There is little doubt members of the U.S. military learn valuable skills during the time they serve, making them perfect candidates to help the roofing industry with its workforce shortage.

More than 200,000 service members return to civilian life each year, with 15.5% of them leaning toward the construction industry as of 2018. Among those who came to the industry are Nathan Schoggins and Jacquelyn Baker, two veterans who found careers at Cornerstone Building Brands.

Schoggins is a Houston, Texas resident who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years as a radio operator and a platoon sergeant. He now works as a finance manager at Cornerstone Building Brands.

Baker, a resident of Oklahoma City, served in the U.S. Air Force for about seven years, flying in the Airborne Warning and Control System and worked for NATO teaching how to operate the surveillance system. She now serves as a Star Building Systems estimating manager with Cornerstone Building Brands.

RC spoke with them about what transferrable skills they use in their careers and what advice they have on how contractors can improve leadership and teambuilding abilities.

Responses lightly edited for clarity.

RC: What drew you to the construction industry?

NS: When I got out of the military I struggled for probably five, six years was understanding my purpose. You’re in the military, depending on what you do, you’re responsible for men and women and you have arguably their lives within your control, and leadership in the military doesn’t ever turn off.

Finding something as purposeful was a struggle for me, and my attraction to manufacturing and what’s helped me here has been watching us build something that is a part of the infrastructure in our community … from watching the individuals on the shop floor physically build something on the shop floor and then getting to see those products in our community.

JB: In the military, you had to know everything. I was the enlisted person in charge of a flight of 97 people, and we had to know their family life, how was their marriage, how were their kids, how was their education. We had to make sure we knew what was going on because you can’t win the fight if things aren’t right at home, and that’s something I was brought up with.

That’s something I’ve brought up with my guys — family’s first, we can make the rest work, and honestly, everybody works so hard because we know we’re going to work for them, so being a part of that family is what brought me into metal buildings.

RC: What skills from your military experience have helped you in the industry?

NS: Communication is probably number one that comes to my mind. Something as simple of whenever you’re passing a rifle from one individual to the other individual, the person on the other end says “I got it.” That seems really small and trivial, but that back and forth communication is engrained from day one.

The second would be organization/discipline. You want me at work at whatever time, I’m going to be there 15 minutes before that, and you want me to stay late and work, I’ve already got the pot of coffee brewing at 5 p.m.

JB: Nobody learns in the same way, everybody has a different learning style, and that developed my lifelong love of teaching and learning. If you have 13 different nationalities that just means to learn 45 different ways to explain something.

I have 10 people in my department and they probably do things 15 different ways, and none of them are wrong. One thing the military taught me is that you don’t have to be ridged and you can understand how things work and that you can approach it a million different ways. Math has a final answer but it doesn’t have the same way to get there, and there’s a final answer for a building – it has to be structural and in place, but there’s a lot of ways to get to that.

RC: What advice do you have for contractors in leadership roles?

NS: Be decisive — that was something that the Marine Corps taught me specifically about leadership is you’re not going to get it right every time, but you’re going to try.

The other would be over-communicating. Especially nowadays, we don’t appreciate all the modes of communication that we do have — whether it’s following up with a customer, whether it’s following up with a vendor — those touchpoints, as we found out through this pandemic, are extremely critical for our vendors and customers.

RC: Any advice for contractors about building teams and healthy working atmospheres?

JB: Empowering your team is a big thing, trusting your people to take care of it. I trust my team and as we bring on new individuals to our department, I think that it’s really important that I have the new individuals exposed to all the other different members of the department, because there are 45 ways to teach it and there’s 45 different ways to learn it, and one of those ways is going to speak to my new guy.

As we have new people coming in, they know how important every individual in our department is and what benefits they bring. No matter where you are in the department … everybody’s role is still important. That’s something the military taught me: planes don’t get off the ground if somebody isn’t cleaning the bathroom. It doesn’t matter what your position is, every one of those positions is valuable to what we do.

RC: Tell us about the Patriots Employee Resource Group at Cornerstone Building Brands.

NS: We’ve started to raise awareness for the group and started to establish pillars the group will be focused on. As we transition to next year, it’s how can we start to action on initiatives using those pillars and making sure that the veteran voice within Cornerstone Building Brands and external through Cornerstone is heard and valued.

One that we have in the pipeline is a brand ambassadorship and how do we raise awareness to get Cornerstone Building Brands viewed as a preferred employer for veterans as they transition out of the military, and how do we take their skills that they learned in the military and apply those to jobs we have today.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In celebration of Veterans Day in 2021, the Patriots group donated $20,000 to K9s for Warriors, which is committed to ending veteran suicide, raising awareness for invisible disabilities and creating policy-level reform through support and service.