For 11 years, Rory Thompson, Manager of Veteran Relations, spent his days as Captain in the airborne for the British Army. Thompson was posted to Canada for two years and later joined Canadian Pacific (CP) in October 2016, but remained with the British Army until January 2017.
“The British Army is slightly different than the Canadian Army wherein the last few months of service, they allow you to prepare for a civilian transition,” said Thompson. “I was essentially doing both roles, but 100 per cent of my time was dedicated to CP.”
Thompson said one of the great things about working for CP is that military service runs deep. While travelling to different bases to brief future Veterans on what CP has to offer, he likes to point out the rich military history of the company.
“We have been working with the military since CP’s inception over 100 years ago. Commonly recognized as the railway that built the nation, CP has always been dedicated to defending the nation. One of our first presidents, Lord Strathcona, self-funded 400 horsemen to go and assist the British in the Boer War in South Africa. That regiment is now known as the Lord Strathcona’s Horse based in Edmonton,” said Thompson.
Since then, the company has assisted the military through the ages from the First and Second World Wars, to most recently with transporting American, Canadian, and British military vehicles across Canada and the US.
His current role as Manager of Veteran Relations only just came about four months ago. When he initially began his time with CP, Thompson came on board through the Operations Management Trainee Program.
“It’s a fast-track program where they move employees with potential around the company, relatively quickly over the course of six months,” said Thompson. “They’re not only learning the skills for the job they’re about to go into, but they’re also getting a strategic review of the company as well. Essentially, it’s assisting that learning process to bring them up to speed as quick as possible and to align their leadership skills.”
After completing the training program, he began his position of Signals and Communication Manager in Northern Alberta. Thompson was responsible for a large section of track, 12 unionized employees, every crossing and signal within his length of track, and other supporting assets. Despite never having done the role before, CP provided him with all the necessary training for the position he was about to take on.
“The point is that there’s a lot of opportunity and CP will train you to ensure you have all the knowledge before taking that jump into your next role,” he added. “Which I think is key for a lot of Veterans because some companies just don’t put enough effort and time, I believe, into that onboarding process and setting individuals up for success. As a result, they end up leaving because they’re not enjoying it, and they may also be struggling with the transition to a civilian life and career, or feel they can’t keep up.”
After working the role of Signals and Communication Manager, Thompson was transferred into the HR department at CP and eased into his new position as Manager of Veteran Relations.
“If you told me when I was getting out of the military as an airborne Captain, that I would be working in the HR Department, I probably would’ve laughed at you,” Thompson laughed.
When CP began discussing the idea of Thompson’s position, he and other Veterans in the company agreed that a Veteran should hold the position. One reason for this is when a Veteran’s resume comes across the desk, a fellow Veteran would be able to understand the resume, decipher it for a hiring manager, and see where the Veteran in question would best fit within the company.
“When I get a military resume, I generally just pick up the phone and call the Veteran straight away. There are lots of positives to this, but the main reason is I can find out straight from the horse’s mouth what their background is and discover exactly what their aspirations are,” said Thompson. “I see that a lot of Veterans have different goals and aspirations, and I can essentially find out what they want.”
From there, Thompson can then discuss the company with the potential hire, the roles and opportunities available, and the existing culture.
“A lot of Veterans rarely get to speak to someone in an organization who can understand their unique qualifications and background,” he added. “It just puts them at ease a little bit as well knowing that there’s someone out there who’s got a vested interest, not only to bring them into the company but setting them up for success and opportunity once they get there.”
A big part of Thompson’s role in Veteran Relations is to spread the message that CP is a huge supporter of the military community. Not only in hiring Veterans to fill numerous roles across Canada, but also in raising money for homeless Veterans by partnering with Homes for Heroes to host the annual charity event, Spin for a Veteran. The 24-hour spin bike competition raised $200,000 this year to combat Veteran homelessness in Calgary, AB.
After the initial talk and having figured out the Veteran’s specific area of interest, Thompson acts as a bridge between the veteran and hiring manager. Before passing a resume onto a hiring manager, Thompson writes a small blurb about the Veteran’s skills, what they did in their previous roles, and how those skills work with the potential position.
“I find my process very effective because (hiring managers) are looking for people who can do the job, not necessarily people who meet every single job requirement on the job specification,” he added. “Where I can, I assist in the actual interview as well. I sit in as many as I can, and if I see the individual is struggling to communicate the right information, I help to relay that to the hiring manager. Hopefully, that results in a job offer.”
CP also supports their Veteran employees through a Veterans Social Club, with the idea of getting together in an informal setting and getting to know one another.
“Sometimes veterans who work beside each other don’t know that they both served in the military, so they’ve got that commonality there,” said Thompson. “There is a desire to increase their understanding of the organization, so they understand the opportunities in other departments as well through conversations with their co-workers.”
Laughing, he adds, “Ultimately, we all like a beer in the military as well, so this is a good excuse.”
In continuing with the Veteran support, Thompson has also developed a Veteran Management Trainee Program specially designed for Veterans with their experience in mind, to help them further their careers within CP. The program is aimed at training Veterans for front-line management jobs, and there are five courses to choose from ranging in length from 10 to 16 weeks.
“It provides them with all the skills for the role they’re about to go into, but again, there’s that strategic review of the company as well,” said Thompson. “Most veterans like to know the bigger picture, the ‘why’ of what they’re doing, the angle of what they’re doing, and I assist with that process.”
When working for the company, CP makes it easy to transition from job to job anywhere in the country. CP’s tracks stretch from Eastern to Western Canada, even venturing down into the US.
“What that means for Veterans is we have track everywhere, therefore we have jobs everywhere. (For example) if the (Veteran) is based down east, but they have aspirations to move out west, chances are we’ll probably have a job and the assets out there,” said Thompson. “The Canadian Armed Forces bases as well, about 90 per cent of them sit on our network, so if they want to join the Reserves in the future, then we can accommodate that.”
As a way to ensure a seamless transition for Veterans, all new-hires are set up with a personal Veteran mentor, a big brother of sorts, for the first two months on the job. This mentor assists the new-hire and answers any questions, acts as a personal confidant if they have any issues, or even a translator if the Veteran needs instructions explained in military jargon.
“Maybe it’s even that they just want to chat with someone who has a similar experience and background, and see if they overcame the same issues when they were transferring into the company as well,” Thompson added.
Thompson encourages interested veterans to visit their website here. He said it’s an excellent resource for discovering all that CP has to offer, complete with job descriptions translated into military jargon. Still interested? Thompson has left his e-mail on the Veteran’s page, inviting all potential hires to fire their questions and with an added personal feeling from Thompson himself.