Giving Back 'Sacrificed Time'

What happens after you serve your country? A new TMMK program is answering that question for many veterans with an accelerated path to full-time jobs

March 04, 2020
History of Service -- Elwood Sharron (left) and his daughter, Tabatha McEldred, look at family photographs. Photos by Joseph Rey Au


Tabatha McEldred says she learned at an early age about the sacrifice and service given by those who serve in the military.

Her father served in the Korean War. Her grandfather in World War I.

And that family legacy continues today with her eldest son, Woody, currently serving as a lance corporal with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines Bravo Company.

Family Legacy -- Tabatha McEldred’s grandfather (left), father (center) and son (right). 
 

“It’s a high priority in our family to be very respectful and to honor those who’ve served,” she says.

But it was McEldred’s first trip on an Honor Flight in 2018 that began her journey to enact those lessons and create a program that honors and respects veterans at the place she’s worked for almost three decades — Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK).

History of Service -- Elwood Sharron (left) and his daughter, Tabatha McEldred, look at family photographs.
 

The Honor Flight

On that 2018 trip, McEldred, who is a member of the Toyota Veterans Association (TVA), served as her father’s guardian as he and other veterans were flown by the Honor Flight Network to Washington, D.C., where they visited war memorials. Among those memorials was the one built to honor Korean War veterans.

“It was such an emotional and inspirational day, not only with my dad but with the others on the flight,” she says.

“I learned new stories about my dad and the experience he went through,” McEldred says. “He also talked about my grandfather, Oscar Sharron, serving in World War I. He was in charge of training horses for the cavalry.”

Once back in Kentucky, McEldred was inspired to make sure the service and sacrifice of veterans were also remembered at TMMK, where she works as a manager in Human Resources.

It was at that moment she decided to create a program to help fast-track veteran contingent workers waiting to become Toyota employees.

A strategy to help veterans -- Tabatha McEldred at her desk at TMMK
 

‘An amazing idea’

At TMMK, all production workers start as contingent employees, known as Variable Workforce. McEldred says assignments can last up to six years with an average conversion time at about three years of service.

Conversion from the Variable Workforce to Toyota is based on a department’s business need and whether the employee meets qualifying criteria.

McEldred’s strategy, which was implemented in 2019, cut that average time of three years down to one year for qualifying veterans. Once a veteran reaches the one-year service mark as a contingent, they’re moved to the top of the line in their department.

“We started in August and converted 52 veterans,” she says.

Zachary Redmerski is among those who have benefited from the program. He served as an 11 Bravo infantryman for six years with the Kentucky Army National Guard.

When his enlistment ended, a friend suggested he apply for a contingent position at TMMK.

‘Nothing short of extraordinary’ -- Zachary Redmerski says the program helped him become a full-time employee in a little over a year.

“I remember reading about the new program during break time,” he says. “I thought it was an amazing idea. I converted to a full-time team member after just over a year as a contingent.”

Redmerski now works in Conveyance at TMMK, working to transport parts from the dock to the line.

“More often than not, veterans enlist fresh out of high school,” he says. “When their enlistment ends, they find themselves with skills most employers don’t need … And with no college education, Toyota’s program gives back the time veterans sacrificed for their country while giving hope to a prosperous future. This program is nothing short of extraordinary.”

McEldred says hearing that type of feedback is what drives her to do more.
 
From Contingent Work to Full-Time -- Tabatha McEldred (left) talks with Zachary Redmerski (right).
 
A growing opportunity

After her first Honor Flight, and three months before TMMK’s veteran program began, McEldred once again acted as a guardian, this time on an Honor Flight carrying Vietnam War veterans. On that flight, she heard stories of the mistreatment many Vietnam veterans endured when they returned home from war.

It’s another moment that continues her drive to support veterans at Toyota.

She is currently working with a team that’s looking into ways to expand similar opportunities at other plants in the region. And as they work on an overall recommendation, McEldred says she is enjoying her time connecting with more veterans.


“I’m getting to hear the stories, history and passion behind veterans from each of the plants,” she says.

And as the program expands, McEldred says she not only looks forward to helping those already serving as contingent workers but also anticipates it will serve as a recruitment tool, attracting more veterans into the TMMK workforce.

“I’m looking to continue to grow these experiences,” she says.

By Marjorie Owens

 


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