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How Veterans Can Solve the Driver and Technician Shortage 

Learn how veterans can be the solution to help solve the driver and technician shortage.

Episode 205: The trucking industry needs more truck drivers, repair technicians, and parts technicians. There are shortages in all three of these areas. Could veterans solve the driver and technician shortage?

My guests today are:

Chelsea Miller the Director of Community Engagement.  

Chelsea is the daughter of a veteran and is proud to serve as the Director of Community Engagement for the Wyakin Foundation. She has a degree in Political Science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Master’s in Political Management from George Washington University.  

George Nickel the Director of Student and Veteran Affairs at The Wyakin Foundation.  

George is a veteran of the U.S. Army with 16 years of service followed by completing an education resulting in a Master’s degree in Social Work. George started with Wyakin as a warrior in the 2nd class and then was employed with the Foundation as the Director of Student and Veterans Affairs.  

Wyakin Logo. In this episode, learn how veterans can be the solution to help solve the driver and technician shortage.

Guest Website: Wyakin.org

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Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost-per-mile.

The trucking industry needs more drivers, repair technicians, parts, technicians. We need more people in general, and there are a shortage in all of those three main categories in our industry. And in many other positions, could veterans be the solution to the shortages that we’re experiencing. We’re gonna find out today. My guests today are Chelsea Miller and George Nickel. Now first I’ll introduce Chelsea. She’s the Director of Community Engagement at the Wyakin Foundation. We’re gonna find out what that’s all about in a moment. She’s the daughter of a veteran and she is proud to serve in the capacity as director of community engagement. She has a degree in political science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Master’s in Political Management from George Washington University. Chelsea, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Chelsea Miller:

Thank you for having me.

Jamie Irvine:

All right now let’s introduce your counterpart George. So George Nickel, he’s the Director of Student and Veteran Affairs at the Wyakin Foundation. He’s a veteran of the US army with 16 years of service followed by completing an education resulting in a Master’s degree in Social Work. George started with Wyakin as a warrior in the second class, and then was employed with the Foundation as the Director of Student Veteran Affairs. As I mentioned, George, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

George Nickel:

Oh, pleasure to be here.

Jamie Irvine:

All right. So let’s get started. Chelsea. I wanna throw this question to you first. What does the word Wyakin mean? And what does the Wyakin Foundation do?

Chelsea Miller:

Yeah. Great question. So the Wyakin Foundation, we serve veterans as they’re transitioning out of military service into their civilian careers. We have two tracks. We have our Wyakin Works program for those pursuing a vocational trade, a certificate, anything in that vocational trade space. And then we have the classic program for two year, four year and postgraduate degrees. The term, Wyakin comes from native tradition and it stands for a spiritual being, when an individual was coming into adolescence. They would be sent out and they would be approached by their Wyakin, and this took form of a spirit animal. We use an Eagle for our logo as our spirit animal, and that Wyakin would share in that individual’s journey for the rest of their life. And it’s a great reminder to us here of our mission, that we’re there to serve the veteran in their journey and their transition, and to be there, not just for their educational goals, but beyond that.

Jamie Irvine:

Right. And I mean, assuming that a person lives, you know, on average 80 years or more oftentimes their time in the military is actually just a small part of their total life experience.

Chelsea Miller:

Yeah, exactly. And we’re there to help make sure that the next chapter is fulfilling and successful for them.

Jamie Irvine:

Awesome. Awesome. Okay. Well, I think our audiences gonna start to see what you do and the need in our trucking industry are starting to come together. George, how many veterans are returning to civilian life every year and what are some of the hurdles that they have to face when they make that transition?

George Nickel:

Well, if you look at the numbers provided by the Department of Defence, roughly 200 000 service members leave the military every year. Now every return to civilian life is different but I was looking at a study back in 2015 and the most significant challenges that people leaving the military face, uh, number one, navigating veteran benefits and services. I mean, it is a challenging process. The second one finding employment, adjusting the civilian culture cause military culture and the civilian culture are vastly different in how you approach daily life plans and tasks, addressing financial challenges. You know, cause you’re moving from, from a position in the military where you got that monthly paycheck coming in every month, you know, you really can’t get fired unless you do something really bad. And you know, so now there’s that uncertainty of where that financial sustainability is gonna come from. And the last thing they touched upon was transferring those military skills to the civilian sector, because a lot of the things you do in the military, they don’t transfer very well into the instance of civilian sector, like I was a combat engineer. And, you know, we went out and blew stuff up and there’s not really much call for that in the civilian sector.

