Companies that Care

Three Madison-area businesses make sure Wisconsin soldiers feel their efforts are appreciated

In 2003, Karen Schilling was an administrative assistant in external affairs for the Madison branch of AT&T and a member of the AT&T Pioneers, an employee and retiree volunteer community service organization.

Soon after the Iraq war started, Schilling and Jeanette St. Onge, who works at the Milwaukee facility, sent out an e-mail to all AT&T Pioneers in Wisconsin asking for care package items for troops. To date the Pioneers have touched the lives of more than a thousand soldiers during their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the donations grew, the conference room where care packages were assembled over lunch hours was no longer a sufficient size for their work, so they moved operations to Schilling’s home. Now, her basement walls are lined with shelves of goodies, from Pop-Tarts and Pringles to wet wipes and Girl Scout cookies.

“My volunteer time honors those who protect us,” says Schilling.

The Pioneers rely on both donations and fundraising to get the job done. The lion’s share of income comes from a luxury box fundraiser at Camp Randall, a gift of UW–Madison. During the holiday season, the group takes on extra fundraising for larger packages with CDs, DVDs and sporting goods, as well as a decorated Christmas tree and a football signed by former Green Bay Packer Gilbert Brown.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, although companies are required by law to rehire a returning war veteran, a surprisingly high twenty-three percent of returning war veterans report they are unable to get their previous jobs back. And thirteen percent of those rehired by their previous employer return to lower pay rates or duties. Many say nothing out of fear of retaliation from their bosses.

“The soldiers are out there, risking their lives to take care of us; we should do what we can to take care of them too,” says Chris Carlson-Dakes, director of organizational development for AEI/Affiliated Engineers.

His colleague Rick Edgerton returned from his first tour of duty to an office-wide expression of appreciation for his commitment. Now on his second deployment, Edgerton’s military pay is supplemented with a civilian salary.

“We feel that nobody should have to take a complete pay cut while they are off serving our country and fighting a war,” says Carlson-Dakes.

After Edgterton’s first tour, Carlson-Dakes worked with him to help ease him back into his civilian work role, and says he will do so again when Edgerton returns.

When Brandon Brazil completed his final tour he asked himself, “What now?” He is not alone. According to statistics, returning vets under the age of twenty-five face a jobless rate of almost sixteen percent. Many are not aware of programs and resources available to them, which is why Aerotek Staffing has stepped up to help Brazil and other veterans find permanent careers that match their skills and interests.

A direct working relationship with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development connects the company with returning vets. Ninety-five percent of Aerotek’s placements, which begin with a detailed search into employment history and interests, are contract hires, giving both employer and employee a chance to ensure a good match.

“Veterans have done so much for what we have,” says Schultz. “An extra phone call or time spent searching for a good permanent career is the least we can do.”

If recruiters are unable to find positions that suit a person’s lifestyle or career choice, they will use every resource available to help him or her find other employment opportunities.

“Our goal is to keep everyone working,” says recruiter Lars Schultz, who stays in contact with the vets to provide any additional support during the transition.

While Aerotek has many success stories, Schultz says he is most proud of the placement work he did with Brazil, who is now permanently employed.

How can your organization demonstrate care for Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers and war veterans?

Denis Collins is a Professor of Business at Edgewood College. Edgewood students Alexa Case, Katie Jo Crubaugh and Michael Quandt contributed to this article.

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