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Carolina CAT Serves as a Bridge for Military Personnel Transitioning Back to Civilian Life

‘Success Stories in Action’ spotlights success stories working toward solutions to pressing workforce challenges, as part of the NC Chamber Foundation’s Institute for Workforce Competitiveness.

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Curtis Collins remembers it being “a very scary time for me.”

He had served in the United States Marine Corps for four years and was stationed at Camp Lejeune.

But he was about to become a civilian.

“I didn’t know much about jobs that actually correlated with my job in the civilian world,” he said.

Then, he remembered other members of his unit talking about the SkillBridge program.

Ultimately, SkillBridge is what led to him landing his current role as an electrical power generation technician 2 with Carolina CAT.

Carolina CAT is a supplier of construction equipment, power generation equipment, and on-highway trucks.

“I saw Carolina CAT and I just started looking at a couple options they had,” said Collins. “I sent Heather Peer an email and she actually got back to me the same day.”

Peer, a field recruiter for Carolina CAT, is the point of contact for military candidates who are seeking an opportunity with the company through the SkillBridge program.

“They’ve put in their time serving our country,” she said. “This is an opportunity to give them kind of a head start on getting back acclimated into the civilian life, getting partnered to somebody that’s committed to developing them.”

SkillBridge enables military personnel from all branches of the service to come to work for a company that partners with the program for up to six months.

The military continues to pay them their wages and provides them benefits.

“It’s like a six-month interview for us, but even better for them, it’s six months for them to really, truly make sure it’s the right opportunity for them, as well,” said Peer.

Whit Hancock called it “a great transition for the military member.”

Hancock served 20 years in the Air Force as a generator technician.

Through SkillBridge, he came to Carolina CAT in April of this year.

By September, he was employed by Carolina CAT.

He’s now a service supervisor.

“This company, in particular, was very accommodating to help make that transition smoother,” said Hancock.

Peer said Carolina CAT joined the SkillBridge program about a year and a half ago.

She said companies that are interested in joining can sign up on the Department of Defense website.

“You do need to create a training program, too,” she said. “That’s a big thing for the military is they want people coming in with a structured training program, not just getting lost in the sauce. They want a partner that’s actually going to provide them with the training and discipline.”

Peer added that the military candidates also bring many skills and traits that set them apart.

“What you can’t teach is the discipline that a lot of these military candidates come in with, the determination, perseverance, just some of those intangibles that we’re always looking for,” she said.

Hancock agreed, saying, “I think that’s why veterans are often sought after because we’re used to lots of flexibility, showing up to work on time, knowing how to do the job right, having some pride, camaraderie, that kind of thing.”

Peer said it’s been an amazing partnership.

“I mean that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “That’s what we’re looking for is to provide them with an opportunity to come in and figure out exactly what they want to do. We don’t want to push anybody into something that they don’t want to do after putting in their time and their service.”

For Hancock and Collins, they are thankful that they found out about SkillBridge when they did.

“It made it a lot easier than having to get out and find a job,” said Hancock.

“I am very grateful to Carolina CAT and all the people that’s helped me out this way,” added Collins.

This profile was a collaboration with the NC Chamber Foundation as it works to spotlight solutions for current workforce challenges: how businesses are building talent pipelines, collaborating with educators to close skills gaps, and strategically planning for workforce needs. Carolina CAT is an NC Chamber Cornerstone member. Read more Success Stories in Action here.