Jamie Irvine:

You get in trouble if you just randomly blow stuff up in civilian life.

George Nickel:

Right. You know, but you know, those are some of the biggest things. But a couple things, you know, no one gets out of the military unscathed, it’s a high tempo, it’s high operations. It takes a toll on your body. So a lot of veterans, you know, problems with their knees problem, with their backs, you know, some, some more serious injuries after that. So that’s part of like dealing with the VA. And then there’s also the part where, you know, when you’re in the military, you can be very young and being responsible for a lot of things, as far as like people that you lead, amount of equipment you’re responsible for. And then all of a sudden you’re out the military and now you’re at like entry level jobs. So it’s kinda like they look at themselves and they say, well, you know, I had all this responsibility then why don’t they trust me now I should be more qualified for higher positions. Those are just some of the factors that, you know, service members look at when they’re getting outta the military.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, I don’t understand in its entirety, I didn’t have that experience myself, but from what you’re describing, I can see where things like the discipline that you learned in the military could be very advantageous in helping you to perform well in civilian life. On the flip side of that the regimented lifestyle, I’m sure while you’re in the military versus all of a sudden, you’re a civilian again, and you can do whatever pretty much whatever you want except for blow stuff up randomly. But also I could, I could totally appreciate where, where like six months ago, the military entrusted me with these men and women’s lives and I had that responsibility and, and now you won’t even trust me to manage, you know, X, Y, Z, that could be really, really discouraging for, for a person who’s trying to make a life for themselves.

George Nickel:

Yeah. It’s a little bit of a blow to the ego a little bit.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. So, Chelsea, let me ask you something, what programs has the Wyakin Foundation specifically designed? I know you gave us the high level what they are, but maybe go into some detail about how these programs assist veterans to overcome the hurdles of transitioning back into civilian life.

Chelsea Miller:

Great. Yeah, both our Wyakin Works and our classic program are built on the same six tenants. And the purpose is to help create structure and connection for each of the veterans in the program. So the six tenants are professional development. So every month we offer professional development to create some of those skills needed in the civilian world that maybe they didn’t get before. We have mentorship. So every warrior receives a community mentor and a professional mentor to help guide them in their journey. We do networking so they can get to know various industry leaders and career opportunities that might be available to them. We have community impact projects. So every warrior gives back to their community in some way, and also develops project management skills or further refines those existing skills. And then we have monthly educational and financial grants. So we give them monthly grants to help them financially in their goals to address that barrier that George just mentioned of financial hardship. And then we have an alumni program. And that goes back to the reminder that we’re here to serve them, not just in education, but beyond. And we provide interview and resume writing services to our alumni and support them as they look to continue to build their career going forward

Jamie Irvine:

In the mentorship component of it, is it always members of the military that are those mentors, or is it a combination of mentors from military backgrounds and maybe just business or civilian backgrounds?

Chelsea Miller:

It’s definitely a combination. And I think that’s really important, honestly, is some of our veterans benefit from someone who hasn’t had a military experience provides that corporate or business lens that they haven’t experienced before. The most important thing a mentorship person can bring is enthusiasm and a desire to serve the veterans that have served them and a willingness to listen and aid them in their journey.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, that makes sense. And those community events, I mean, that’s how we met is we were at HDA Truck Pride’s annual meeting and got a chance to hear about your program and I reached out to you and we networked, and then here we are. So that definitely works.

Chelsea Miller:

Yes.

Jamie Irvine:

All right. Well, we’re gonna take a quick break and hear from our sponsors. When we get back from the break, we’re gonna talk a little bit about some of the myths around hiring a veteran and how specifically veterans can help the trucking industry. We’ll be right back. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. Looking for high-quality fuel injection for heavy-duty applications? Having one supplier for fuel injection allows you to better serve customers by providing them with a complete line, which increases your sales and profitability. Learn more at ambacinternational.com/aftermarket. We’re back from our break. And before the break, we were learning all about the origin of the word Wyakin. The Wyakin Foundation and the role it’s playing in helping veterans transition to civilian life and really have successful careers and lives after they complete their military service. So let me ask you Chelsea, are there misconceptions around hiring veterans that we need to address?

