"It's just a good thing to do," Sizer, 49, himself a veteran of the Navy, said of the hiring initiative NESI started in April. "They're coming home. They need work."
His sentiment is not shared enough by the business world, said Raymond Bates, a veterans employment representative at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor in Center City. He said the unemployment rate for veterans between 22 and 25 in Philadelphia was 11 percent.
"We need more employers just to step up and go out of their way and hire vets," Bates said.
At NESI, veterans have two passionate sympathizers in its president, Mike Antonelli, and Sizer, vice president of national accounts at the company of $2.4 million in 2011 sales.
Sizer's commitment comes from his own fulfilling Navy experience. After graduating from what is now Conwell-Egan High School in Fairless Hills, he spent four years in the early 1980s aboard a nuclear carrier that visited 37 countries and "taught me a lot about engineering." He went on to serve four years in the reserve while pursuing a degree in accounting from Pennsylvania State University.
Antonelli's military gung-ho comes from family rather than personal experience. Even though the Langhorne resident, 43, had longed to be a fighter pilot ever since he was a kid, an ear infection when Antonelli was 6 damaged his hearing and scuttled his military plans. After graduating from Harry S. Truman High School in Bristol Township, the son of an Air Force fueler went to work for an electrical contractor and ultimately started his own business before partnering with Sizer.
Both men said they readily agreed to make a priority to hire those who had served their country. They consider people with military backgrounds valuable finds on a number of fronts, especially for small businesses that don't always have vast amounts of resources or time to devote to workforce training.
"They have already a lot of training for what we're looking for," Sizer said. Veterans are also usually well-groomed and used to travel, and, he said, they have clean security backgrounds that make easier arranging their access to security-sensitive job sites such as government facilities, rail yards, and airports. Their immersion in following a chain-of-command structure also helps in dealing with corporate America, Sizer added.
They also have skills essential to the life-on-the-road work that is required of NESI's installation crews, Antonelli said: "Vets are used to shacking up" with roommates.
The NESI partners have had one unanticipated problem in their quest to hire veterans: finding them.
"I thought it would be easy," Sizer said. "It's time-consuming."
Part of his recruitment technique is tracking down people he sees mentioned in newspaper articles about homecomings for returning soldiers. Sizer also has been in touch with some of the programs that have sprung up in recent years to link veterans with jobs, although he has found many of them lacking in sufficient applicants to choose from, he said.
At Conshohocken-based Allied Barton Security Services, 325 military veterans and reservists have been hired since October 2010 through the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces. Underwritten by the Army Reserve, the program offers a career portal at www.employerpartnership.org and is free for employers and service members.
"For many years, we've been looking at veterans recruiting, but not really with a fever that we've done lately," said Jerold Ramos, Allied's manager for talent acquisition. "They come disciplined, they understand discipline, they understand commitment. Those are really important that we look for and use in our service."
Another program, Helmets to Hardhats, a nationwide nonprofit based in Washington, connects National Guard, Reserve, and transitioning active-duty military members with construction jobs. It has placed 5,800 service people in jobs since it started tracking its work in 2007, said Robert Schwartz, a program director.
Not that it's been easy, even with tax breaks for businesses, such as those provided under the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. Part of the problem, Schwartz said, is an employer's reluctance to hire a veteran because his or her military skills aren't a complete match to what is needed. He said he urges businesses to consider the unique military-related attributes "that person is bringing to the table."
At NESI, Angel Vega, 23, of Philadelphia, said he was grateful the lighting company had taken a chance on him. Vega served in Iraq for 18 months in 2008 and 2009 with the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade as a combat engineer, mostly doing patrols and peace-keeping and training Iraqi soldiers and police.
With NESI since June, he is doing energy-efficiency audits among other things - and feels just as patriotic as he did trying to keep the peace in Iraq and training soldiers and police there. After all, Vega said, NESI is helping cut energy consumption, which should help reduce American reliance on foreign resources.
He said: "I can see myself staying here long-term."
Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @mastrud.