Tag Archives: hiring

The Right Stuff

October 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raymond Page can trace his family’s military history to the Civil War and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Family members fought in World War I. His namesake grandfather survived a bullet wound after being shot on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Such a deep legacy of service may explain why, shortly after entering a university close to his rural northern Pennsylvania home, Page decided he wasn’t cut out for college. 

In 1988, at age 18, Page opted to follow his father and two older brothers into the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of education kicked in immediately at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. 

“My first career was a radio operator, because I’ve always been into electronics,” says Page, 49. “Eventually I transitioned into meteorology and went to forecasting school. Offutt has the [Air Force Weather Agency] here, so it’s a job-rich environment.”

After ending his Air Force career as a major in 2014 after 26 years in the service, Page contemplated life as a civilian.

As he fielded several opportunities before accepting a position at Mutual of Omaha, Page discovered the reason transitions to the private sector run smoothly here: Omaha businesses need, actively recruit, and above all value veterans. 

Why?

“A better question is, why wouldn’t they want to hire a veteran?” observes Jeffrey Owens, vice president of Security Operations at First Data in Omaha and a Marine Corps veteran who enlisted during the Gulf War. “These young people trained, at a very young age, how to be leader[s], how to make decisions under high stress situations.”

The unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans keeps trending down.  According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department, it stands at 3.3 percent nationwide. Still, many companies wonder why the number of employees with military experience isn’t higher, considering all the recruitment programs in place. 

The glitch may lie at the other end of the equation. 

“One of the scariest things for military people transitioning is there’s not a direct correlation of jobs [in the private sector],” says Page, echoing the thoughts of many veterans who may wonder, “Where do my skills fit in?” 

Page put his skills to the test in two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraqi invasion in 2003, his weather detachment forecasted a monster three-day sandstorm, putting Army leaders in a position to keep their troops safe and hunkered down. 

“Even though I was a weather officer, I had a lot of experience in computer programming,” says Page, who lives in Bellevue with his wife and two children. “Military people, especially Air Force people, are wired to adapt quickly as we move from job to job. We show initiative.”

Owens, who also spent 14 years as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, can’t speak highly enough of the qualities he observes every day in his employees. ”All the veterans I’ve had the opportunity to manage have exhibited loyalty, hard work, and they have a history and tradition built into them. Why wouldn’t you want those assets?”

Along with a lack of a business network, self-marketing may be a problem with many veterans. Military service focuses on the collective, making it difficult for a veteran to distinguish him-or-herself from the group, which is often an essential part of interviewing.

But that emphasis on the collective means many former service members will appreciate company values, missions, and visions.

First Data, founded in Omaha 47 years ago and now the world’s largest payment processor, reaches out to veterans through its First Data Salutes program. The company offers career opportunities and education resources for military personnel and their spouses; provides point-of-sale and business application technology free of charge to veteran-owned small businesses; and, like many local businesses, grants flex time to members of the National Guard or Reserves.

“What the company says to them is, ‘Hey, your job will be here when you get back.’ That gives them comfort and security while they’re [deployed],” says Owens.

First Data’s efforts on behalf of veterans, who made up 14.4 percent of the company’s Omaha hires last year, have won accolades. Military Times magazine has ranked the company No. 1 on its annual “Best for Vets: Employers” list the past two years, an honor “that cannot be bought, only earned,” according to the magazine’s editor. The rigorous survey, sent to 2,300 companies nationwide, contains 90 questions that companies must fill out and return. 

Page’s computer and leadership abilities caught the interest of Mutual of Omaha when the company hosted meet-up groups of software developers. Since joining the insurance company four years ago, he has thrived as an information systems manager. 

He has also positioned himself as a trusted adviser for Mutual’s military initiative, the Veterans Employee Resource Board. The group, in conjunction with the HR department, provides mentoring and assistance to people coming out of the service. Quarterly meetings focus on developing business knowledge and honing leadership skills. Members join their fellow Mutual employees in volunteering for community projects several times a year.

Page and other VERB members offer a bridge of understanding when it comes to the language of a veteran recruit’s skill set. 

“We also work with managers to help them decipher resumes,” Page points out. “What military people put on a resume is different from a civilian’s resume. I help interpret.”

Page realizes a lack of connections forms the biggest roadblock to people exiting the military. “I tell people to start networking, start visiting companies before they leave the service. Companies love talking to military men and women.”

Here in the Midlands, that’s sound advice.


Visit firstdata.com or mutualofomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Owens

Attracting & Retaining Talent in the Construction Industry

May 16, 2018 by

According to a 2018 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate, 78 percent of construction firms report they struggle to hire qualified talent, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Without qualified talent, companies are forced to either turn down projects or hire unqualified employees, increasing the potential for poor productivity, safety issues, turnover, and a damaged company reputation. Aside from increasing base pay, providing bonuses, and improving employee benefits, what else can firms do to attract and retain talent?

