Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where are they now? Joel Keels



Orion International is continuing its 20th anniversary celebration this month 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. He found Orion easy to work with, attentive to his career desires, and responsive in lining up a good mix of interviews. “I had a good initial impression of Orion and went with that ‘gut feel’ to work with them on lining up the start of my post-Navy career. While I was contacted by some other firms, I worked exclusively with Orion in my transition from the military,” states Keels.

Keels participated in Orion’s interview process in Raleigh, NC, and points out how well-coordinated the event was even before the internet was commonly used. He had multiple interviews with several companies and also participated in an interview-preparation session. Keels accepted an offer from Schneider National Carriers, a multi-national trucking company, as a result of one of those interviews.

Schneider National offered Keels a position at their Charlotte, NC, Operations Center, near his family and home of record, which helped in making his transition from the military smooth. Schneider National also 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.

Keels explains that his experience with transportation as part of his duties with NAVCHAPGRU in the Navy prepared him well for his job with Schneider. Additionally, he states that his experience with construction and construction contracts administration prepared him for his current career with KCI Technologies Inc. “My ROICC experience in the Navy was excellent preparation for the work I’ve done in the ‘civilian world’ and translates very directly to the daily work of our construction management project managers. I am always excited to see the resume of a potential new project manager when it has U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps experience, particularly in a ROICC office!” says Keels.

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.”

Keels advises veterans who are currently transitioning to look for opportunities themselves as they are able, but to also utilize the assistance a firm like Orion can offer. He points out that transitioning is a hectic time, so the assistance that Orion offers can be invaluable. “While you are lining up all of the other aspects of the transition, Orion can take the job interview coordination off of your plate and get you in front of great potential employers,” explains Keels.

Keels’ continued success in his civilian endeavors is a great example of just how valuable veterans are to their civilian employers. Orion is proud to have helped Keels with his transition 20 years ago and wishes him continued success with KCI.

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