When a Broken Lift Truck is a Mission, Not a Job

Dec. 4, 2012
When a military veteran becomes a service tech, equipment isn't out of service for long.

More and more veterans returning from military service are being drawn to logistics jobs in trucking, rail and 3PLs. I read about this in an article from Load Delivered Logistics, a Chicago-area logistics service provider. That’s great, I thought. It’s just too bad more lift truck dealers aren’t among the beneficiaries of that talent pool.

I’ve heard some of these dealers complain about the challenges they face replacing their retiring technicians, and the fact that kids in technical schools wouldn’t know a lift truck from an ice cream truck. They need to meet more guys like Jason Watson.

Watson is a service technician at Vesco Toyotalift in Hickory, N.C. His father was a lift truck technician and when Jason joined the Marines in 2000 his service in Iraq included many hours working on M-1 tanks. So when he returned to civilian life seven years ago, he not only came back with more discipline and a tougher hide than he had going in, but he knew he could tackle a job as a lift truck technician. He was right. In fact he was offered such a job after interviewing for it while still in the Marines.

The fact he got a job so quickly isn’t unusual. In fact he agreed with that article I cited for you about returning veterans filling more and more logistics positions. It’s just that he doesn’t see that happening on the lift truck side of logistics as much. The problem is, lift truck dealers and military vets aren’t always on each others’ radar screens—and it’s the dealers that suffer for it.

“Right now it’s a veteran’s job market,” Watson told me. “I don’t stand with the crowd that says it’s hard for veterans to find a job now. There’s a realization that who veterans are is even more valuable than what they know.”

Jason acknowledges that working on an M-1 tank isn’t the same as working on today’s sophisticated  software-controlled lift trucks. That’s why veterans might not even consider trying for the kind of job he snagged coming out of the military. And because there still aren’t many dealers actively recruiting veterans to fill the slots left by their retiring service techs, there’s a gaping void that doesn’t have to be there (although OEMs like Toyota, Hyster and Yale are offering various forms of job assistance to returning veterans).

What are many dealers missing out on?

“I worked in hydraulics and pneumatic systems, so preventive maintenance and scheduling was a big deal,” Jason told me. “But I got more training than just mechanical. More important was determination and heart.”

Those are qualities that the customers of those dealers recognize, even if the dealers don’t. Jason told me of a recent experience he had at a job site he visited for the first time.

“I introduced myself to the management and they were wary because they just got done working with another dealer that didn’t satisfy them. While working on his equipment I kept noticing the manager peeking around the corner and watching me once in a while. When I finished with the trucks I presented the work orders and showed him all the discrepancies and what needed work on the trucks. He immediately asked ‘what branch of the military did you come from?’ I told him from the Marine Corps. He said he knew it ten minutes after I got there because I finished servicing his trucks in half the time the other dealer did and I pointed out everything that was wrong.”

This is what logistics companies are discovering and what many more employers need to learn: To a military veteran every job is a mission. They see each assignment as a new challenge to aim for.  And they are exceedingly grateful that those assignments aren’t shooting back.