A New Mission for Veterans: Finding A Fresh Sense of Purpose

Workforce |  4 min. read

After serving their country honorably, many members of the armed forces face a transition to civilian life that can often be exciting and confusing. These brave men and women, including 2.8 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who have lived each day dedicated to serving and protecting their country often struggle with finding their new sense of mission, purpose or calling after the military.

Many veterans are now recognizing that the fuels and petrochemical industries offer a unique opportunity to find a new mission among like-minded individuals who appreciate challenging work and the ability to grow a prosperous career. These jobs also give them the satisfaction of being involved in an industry that allows others to live comfortable, safe and healthy lives.

The Transition Challenge: Finding the “Why”

“Members of each branch of service have different challenges to face during their transition, but one common denominator I see is veterans trying to find their sense of purpose after the military,” said Capt. Amber Schoeder, a United States Marine Corps Officer. “I will be separating from the military after eight years, and now I’m trying to find my purpose, again. I am talented and can do anything, but what do I want to do and why? What greater purpose will I, should I be serving?”

For veterans, working for U.S. fuel and petrochemical manufacturers can be compelling. The companies that make up these industries operate in highly-structured, technical fields with strict protocols familiar to many veterans. And acting in a role that will ultimately help millions of people live healthier, safer and more comfortable lives is appealing to many former service members.

Strong domestic fuel refining and petrochemical manufacturing helps to ensure that Americans have the freedom to travel anywhere, provides access to millions of products manufactured using petrochemicals (ranging from appliances to healthcare solutions to consumer technology), and perhaps most importantly, delivers reliable and affordable energy to people across America — and around the globe.

In addition to identifying one’s purpose, comes the frustration of finding a job that pays enough to support a family. A rush to find a job also means some veterans settle for positions that do not allow them to fully engage or grow professionally and personally in a new career. A Gallup study found that less than a third of U.S. employees feel engaged at work, which can be the case for veterans — especially who need to financially support their families.

“I am trying to figure out what is going to satisfy me and how to determine my worth in a company or industry,” said Sgt. First Class Sir Avington, a United States Army non-commissioned officer. “It would be hard to take a position without growth potential, purpose or the security of being able to take care of my family and maintain a certain way of life.” Avington is retiring from the military with twenty years of service as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist.

A New Career Path

Fuels and petrochemical companies understand veterans deserve more than gratitude — they deserve opportunities to put their skills and knowledge to good use following their service and to be compensated well for the unique value they bring.

“Veterans share the same culture and values as our industries, while bringing skills that are hugely advantageous to civilian employers,” said James Cooper, a senior petrochemical advisor at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and former U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant. “These include leadership, change management, how to motivate comrades, how to work as a team, the ability to work under pressure and a safety-conscious attitude.”

Veterans account for 10 percent of the oil and gas industry workforce, well above the seven percent rate for veterans across the U.S. economy. Pay in  the fuels and petrochemical industries is extremely competitive, average annual salaries of refining workers and chemical industry workers are $111,500 and $93,000, respectively. This is more than double the average annual salary of a U.S. worker ($44,148).

Veterans Infuse the Fuels and Petrochemical Industries with In-Demand Skills, Rigor and Passion

A veteran who served in Iraq and now works for DowDupont, Lydia Ragsdale feels invested in the company’s mission to provide critical equipment to members of the armed forces. Hired as a DowDuPont master scheduler after leaving the Army, Ragsdale remembers a fellow soldier’s life saved by Kevlar armor, which is made using petrochemicals. “I saw how valuable [the armor] was,” she says. “I made that personal connection to what saved his life.”

Kiewit, a major construction firm that serves the fuels and petrochemical industries, also has numerous veterans on staff. Sarah Anderson, a talent development specialist at Kiewit and former Army captain, found overlaps between the company and the military. “I was drawn to Kiewit because its core values parallel the Army values,” she said. “It was important for me to be a part of an organization that values its employees while maintaining high expectations and a commitment to excellence.”

Veterans say their sense of teamwork can help strengthen the culture of the fuel and petrochemical industries more broadly. According to Sara Green, a quality database administrator at Praxair and veteran of the U.S. Navy, “I feel the same sense of pride and accountability to my team here as I did in the Navy.”