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April 21, 2021

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Ridgefield company wins with veterans

ICD High Performance Coatings gets one of 7 state Hire-A-Vet awards

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Military veteran Gerald Foot works on a master color sample for a customer at ICD High Performance Coatings in Ridgefield. The company received Employment Security Department’s Hire-A-Vet award Wednesday in recognition of its high percentage of employees who are veterans.
Military veteran Gerald Foot works on a master color sample for a customer at ICD High Performance Coatings in Ridgefield. The company received Employment Security Department’s Hire-A-Vet award Wednesday in recognition of its high percentage of employees who are veterans. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — ICD High Performance Coatings didn’t start out with a directive to hire more military veterans.

As the family-owned company found how well veterans worked as part of a team, managers kept bringing them on board, CEO Kris Vockler said.

The company received the Washington Employment Security Department’s Hire-A-Vet award at a barbecue at its Ridgefield plant Wednesday. ICD High Performance Coatings is one of seven companies statewide to receive the annual award this year.

Mike Benko, a veterans employment representative at WorkSource, nominated the company because 40 percent of its 26 employees are veterans. The company also regularly participates in veteran hiring events, he said.

Vockler said she’s surprised that more companies don’t recognize the value of military experience.

She emphasized that the company doesn’t give preferential treatment to veterans.

“We’ll hire anyone who has ability and fits a need,” Vockler said. “But as a whole, veterans are far more disciplined and ready to work. It’s a huge base of people we can employ and train.”

ICD High Performance Coatings, owned by Vockler’s parents, Larry and Trisha, makes coatings for glass, metal and other material. You can see the company’s handiwork in the tinted glass on high rises along Portland’s South Waterfront or in Vancouver City Hall.

The company’s military roots began with Larry Vockler, who served in the Navy. Plant Manager Jim Butler served in the Marine Corps.

The company is careful about its hiring. One employee said he interviewed five times with nine different people. But that rigorous process ensures that everyone works well together, Butler said.

“They have to be good in the hacky sack circle,” Butler added, half joking. Workers play the foot game on their breaks. He said employees enjoy spending time together, even when they’re off the clock.

Finding job challenging

It can be challenging for veterans to find jobs that pay as much as they earned in the military or enough to support their families if they haven’t gone to college, Benko said. The military is famous for its jargon, so it can be hard for veterans to translate their military experience into terms that civilian hiring managers can understand, he added.

Yet more and more veterans will be seeking work as the military withdraws troops from the Middle East, Benko said. They add to a pool of veterans that includes older workers who have another set of obstacles to getting hired.

Bill Trejo is both a veteran and an older worker. He served in the Army for five years and then worked a long career, most recently for a door distributor that went out of business. After he was laid off, he looked for a new job for nearly two years with no luck. He suspects hiring managers were wary of his age. He connected with ICD High Performance Coatings at a veterans job fair and landed a position producing samples. He started work there in February.

“I like being in an atmosphere with all these guys who are mostly veterans. They’re used to working in a team environment,” Trejo said. “Not a day goes by that we’re not asked to fill in or cover for each other.”

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