Training and Development

Growth opportunities are one of the key drivers of employee engagement. Consider providing employees with job shadowing, technical training, leadership development, mentoring, and coaching. Provide employees with clear career paths and milestones. 

In addition, consider leadership-development opportunities. Workers with strong technical skills are often promoted into leadership positions. However, leadership positions often require different skillsets, and those with good technical skills don’t always receive the necessary leadership training. Determine what competencies are necessary for leadership in your organization, evaluate workers based on these competencies, provide training, and regularly provide feedback on strengths and development opportunities. Providing leadership-development opportunities will increase retention and ensure a pool of potential leaders to pull from in the future.

Purpose

Employees need to understand the company’s vision and how their role fits into it. Provide employees with opportunities to contribute by asking for their feedback and ideas. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the weeds and lose sight of the big picture of what’s being built and why, and innovative solutions can come from many different people. Provide recognition for their contributions and achievements, and remind employees about the achievements they are contributing to every day. Consider introducing workers to those who have benefited from their projects—students, hospital patients, employees, etc. Helping your workers understand the big picture will instill in them a sense of purpose and pride.  

Reputation

Consider your company’s reputation among customers, current employees, and the community in general. People want to work for companies that have a great mission and a reputation for treating their employees well. Survey your staff and identify how the company, and its culture, is perceived. What is your company’s level of employee engagement? Identify strategies to bolster the culture, increase engagement levels, and thus enhance your company’s reputation. 

Improvement of pay and benefits are considerations for attracting and retaining qualified workers in the construction industry, but continuous learning and growth opportunities show that management is invested in professional development and long-term careers. By showing employees how their work contributes to a larger purpose and considering the company’s reputation, a company is well-poised to attract and retain talent.


This column was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B.

Lauren Weivoda, M.A., is a​ ​human​ ​capital​ ​strategist​​ at Solve Consulting LLC.

Red Tape, Red Flags

May 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“People need to understand [H-1B] is particularly vital for small states like ours where we’ve got low unemployment and a high need for STEM jobs,” says Amy Peck, an immigration attorney with Jackson Lewis, P.C.

One recent search on the popular monster.com job searching database revealed more than 30 software development jobs in Omaha posted within one month—jobs for a field where the overall unemployment rate is 1.6 percent.

That’s why many in IT or other STEM-related fields paid attention when, in July 2017, President Donald Trump signed the “Buy American-Hire American” executive order, which subjects already hard-to-obtain work visas to even greater scrutiny.

This was a blow to those employers recruiting skilled labor on H-1B visas. The visa allows for 65,000 employees to be hired from abroad and 20,000 to be hired from students enrolled in U.S. colleges (under the H-1B advanced degree exemption). More than 200,000 applications are expected for H-1B visas in 2018.The application process opens on April 3, and, if the trend continues as it has in the past several years, applications will only be accepted for five to seven days.

Unlike hiring an employee from the United States, when the start date is often two weeks from the acceptance of a job offer, the earliest an H-1 B-status employee could begin work is Oct. 1…if the application is accepted.

Fortunately, there are plenty of folks who can help navigate the legal system. On behalf of clients, Peck fields increasing government reviewer challenges.

One of the biggest impacts this executive order may make is that employees seeking an extension to an H-1B visa will now face the same scrutiny they faced to obtain the visa.

“When we file extensions on cases that got approved without challenge before, they now get challenged even though the facts have not changed,” Peck says.

That means an employee on an H-1B visa who has worked hard, innovated, and generated income for a company could be denied an extension and the company could lose an employee for no reason other than checking the wrong box
on the paperwork.

Each denied visa extension would cost a company a skilled, trained worker, filing fees, lawyer fees, and much more.

“This change is very disturbing to employers who want to keep a good employee but fear they may lose them during the extension process,” says Omaha immigration attorney Mark Curley. “Foreign workers feel less secure in their employment. They understand their H-1B extensions could be denied.

“Employers could lose a good employee after three years if [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] re-adjudicates the petition and determines the occupation or employee do not meet H-1B requirements…There is already a backlog in the employment-based green card process for applicants from India and China working high IT-related jobs in Omaha.”

“The H-1B is a specialty occupation visa with very specific requirements,” Peck says. “The job must require at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field or related field. The government has certain wage levels you’re required to pay. A very sophisticated analysis goes into that.

“So, this is not something employers are eager to do. Often, it can be the last resort because they can’t get U.S. workers to do the job. As an economy we rely on this visa category in ways many people don’t want to admit and would like to deny.”

Vetting is done by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center officers. Requests for evidence usually challenge specialty occupation designations.

