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Unity-based Kennametal, others reach out to hire military veterans

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

Ten years ago, Matthew Peaslee was refueling tanks and other armored vehicles with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Division as it raced across the Iraqi desert toward Baghdad on a mission to topple dictator Saddam Hussein from power.

“We were the gas station for all those tanks,” said Peaslee, who was in the Marine Corps Reserves serving with a bulk fuel supply unit during his six-month deployment at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Today the 32-year-old Milwaukee native is a product manager for Kennametal Inc., selling the systems that connect the Latrobe toolmaker's cutting tools to metal-cutting machines. Peaslee had worked in the hospitality industry when he returned home from Iraq. He landed a job with surface-mining machine manufacturer Joy Global in Milwaukee before coming to Kennametal.

Peaslee, who was in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1998 to 2004, was hired in July 2012 as part of the initiative that Kennametal announced last November to actively recruit veterans into manufacturing careers. The Unity-based company said it planned to hire 50 military veterans during its current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“Military veterans create a pipeline of talent for now and in the future. Their advanced technological skills and proven leadership abilities are highly transferable for careers in manufacturing. By stepping up our efforts to give veterans promising new careers in manufacturing, we are not only addressing the skills gap, but also filling our workforce with outstanding individuals,” said Judith Bacchus, Kennametal vice president and chief human resources officer.

To guide its veteran hiring efforts, Kennametal said, it is actively participating in Hiring Our Heroes Job Fairs and Junior Military Hiring Conferences throughout the country. Since the start of the manufacturer's fiscal year on July 1, 2012, the company has hired three veterans at its corporate headquarters in Unity and a production manager at its plant in Irwin, said Christina Sutter, a Kennametal spokeswoman.

One of the veterans hired under the initiative is Peter Dragich, 49, of Greensburg, vice president of integrated supply chain and logistics, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps from 1982 to 1986.

He believes his military career has been a significant benefit in every job he has had since leaving the corps, including work with Ford Motor Co. as a shop floor supervisor.

“What I learned about leadership, self-discipline, teamwork and pride in my work has served me well,” Dragich said, adding that he knows his military experience “influenced my selection for the position” at Kennametal.

On a national scale, almost 52,000 veterans have been hired since March 2011 through the 100,000 Jobs Mission, an initiative of 91 companies, many of them national firms, that have set a goal of hiring 100,000 transitioning service members and military veterans by 2020.

Hiring veterans

Companies that hire veterans get not only leadership skills, but employees who are trained and respect their supervisors, said Kenneth Semovoski, the veterans employment representative at Downtown Pittsburgh's PA CareerLink, the state agency that helps job seekers.

Semovoski strives to connect employers with veterans, holding job fairs and working with veterans to improve their job-searching skills.

“Employers are looking for veterans. We're getting swamped,” said Semovoski, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972.

Hiring military veterans provides many advantages to employers, particularly in manufacturing, Dragich said.

“Military veterans acquire leadership, technical and practical work-related skills that are invaluable. Their experience of being faced with significant challenges and working within a team to achieve success prepares them to be a positive influence on others in the organization,” he said.

As Peaslee sees it, employers who hire veterans get people who are very motivated and driven and have learned to handle the kind of stress they face in the workplace.

“I think most veterans have a built-in ability to navigate these kind of stressful and ambiguous situations that we face on a day-to-day basis. They've faced and dealt with stress and ambiguity in its most extreme form,” he said.

“Unless it gets that intense or more, (stress) is all within the realm of what you can handle,” he added.

The federal government has given employers an incentive to hire veterans by providing tax credits to those that add vets to their workforce before Jan. 1, 2014. The Internal Revenue Service said there is no limit to the number of qualified veterans for whom an employer can claim the tax credit.

Employers that hire jobless veterans can get a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran under the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. The tax credit can be as high as $6,240 for qualified tax-exempt groups, according to the IRS.

The tax credit has given employers an incentive to hire veterans, PA CareerLink's Semovoski said.

Vets' jobless rates

Gulf War-era veterans like Peaslee, who have served on active duty since September 2001, are in a workforce in which their unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in 2012, down 2.2 percentage points from 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported recently. The jobless rate for all veterans fell to 7.0 percent in 2012, a drop of 1.3 percentage points from 2011.

Veterans in Pennsylvania were better off than those in other states, with a jobless rate of 6.7 percent last year. That was lower than the average 7.9 percent for all civilian workers, according to the state's Center for Workforce Information.

The national unemployment rate for Gulf War-era veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was 10.9 percent in August 2012, just slightly below the jobless rate of 11.3 percent for veterans who served elsewhere during that time.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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