Recent ActivityRecent Activity

What Can Veterans Teach Us About Improving Industrial Training?

Main Image

A friend posed an interesting question to me a few weeks back:  Are military veterans in our industry more committed students in training classes than others?

As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I happen to believe that we do make better students.

But truth be told, I don’t have a single fact to back up this contention. So, in the absence of facts, I’ll simply make my case and let you be the judge.

Regardless of whether you agree, however, it may be worth understanding the factors that help veterans succeed and considering how they might be applied to improve training in our industry.

Two Key Traits

My professional career spans 25 years, including 6 years in the Navy and the rest spent managing different repair services. During this time, I’ve observed two significant personality factors that greatly influence training success. 

The first is perseverance. The student must be able to push past whatever reservations they have about pursuing training. This is important because we rarely view any time in our lives as the right time to acquire new skills.

As a result, we need to overcome the obstacles, such as the time, cost or inconvenience that can stand in the way of training.

Second, training scenarios and examples alone do not ensure success. The student must be able to apply the training to a specific application.

This ability to take key learnings and convert them to a specific application is a skill that is best taught by peers and mentors.

So, if I believe perseverance and conversion are key, why veterans?  My answer is simple: people, process and leadership.


Military veterans are a special breed of person. They share a certain grit that makes them different as a group. It’s this grit that helps them endure everything from rigorous training exercises and long deployments, to the potential stress of conflict.

Society is full of individuals with grit, and military service attracts them. Like iron flakes to a magnet. The result is an easily identifiable group of likeminded individuals who all share grit as a common trait.

And that trait helps them persevere not only through their military service, but also through whatever challenges and disruptions may arise in their personal lives and post-service careers.


The training process in the military is not so different than any other kind of training. It relies on instructors, presentations and study guides, among other things.  However, it has one very important point of differentiation: orders.

Orders in military jargon are quite literally a member’s direction to their next duty station. In the Navy, for example, you could be ordered to become part of a team maintaining a Ticonderoga-class main-propulsion system.

In practical terms, that would mean converting a gas-turbine training course into a skill that you must adapt to your role – and on which lives may depend.

The specific nature of the content trains the student how to convert instruction to reality. In my example, it is not enough for the student to learn how a gas turbine works.

Rather, the student must learn how the gas turbine works under the specific conditions of a marine propulsion plant on a specific ship. The student might not know it, but they are learning an additional skill, which is the ability to convert theory to application.

This happens many times in even a short military career, resulting in a self-belief that when orders are given that the serviceman is not equipped to perform, they can be coupled with training that will result in excellence in execution.


To promote in the military, you must demonstrate the grit needed to translate the incomplete training you received. This is not a one-time event. You complete training at every step in your career into application-specific expertise.

Women and men in every branch of military service are committed to fostering their own replacements, and they see training as a mission-critical to ensuring the future success of their beloved Service.

Lessons for Our Industry

So do veterans make better industrial students?  I believe the answer is yes. However, this is really a result of self-selection and differences in training approaches used by military versus industry.

Perhaps the more important question is, how can we replicate the strengths of military training in our own training programs?

In particular, are there opportunities to identify or infuse perseverance in industrial students, and can we implement tactics to help them improve their conversion of training lessons into real-life skills to make them more effective?

Take Action

If you are a veteran willing to upskill for advanced manufacturing opportunities learn more about the partnership between ManpowerGroup and Rockwell Automation to train 1,000 veterans annually for leading-edge digital manufacturing roles.

Perhaps you aren’t a veteran, but have the “grit” to pursue career advancement in manufacturing.

If so, check out the industrial network design online training courses and use promo code EVENTS2017 for a 100% discount, to gain the skills necessary to deploy a secure, IoT-ready network architecture.

Rob Snyder
Rob Snyder
Director, CSM Technology Platforms, Rockwell Automation
Rob Snyder

Subscribe to Rockwell Automation and receive the latest news, thought leadership and information directly to your inbox.

Recommended For You