By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneMay 31, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla. 31, 2018) -- After four years in the Army Jamie Smith felt it was time to wrap up one chapter in his life and move on to the next. ResCare made it easy for him with its on the job training (OJT) program.
The program allows Smith to get paid for six months of training with an approved employer -- in this case, one of Lawton's most enduring enterprises, the century-old LarRance Steel Corporation, 102 SE B Ave. ResCare will reimburse Smith's employer for half the cost of his training, said Anne Curtis, the One Stop Operator for ResCare at the Lawton Workforce Center, 1711 SW 11th St.
Prior to leaving the Army, Smith took the required Transition Assistance Program classes. He wanted to stay in Lawton because he was already established here. He was determined not to go back to his home state of West Virginia because employment opportunities there are few and far between -- that was why he joined the Army in the first place.
Fortunately, one of the places where he did work was in a weld shop. There he used fuse welding, a different kind of welding than he's learning now, but it was enough to give him a leg up on his training opportunity.
He found out about LarRance through Myrna Adams, talent development specialist for ResCare. He met her at a recent Soldier for Life Hiring Event in Rinehart Fitness Center.
"She was like, 'Come see me. I can find you a job.' You know, I'd tried. I applied everywhere else and then I went and saw her," Smith recalled.
The timing was perfect, because he was sitting in the Workforce Center when LarRance called up looking for a welder.
Smith says he was on terminal leave at the time and had to wait till it was used up to start.
"We were really excited to have a dislocated worker veteran to be able to put into an OJT. That's been a real focus, is trying to help transitioning service members," Curtis said.
Smith is in training to be a fabricator. He works on hollow-metal doors. Raw materials come in from the manufacturer -- it might be a steel doorframe that arrives in three pieces. It's his job to weld them together to make a welded doorjamb. He'll do preps inside that frame, such as adding an electrical stripe prep or electric hinge power transfer preps. He does all that in the fabrication shop in the Lawton industrial park before the product ships out to the end user.
Having an on-site welder decreases the lead time for product delivery from 10 weeks to four or five days, notes Smith's boss, Lamartt Lawrence, general manager of the door department for LarRance.
"It's all about helping everybody get across the finish line as fast and efficiently as we can," Smith agrees.
Smith said he likes his new job and his co-workers. Sometimes he works by himself, at other times as part of a team. He gets to go out and install doors for customers on some days and work in the shop on others. Another plus: the company is willing to work with him on his VA appointments.
At LarRance he's learning how to use argon gas for metal inert gas welding on non-ferrous metals, which he says "is a totally different game."
Lawrence said the company seeks veterans because they are more firmly grounded, not the "here today, gone tomorrow" type. LarRance finds them right in its own backyard, the same way it found Smith, at Fort Sill or Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
Lawrence said although he's not a veteran, there are military members in his family. An uncle served in the Army, a great-uncle and his son were in the Navy, and his paternal grandmother was also military.
"These guys are more stable for us. We don't need someone to come in and we train you and in six months you're gone. We want somebody who's going to be here, committed to us and help us grow So it's a plus. It really helps," Lawrence said.
Smith said he's definitely in this for the long term: "I want to find a company I can stay with and just work my way up."
Do veterans make good employees?
"Oh, absolutely. The dependability. The punctuality I love," Lawrence said. "More astute and more willing to participate and learn" is the way Lawrence summed it up. "The willingness means a lot."
Only a week after he arrived, Smith was already doing inventory and picking up in his trades what fellow workers were training him for.
ResCare is the service provider for the South Central Oklahoma Workforce Board, which has a Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I grant. That's the funding source that pays 50 percent of Smith's salary for his first six months on the job with LarRance Steel and Door, Curtis explained.
She said LarRance Steel is actually the first employer in the area to get involved, but ResCare is working to expand its OJT Program.
"We're the benchmark," Lawrence quipped.