Chelsea Miller:

I think that there are definitely challenges right, to the transition on both the veteran and employer side. Veterans don’t always know how to translate their military skills into civilian skills. And a lot of what we do is help with resume writing so that they can take those skills that they do have and are applicable and translate them in a way that an employer will understand because most employers aren’t gonna know those terms and aren’t gonna, you know, really have time or interest in learning those terms. So how we can translate that resume to something that employers can understand. We also prepare our veterans for interviews, because that might be something that they’re not familiar with or comfortable with. And that can be a huge barrier if they aren’t strong in that interview, then an employer’s gonna write them off, even though they have strong skills, strong leadership, they’re self starters and hardworking and motivated.

I think another one comes down to misperception that a veteran may not fit in with the culture or the community, but veterans are hardworking community-minded individuals. They have served and they are focused. And I think that they are fast learners and interested in providing real quality and to the company that they work for. I think just sometimes it comes down to language and not always knowing like how to share the same language there’s differences between the civilian and military community. So how can we find the right words, right. Language to get over that barrier.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. George, in your transition out of the military and back into civilian life, did you encounter any of these like misconceptions or myths and if you did, how did you handle that?

George Nickel:

It really goes back to what Chelsea was talking about, the language. One of the things, you know, like I went into the military straight outta high school, 16 years in service and talking about that military culture versus VIN culture. So what I had to learn when I was in the program and what my mentor helped me out a lot with is how to better change my vocabulary and the way approaching problems, because like I was a squad leader. So I was in charge of 16 troops. And you can become very clipped in your speech of how you deal with people and how you give orders and turns out when you get outta the military, people were not really into that, like taking orders type mentality. So, you know, like I’ve been called that I can be confrontational. I could be aggressive. I could be, you know, too abrupt a number of other things.

George Nickel:

So it really is changing that language and how I spoke to people, not using acronyms. One of the things like when I got out back in 2011, it was right at the end of Iraq Afghanistan. And of course at that time, there was a lot of stuff in the media about, you know, like so many service members have post traumatic stress, they have traumatic brain injuries. And at that time there was a lot of things going around the nation about, well, you know, these vets with their PTSD, they’re like ticking time bombs and, you know, they’re just, they can’t fit in because they’re just gonna snap at any moment. And I’ve actually had a chance to go talk to different organizations about those types of things that, you know, not everybody has post traumatic stress and if they do it doesn’t mean they’re, they’re an imminent danger of becoming a security risk. There’s just things they have to deal with and educating people on, you know, like accommodations for disabilities, stuff like that. And just trying to bridge that gap and try to make yourself more presentable. I had to learn how to, you know, not be 15 minutes early for everything and just be more kinda like laid back.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. I’m sure it takes an adjustment period, but if you have people with good communication skills, they’re working together collaboratively, these are probably the vast majority of these challenges that come along with, integrating can be overcome and with support clearly you’re having success because your whole foundation is helping veterans. How many Chelsea, just off top of your head, how many veterans have you helped, uh, to date

Chelsea Miller:

To date? We’re gosh, George probably knows this number better than I do, well over 120 ish, somewhere around there. Probably more, if you take into consideration some that before we had our official and works program, we had some that, you know, through trades, but weren’t always necessarily counted towards our original total.

George Nickel:

Currently serve 60 right now, that’s locally in Idaho, but also we have, like, we have veterans in Massachusetts, Montana, Texas, Nebraska. We, like I said, we have 60 in the program right now. We have roughly 60 alumni in our program. Then we have others that we don’t count as graduations because they have found other ways to define their success as far as like some have started school, but never completed school. Cause they like started their own business, they took different certificate programs that led to quicker employment. So what we really kinda like transitioned from where we started with focusing on graduation and a piece of paper, it’s how the veteran defines their content and their success in their careers.