“We spend a lot of time and effort with employers to describe what the job is,” Peck says. “We cross reference that with the government database. Then we look within the company sponsoring the H-1B to determine if others in that job have a similar degree and we use that to support our submission. The vast majority of our cases are getting approved, but we’re having to really fight. It’s taking all of our skills, tools, and resources to maneuver successfully in this environment.”

First Data is among several Nebraska employers using H-1B visas due to a shortage of skilled U.S.-born workers.

“There’s a myth employers are undercutting the U.S. labor market by hiring H-1Bs, and it really isn’t the case because with H-1B labor there is a cost involved not present with a U.S. worker,” Peck says. “The filing fee alone if you’re an employer with 25 or more employees is $2,460. If you want your case expedited you add another $1,225—and then attorney fees on top of that.”

Pending federal legislation aims to further scrutinize H-1B visas.

“The practical effect will be fewer petitions filed,” Curley says. “It will decrease the number of foreign students who enroll in U.S. colleges and universities.”

One thing is certain. H-1Bs are a hot item—as a topic of business and political discussion.

Amy Peck


This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Ervin & Smith

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Executives at Omaha advertising-public relations firm Ervin & Smith say the company’s recent growth and recognition as a top place to work and prosper are by-products of its considered emphasis on staff development.

2012 has seen the firm named one of Omaha’s Best Places to Work by Baird Holm LLP and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and as the Best Place for the Advancement of Women by Baird Holm and the Institute for Career Advancement Needs. Additionally, Ervin & Smith made this year’s Inc. magazine list of the nation’s fastest growing private companies after a 54 percent rise in revenue and significant staff increases from 2008 through 2011.

The agency, which employs more than 50 staffers, was founded in 1983 serving primarily financial services clients. While the financial services segment remains strong with clients like TD Ameritrade and Weitz Funds, the firm’s also made splashes with campaigns for such clients as Catholic Charities of Omaha, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Immanuel Senior Living. Ervin & Smith does business out of its own building at 16934 Frances Street.

“We encourage employees to get involved in community organizations and to serve on boards.” – Heidi Mausbach, vice president for Client Relations

Vice President for Client Relations Heidi Mausbach says one reason the company thrives is it hires people congruent with its mission.

“When we’re hiring, we’re very insistent on people meeting the core values of creativity, resourcefulness, accountability, passion, collaboration, inspiration, and loyalty. It’s resulted in a culture of very like-minded, smart professionals. Everyone here works really well together.”

She says core agency practices support professional advancement.

“We do a lot of leadership luncheons. Managers do one-on-one coaching to provide employees growth opportunities and immediate feedback. We encourage employees to get involved in community organizations and to serve on boards—We really believe that helps fuel not only your passion for work but for things you’re passionate about outside work.”

Heidi Musbach, Vice President, Client Relations, has been with the company for 12 years.

Heidi Mausbach, Vice President for Client Relations

Mausbach says the economic downturn led Ervin & Smith to hone in on itself.

“Rather than focusing on what our clients were doing and worrying about what was going on in the economy, we said, ‘Let’s focus on what we can control—ourselves.’”

Through this introspective process, she says, Ervin & Smith identified its greatest assets as “smart professionals always pushing to the next level and never settling,” adding, “As a result, we’re creating an environment where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do. By focusing on our people, we’re retaining and attracting top talent, and when you have the best talent, you attract like-minded clients.”

Co-founder and Executive Chairman Doug Smith has made the agency a haven for women moving into senior management. Sharon Carleton began as a copywriter there and today is President and CEO. Mausbach’s followed a similar career trajectory.

“I started as Doug and Sharon’s assistant,” Mausbach says, “and they gave me a lot of opportunities, they allowed me take some risks, and as a result, I was able to work my way up. Doug has always looked for people who are experts in what they do and can get results. That’s always been our philosophy. And that’s been my experience growing up in the agency. If you can prove and show performance, it doesn’t really matter your gender, your age, or any of that.”

“We’re creating an environment where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do.” – Mausbach

Carleton says, “We’ve never had a women’s initiative. Instead, we’ve always put in place programs we think will help all our employees. Employees have ideas for the company or a client, and we’re allowed to implement them. Over time, those individual ideas and opportunities have added up to a very supportive environment that both women and men appreciate.”

The firm’s Ms. Smith division has gained cachet as marketing-to-women specialists who consult with clients nationwide.

Carleton says Doug Smith nurtures this women-rising-to-the-top culture.

“Our culture has grown naturally from the foundation built by Doug Smith 30 years ago. I’ve been lucky to have him as my employer, mentor, and friend throughout my career. His generosity and encouragement keeps us positive and focused, pushing all of us to manage thoughtfully and strive for continuous improvement.”

For more information about the company, visit ervinandsmith.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.