Foods finding jobs for veterans

Published 11:18 am Wednesday, December 13, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

One of Troy Vandenberg’s biggest challenges is convincing veterans how big Smithfield Foods really is.

Vandenberg is Foods’ new military talent acquisition manager, tasked with hiring 4,000 veterans of all stripes by the end of 2020 — a company goal called Operation 4000!

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Vandenberg is looking for veterans to fill jobs ranging from retail to animal welfare to maintenance, logistics, management and more.

What veterans often don’t realize is that Foods has 44 manufacturing facilities, four corporate offices, seven distribution centers and many hog farms spread out across 28 states, Vandenberg said in an interview last week.

Vandenberg’s job is to scout local military installations, social events, transition offices, state agencies and other resources to find veterans looking for a job. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

what constitutes a veteran includes those currently leaving active duty, those who have been in the civilian workforce for years but also happen to be a veteran and those who are members of the reserves and National Guard.

The last group, while actively serving on a part-time basis, still needs a day job, Vandenberg said, adding that the group has also been the most elusive.

“We haven’t unlocked the secret sauce on that one yet,” said Vandenberg.

Vandenberg likes to work with applicants to see how they would best fit into the organization — and some of that comes from personal experience.

When Vandenberg was in the Navy, he was an engineering duty officer, not a job he particularly relished, despite obtaining a master’s degree in systems engineering.

After leaving active duty he worked as a military staffing consultant for several years before coming onboard at Foods.

Some veterans have a job based on their military occupation specialty (MOS), but it’s not what they actually enjoy doing, Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg said he urges veterans to find something they like doing and to pursue that path. It may require the veteran taking a few steps back, but if they don’t like their military job, why do it?, he said.

“Hopefully we can find veterans with that attitude,” Vandenberg said, “That’s the fun part of my job — let’s look outside our typical (job applicant) profile.”

The company also takes into consideration the roadblocks to employment some veterans face, such as unemployment, homelessness or a disability.

And employment isn’t confined to Virginia. Vandenberg said veterans are being placed in all of Foods’ facilities across the United States.

Foods is pursuing veterans because they bring leadership, loyalty and devotion to duty and there is less turnover, generally, with veterans, Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg said he also heard a story about Smithfield Foods President and CEO Ken Sullivan. Sullivan came from a military family and has felt an obligation to help veterans, Vandenberg said.

Earlier this year, Smithfield Foods joined the ranks of about 800 Virginia companies that are part of the Virginia Values Veterans Program, known as V3. Foods received certification in August.

The goal of Operation 4000! is to have veterans comprise 10 percent of its entire workforce by the end of 2020 — and that means 320 workers in Virginia. The 10 percent is to be spread out across the board and not concentrated in one area, Vandenberg said. 

“My hope is to bring more veterans to Smithfield Foods, but if we can educate a veteran on some other career opportunity and give some advice to that person that I’ve learned through my five years of transitioning out of the military and working in military staffing, I want to give them that opportunity as well,” he said.

To learn more about opportunities with Smithfield Foods, visit For questions, email Vandenberg at  {/mprestriction}