Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation (DAEDF) hosted a luncheon Monday afternoon with the county’s top 50 employers to discuss potentially recruiting military to the workforce in the area.

DAEDF President Lyle Roggow said the speaker came at a great time, as previously DAEDF and the top 50 employers decided they wanted to place their focus on workforce needs.

Roggow said the top 50 employers control about 40 percent of the county’s workforce.

Roggow sent out a survey to employers in the area to obtain information on what kind of positions they have, how many employees reside in these positions, how many open positions there are in each category and what the needs of the labor force will be for those positions in about five years.

Though only 13 out of 50 of the employers responded with hard numbers, right now, Roggow said, there could be about 325 positions that still need filled. Over the next five years, those 13 responding employers could need up to 1,223 employees to fill positions, either because previous employees are retiring or because the companies are growing.

Hector Guerra, who specializes in helping companies communicate with transitioning soldiers, spent the luncheon visiting with the top 50 employers on a valuable asset they may be missing: Fort Sill.

Guerra, who spent 20 years in the military, with the last four as an Army recruiter and now has his own business, said before he began exiting the Army, he realized there was a need to help break down the barrier between civilian communication and military communication.

His first encounter with this was when Guerra tried handing his resume in to a compression company. The company at the time said he wasn’t qualified, but after rewriting his resume and finding a way to bridge the gap between civilian and military language and job codes, Guerra was more than qualified.

“Basically, the job was for a materials rep. In the Army, that’s called a supply specialist,” Guerra said. “I took all the information, threw it on my resume, sent it back in. Five minutes later, the gentleman gives me a call and says, ‘You’ve done all this?’ I said, ‘Sir, everybody in the military has done this before. Maybe not the way you think of it.’”

An example of this includes a heavy wheel mechanic in the military. They may not know farm equipment well, but before joining the military, personnel take a test called the ASVAB that tests for aptitude, meaning that the individual shows the promise of learning that particular skill, even with no previous training. That same individual, though they have no prior experience with farm equipment, would work well as a farm equipment mechanic because all that’s lacking is training with that specific equipment.

That’s why the Soldiers for Life Transition Program is important to those transitioning back to civilian life. The program, which used to be known as Army Career Alumni Program, helps place those leaving the military into job sectors for which they have the aptitude.

The military pays for all of it, too, and during certain times of training, businesses aren’t allowed to pay the trainee because the individual is already receiving compensation from the military. Employers also have the chance at several tax credits when it comes to employing veterans.

Guerra said 250,000 leave the military each year. A lot of those veterans struggle with finding employment post-service, but through this program, Guerra hopes Stephens County can tap into valuable resources to help grow its workforce while also providing a stepping stone for veterans moving back into the civilian world.

While Fort Sill is right next door, Guerra said they’re able to pull military from several facilities across America.

“Not everyone in the military knows what they want to do when they get out of the military,” Guerra said. “What better place to find the talent?”

DAEDF’s next meeting with the top 50 employers is slated for the spring.