Smithfield Foods has more than 1,800 military veterans working for its company in the U.S., and it plans to more than double that amount over the next five years.
The world’s largest producer of pork has launched a new effort, Helping Our Heroes, to focus on hiring veterans and military spouses.
To further its long-standing commitment to honor the service and sacrifice of American veterans and their families, the company plans to bring another 4,000 veterans onboard by 2025.
“We originally had a goal of hiring 4,000 veterans by the year 2020 and we did not achieve that goal,” Jonathan Toms, charitable initiatives manager, said. “We don’t shy away from that fact and have learned some lessons over the last couple of years.”
The lessons learned, according to Troy Vandenberg, Smithfield’s military talent acquisition manager and a Navy veteran, include looking at roles for veterans, creating training programs, and offering career advancement opportunities.
“What we did during the past 300 years is set ourselves up to be best in class when it comes to employment of veterans not only here in the state of Virginia and locally in Hampton Roads, but really across the country,” Vandenberg said.
The initiative includes prioritizing veteran employment and career development, empowering veteran-owned businesses, and strengthening of community and family support systems.
The Smithfield-based meat processing company, started in 1936, employs more than 40,000 nationally. Smithfield Foods is owned by China-based WH Group, which bought the company in 2013 for $7.1 billion.
Toms said the focus to support veterans started in 2016, when president and chief executive officer Ken Sullivan took the helm.
Sullivan is set to retire in early 2021, and Dennis Organ was named his successor.
“It really came as kind of a personal passion of his, but then it really became part of our culture at Smithfield,” Toms said. “The focus on veterans continues to remain one of our top priorities.”
Vandenberg said it’s the hard and soft skills that veterans bring to the table that make them a good fit for the Smithfield Foods workforce.
“Those align very well with really the core values of anyone coming out of military service: accepting responsibility in what they do; being operationally effective in their process; and being innovative with ideas and strategies to get their work done,” Vandenberg said.
Employment opportunities include everything from general production worker to senior-level positions.
“Put all the job titles in a hat and pull one out and we’ve seen success in those categories for veterans,” Vandenberg said.
Toms estimates 2,500 job openings within Virginia.
But, Vandenberg stressed, it’s not just about career placement for veterans within Smithfield Foods, it’s about making sure they are taken care of in all aspects.
The company made a $300,000 donation to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council in mid-December to support its new Veterans Employment Center in Newport News.
The center will provide transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses the resources and coaching needed to return to civilian life.
“As an American food company, we really believe that we all owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans,” Toms said. “It’s as simple as that; we believe it’s the right thing to do.”
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