FedEx was a Marine,” Olmstead highlights. “The biggest thing is differentiating yourself from the competition when you move into a new role. The Marine Corps has a proven track record of success in the civilian sector. Recognise that you’re very different and then lean into the differences rather than trying to fit into the mould.”


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