Jamie Irvine:

Absolutely. And with 200,000 people coming out of the military service every year in the us, you guys have a, a huge opportunity to impact a lot of lives. That’s fantastic. So let’s talk a little bit about specifically why veterans might be perfectly fit for jobs like drivers, technicians, parts, people. It seems to me like, like some positions would be more, you know, would, would better fit a veterans style. And it seems like the trucking industry is a good place. Chelsea, what are your thoughts on why veterans could be a real solution to our shortage of people and why they would be a good fit for our industry?

Chelsea Miller:

Oh, absolutely. First of all, I have to say that the heavy-duty industry in general has been such a great supporter of the Wyakin foundation and the military community in general. I think there is a really tight knit community there. And I think veterans really crave that, that tight knit sense of community. There is a really strong group of individuals within this industry. And I think that veterans will be drawn to that. I think they also have the natural skill that lend themselves well to this industry. They’re hardworking a lot of them, if you tell them a task, they will go to it and they will get it done. They are very self motivated and focused individuals, but also some of their military skills naturally will translate over into this industry. And some of the needs like in the techs and Wyakin in our own space is really focusing, especially on promoting CDL drivers and meeting that trucking need and driver’s need particularly and supporting veterans that maybe have already operated really large, expensive, important equipment in the past. And, you know, doing that in their civilian career and making the connections and bridging that gap.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, that’s fantastic. George, what is maybe a success story? I mean, you’ve shared your own success story, but, but can you think of any other examples of people who’ve been really successful in your program? Maybe they even ended up in the trucking industry?

George Nickel:

Well, we got one that always comes to mind, not necessarily in the trucking industry, but it really is really shows a good case of the transition and where our foundation helps. Because the veteran that I’m speaking about, he was told, okay, you have benefits go to school. So he got enrolled in the university and like every day he was in class, you come over to my office after class and we’d have to close the door so he can vent me for a period of time because he just wasn’t comfortable in that environment. Didn’t really fit into the higher education mold that they were looking for. And he kind of was pushed into it because people talk about, oh, well, you’re not doing anything. well go to school, go to school, go to school, go to school. And he really didn’t even know what was like really out there.

So we talked a lot about what his interests are, how he grew up, what he wants to do and pretty much what he came down to is, you know, he’s talking about, alright, well doing the school thing just isn’t for me. So he is looking at quitting and I started talking about vocational training and he wasn’t even aware that there’s a community college that offers vocational training on, you know, 12 month, 18 month, two year programs. Uh, so we went over, we toured the facilities. He really fell in love with the welding shop and got enrolled in the welding program. There spent 18 months doing that. And now he works doing high rise buildings here in Boise. You know, he loves being up there on the steel and just could not be happier and year. And I don’t think if he would’ve left, been left to his own devices and was trying to navigate the educational experience on his own. I think he would’ve been one of those, those lesser statistics where he would’ve just dropped out and tried to make his own way without the guidance.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. Well, that’s excellent. Thank you for sharing your own experience and also this kind of a good example of how it would work. Chelsea, last question for you. If there is a veteran right now who is listening, who wants to enroll in the program, or if there is an employer who wants to engage with your foundation and try to help veterans join them here in the trucking industry, whether that is a driver or a repair or parts technician, what’s the first step. What should they do?

Chelsea Miller:

The first step, especially for veterans interested in join, our program would be to go to our website, which is Wyakin.org. We have an application. They can find out all the information George would meet with them after they apply. That’s a great site also for employers to check it out, get to know us. They can email us through that website, or if they want a mentor, they can apply to be a mentor through that website. And I would work with them to pair them with veterans out in the community. We do offer an employment announcements to our veterans once a quarter. And we’re working on building a more robust platform for them going forward through a job board. And anyone that’s interested in providing information to that site would go through me and they can contact me through our website. So anyone interested, I would very much encourage them to check out our website and reach out. I’d love to chat with them.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. And I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Chelsea Miller, the Director of Community Engagement and George Nickel, the Director of Student and Veteran Affairs at the Wyakin Foundation. Again, to learn more about the Wyakin Foundation, go to wyakin.org links are in the show notes. Chelsea, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Chelsea Miller:

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure,

Jamie Irvine:

George. It was great to meet you and thank you, sir, for sharing your experience and talking with us today. I appreciate it.

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