Toyota on a Military Mission

December 7, 2004

When Toyota Motor Sales USA sought to hire thousands of skilled technicians and mechanics, the company set its sights on an unusual target: the U.S. military.

    Toyota set up a special Web site allowing active servicemen and servicewomen, veterans and military families to search for jobs at 1,417 Toyota and Lexus dealerships across the country.

"We had a mandate"
Larry Distler coordinates the Hire a Hero program for Toyota Motor Sales, which is the sales, marketing, distribution and customer service arm of Toyota, Lexus and Scion in the United States. Distler says that the idea for the online recruitment center was born of his company’s desire to do something for the military while the nation is at war. "Toyota has always been involved in supporting the military, but we wanted to come up with a way to support our servicemen and women who are coming home from the war."

    When Distler and his team began approaching dealerships about the possibility of hiring veterans, he says the response they got was overwhelming. "They said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We had a mandate."

    The Web tool, developed with Taleo, a San Francisco-based provider of talent management solutions, allows military personnel and their families to search for vacant positions at Toyota and Lexus dealerships by city and state. Interested job seekers can apply for such positions as sales consultants, service technicians and front-office support staff. For returning military personnel, Distler says, the Web site provides a way to get a jump on a job search. "If you’re a Marine from Oklahoma and you know you’re going back there in six months, you can start a dialogue with a dealer there." Each dealership now has a Hire a Hero coordinator, Distler says.

Unfilled positions
The online application site will do more than let Toyota Motor Sales show its patriotism. If successful, it could also help the company to overcome a severe shortage of skilled automotive technicians that has plagued the industry in recent years. Industry analysts say that as many as 60,000 such positions currently are going unfilled. On December 6, the U.S. Department of Labor announced it’s giving a $150,000 grant to acoalition of manufacturers and dealers to "gather, validate and deliver information and data about career opportunities in the automotive industry to career-related Web sites and to public workforce development professionals."

    By reaching out to military personnel, Toyota can tap into a pool of skilled labor. "The men and women of the U.S. military make up one of the best talent pools in America," says Don Esmond, a Marine Corps veteran and senior vice president and general manager of the Toyota division of Toyota Motor Sales, USA. "Our dealers have found that military veterans are well-trained, valuable additions to the workplace."

    For its part, Toyota hopes to provide the new veterans with something that may be just as important as a job: a successful transition back to civilian life. "In the past, people coming home from the military haven’t had the easiest time reintegrating," Distler says. "They leave the armed forces and they have no network. Our goal is to have these folks come home and find employment opportunities more easily than in the past."

    The Hire a Hero Web site, accessible from and, went live in September and has since attracted a flurry of interest from military families. It’s attracting about 2,000 monthly visitors. As of early December, six former military men and women have been hired at California dealerships.

    This fall, Toyota sought to boost the project’s profile by promoting it during NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races in cities near large military bases. The No. 22 Tundra truck, driven by racer Bill Lester, sported the Hire a Hero logo.

    As for the number of military personnel who have been successfully matched with jobs, Distler admits that it’s still small. But there’s a good reason for that, he says. "You don’t have tons of people coming out of the military right now. When the issue gets resolved," he says, referring to the war in Iraq, "people will be on their way home."