Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Veteran Spotlight: Joel Keels

Orion International is continuing its 20th anniversary celebration this week by featuring another of our very first placements, Joel Keels. Placed with Schneider National Carriers in 1991 by Orion, Keels is a United States Naval Academy graduate who served five years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps. During his time in the Civil Engineer Corps, he served as the Resident Officer in Charge of Construction (ROICC) at Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown, VA, where he managed over 50 construction contracts with work-in-place totaling over $6.3 million, and as the Engineering Officer for the U.S. Navy Cargo Handling and Port Group (NAVCHAPGRU) in Williamsburg, VA, where he led 45 Construction Battalion (SEABEE) personnel.

When he began preparing for a civilian career in 1991, Keels partnered with Orion and participated in Orion’s interview process in Raleigh, NC. He had multiple interviews with several companies and also participated in an interview-preparation session. Keels accepted an offer from Schneider National Carriers at their Charlotte, NC, Operations Center, a multi-national trucking company, as a result of one of those interviews. Schneider National appealed to Keels because it was a large, successful, and well-respected company that showed a good track record in hiring veterans.

Keels explains that his overall experience in the Navy was great preparation for success in his career. “The leadership training and experience in the Navy is great. The responsibilities that you are given as a Junior Officer in the Navy provide excellent exposure and gives you confidence in future challenges that you encounter in almost any scenario. I wouldn’t trade my experience in the Navy and often recommend it to young people as a way to start their careers,” explains Keels.

Since his initial transition, Keels spent eight years with Schneider, where he advanced to Senior Service Team Leader at their Charlotte, NC, Operations Center. When an opportunity with KCI Technologies Inc., a multi-disciplined engineering firm, arose in 1999 that allowed for more involvement in facilities construction management more closely mirroring his overall experience in the U. S. Navy, Keels made the move.

Twelve years later, Keels is still with KCI Technologies and has progressed through many roles with the company. He started with KCI as a Field Project Manager, in construction management roles, and advanced to Operations Manager in 2003, where he provided oversight of field construction management and inspection personnel. In 2006, Keels was promoted to Vice President and Division Chief of Construction Management/Mid-Atlantic, leading a 50-person division providing construction management services for public, private, military, educational, healthcare, and other clients.

In 2010, KCI executed a corporate re-organization, changing from a regional-based operation to a discipline-based operation, and Keels’ role was adapted to Regional Practice Leader (Mid-Atlantic and Northeast) for Construction Management as part of KCI’s national Construction Management Discipline. “I am very happy working with KCI – we are an employee-owned firm (ESOP), have remained strong in tough economic times (up last year to 83rd largest engineering firm – ‘ENR’ ranking – up from 88th the previous year), and have strong leadership focused on smart strategic growth in the years to come,” says Keels, “My plans are to assist KCI in its continued growth, as part of its consistently-strong Construction Management Discipline and retire from KCI after a rewarding career.”

Keels is now in a position to hire other veterans. He finds that former military personnel that have good experience in construction and contracts administration work well in his company. Keels goes on to explain, “I welcome the opportunity to find good candidates from the Junior Military Officer ranks, and will even admit to having hired a West Pointer! I value the experience and leadership capabilities of JMOs.”

When asked what advice he has for hiring managers interested in hiring veterans, Keels urges them to give it a shot, as they will be pleasantly surprised. “Veterans have gained great discipline, confidence, and experience through their military service. They tend to have strong loyalty to their companies, so they can often be counted on as long-term players in your operation,” says Keels. He also encourages employers to utilize military recruiting services like those offered by Orion.

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