An Army of Veterans
United Rentals Employs Nearly 900 Former U.S. Soldiers
By Lucy Peterson Jul 10, 2012
When most people think about equipment rental, “military mentality” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Spend a few minutes speaking with Antwan Houston, however, and the connection becomes clear — it’s less about the equipment itself, and more about the skill and composure it takes to solve challenges.
“With the tempo that we run, the Marine mindset really works,” says Houston, a regional maintenance manager for United Rentals’ Trench Safety, Power and HVAC division. Houston served nine months in Iraq before entering the civilian sector. “The military teaches you that when you have a job to do, you get it done, point blank. I try to instill that sense of pride, that idea of taking ownership of what you’re doing.”
Houston, an Alabama native, is one of nearly 900 former military employees currently working for United Rentals, a company that has consciously established support of veterans as a defining part of its culture. It starts with recruitment practices, says Craig Pintoff, senior vice president of human resources.
“There’s a natural affinity between the military’s core values of teamwork, discipline and accomplishment, and the way we train employees to meet customer expectations,” Pintoff says. “In addition, many veterans exit the military as highly-trained service technicians, drivers and leaders. It’s a good fit — but more than that, it’s simply the right thing to do.”
Determined to lead by example, the company has already hired another 60 veterans in 2012 through April, adding not just skill sets but also diversity to its workforce. The armed services in total have a 45 percent diversity pool, says Pintoff, which creates a strong pipeline for socially conscious employers. Last year, the company became even more vocal about the importance of hiring veterans, committing its resources to urge responsibility within the corporate sector.
“The unemployment rate is sky-high among returning veterans,” Pintoff notes. “Corporate America can and must do better. And the payoffs are substantial. Not surprisingly, military veterans become excellent employees in civilian workplaces.”
In October, United Rentals co-hosted a Veterans Roundtable with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). It was attended by 70 business participants, as well as state and municipal agencies. Attendees discussed best practices and strategies for hiring and retaining veterans — an area that CEO Michael Kneeland feels strongly about.
“Veterans have demonstrated their commitment to protecting and upholding the values of our nation,” Kneeland says. “It is the duty of the business community to demonstrate support in return by helping these men and women find employment. We need to make sure the welcome mat greets them.”
A three-time honoree as a Top 100 Military Employer by GI Jobs magazine and named a Most Valuable Employer for Military by www.civilianjobs.com, United Rentals invests in getting the word out. Houston is one of several employees active in veteran recruitment, representing the company at job fairs and speaking to service people preparing to enter civilian life at venues such as the Camp Lejeune Marine base in North Carolina.
After the Hire
After the hiring process, “culture counts,” says Kneeland. “The goal is to create a progressive, energetic workplace that inspires employee retention and makes us an employer of choice. We’re always evolving, but there’s a layer of bedrock that is more cultural than policy-oriented. Support of veterans is one of the constants that define us.”
Recently, United Rentals was nominated for the 2011 Freedom Award by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense agency. The award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve. Ruth Somoza of United Rentals Human Resources now serves as the public affairs director for the Connecticut ESGR as a way to further champion the agency’s objectives.
“The ESGR’s position is that when a country has an all-volunteer military force, as we do in the United States, the corporate sector becomes part of the National Defense structure,” Somoza explains. “That’s a powerful perspective on the role of employers. The responsibility is two-fold: hire veterans and support employees who are called to active duty.”
Within the equipment rental space, United Rentals has become a model for championing this concept, similar to the way Starbucks’ Armed Forces Network and the GE Veterans Network have sparked corporate initiatives in their own industries. In United Rentals’ case, the company has developed a successful program that acknowledges a focus on veterans while remaining inclusive of all employees. Here are some pages from the company’s playbook:
Invest in focused recruitment. Recruitment can be facilitated by targeted channels for military candidates. United Rentals participates in job fairs hosted by Military Recruit and accesses service members on U.S. bases through the virtual job fair offered by Hire Disability Solutions.
Accommodate reserve deployments. Flexibility is essential, says Pintoff. “Establish military-friendly leave policies for employees who are called to active duty. It will make it easier to transition them back into their jobs when they return.” United Rentals goes beyond the legal requirements by paying employees the difference between their military pay and their job pay during deployments.
Support employee involvement. The company encourages its employees to show appreciation to their veteran coworkers. This past Veterans Day, more than two dozen branches posted photos on the company’s website showing events ranging from flag displays to appreciation ceremonies.
Choose a cause. The company has given major financial support to The Tower of Hope, which funds the training of service dogs for disabled veterans. This year it will match up to $50,000 of employee contributions to Project Heal of the organization Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), which trains dogs to assist disabled veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Champion corporate responsibility. As more soldiers return from the Middle East, the topic of veteran recruitment has a heightened visibility. Somoza notes that companies can access information about best practices from the ESGR website (www.esgr.net) by downloading Tips For Employers from the “Fact Sheets” link.
Doing Well by Doing Good
The innovative programs in place at United Rentals have captured the attention of customers as well. In 2011, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. named United Rentals one of four National Diversity Excellence Award winners, together with Littler Mendelson, P.C., TD Industries Inc. and Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
These recognitions are appreciated, says Kneeland, but “even if we were completely off the radar, we would still be conducting business the same way and encouraging others to do the same. The more companies that step up and hire veterans, the better off they’ll be — I firmly believe that,” Kneeland says. “Support of veterans is good for our former service people, good for business and good for our national defense. It benefits everyone involved.”
Lucy Peterson is president and owner of Balboni Associates Inc., based in Springfield, Mass.