Exploring new worlds after the military

Learning to navigate new cultures and ways of operating. Trying to translate past experiences to a new norm. Forging a new sense of direction.

Characteristics of moving to a different country? Not a new country, but certainly a new state; these are veteran-defined attributes of transitioning out of the military and into civilian life and employment. Add in other variables, like traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress, and the path forward becomes even more difficult.
Unemployment rates for all US veterans have dropped significantly, from about 9% in 2010 to around 3.8% in 2018.
Still, military members getting ready to transition are sometimes stymied at how to move on. In the Columbus, Ohio area, a group of veterans and supporters gathered together recently to network and share lessons learned. Organized by US Army Sgt. (Veteran) Mike Fine, now Director of Military Employment and Strategy at Fast Switch, Ltd., the group aims to meet quarterly to keep finding ways to improve the job-seeking – and retaining – situation for local vets.

What drives their passion

Representing Columbus-area IT and health care companies, banking, and employment support groups, those assembled are passionate about helping veterans to make a smooth transition. Most of them are veterans themselves.

“Twenty years ago I had a very difficult transition myself and for the first year all I thought about was going back in the Army, as I had no support or fellow veterans to talk to or bounce concerns off of,” said Fine. “After weathering the storm, I knew I needed to ensure any veteran coming after me should not experience the same difficulties or frustrations I did. I started putting together courses at the companies I was working for to assist them in understanding best practices in managing the military talent pool, thus resulting in a better on-boarding, day-to-day work experience and retention for the transitioning veteran.”

“When I left active duty in 1991,” explains Kevin Gadd, CMsgt (retired), USAF/Air National Guard, “I realized very quickly that the things I had done as a communications specialist in the Air Force did not translate at all to the growing world of technology at the time.” He went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree, acquired a computer, and “started ripping it apart and learning all I could so my skills matched my years of technology experience.” Gadd is now the Ohio Program Manager for a unique organization called Apprenti, which matches minorities, women, and veterans with apprenticeships in the technology industry. “As a retired Air Force/Air National Guard Chief with a lot of business experience, I was looking to use my skills in a nonprofit leadership role helping veterans that might not be as fortunate as I have been. Serving others is a key component of my life and I get to fulfill that in this role. “

Fine added, “I do this because of my past transitioning experiences and to fill the gap of the employer’s lack of education on the value of the transitioning veteran and their capabilities in the private sector. I view things a bit differently than most; I think about the real reason a veteran is seeking quality employment and that is to put a roof over their family’s head and food on the table; this is what drives me every day.”

Transitioning from the military, especially after many years, can be unsettling at best. Colonel Ben C. Capriato, Jr., US Army, (Ret.), and now Vice President, Military Program Leader, Customer Advocacy, at Huntington National Bank, described the difficulties he faced when moving to private employment. “First, I needed to learn how to navigate and implement ideas within the culture and processes of the new company. I found myself trying to navigate the new company like I navigated the military. Both have different cultures and processes. The second item was trying to explain my experience and equate it to the ‘new’ industry. I had to learn how to do a lot of translation and learn civilian terms. It is hard to get your head out of the military after 30 years. Third, the need for a sense of purpose. I needed to find something that allowed me to continue to have the ability to serve and give back to my community. Still being able to help service members is what I like best about my role at Huntington.”

Pictured Above -Chrisanne Gordon, MD, RLF founder and chair (left), with Mike Fine, Director of Military Employment and Strategy at Fast Switch, Ltd., at a recent Veteran Community Lunch in Dublin, Ohio

But not everyone in the group saw active duty. Liddy Heath, Director, Patient Recovery Program Office, Cardinal Health, is a member of Cardinal’s Veterans Employment Resource Group. “I know that my existence is extremely comfortable. I work very hard for my livelihood and the benefits I achieve, and I do that from a safe perspective. As I have gotten to know more men and women over the years who served, put themselves in harm’s way, and emerged from that to forge a new path for themselves, I always have been inspired and humbled by them. I finally began exploring the inspiration side of my reactions to learn how I can help and give back to them. Once I discovered some of the people and options available at Cardinal Health, I threw myself into it.”

Resources available to transitioning vets seeking employment…

More and more, there are plentiful resources available to assist in the transition, especially in gaining employment. Says Capriato, “Through my network, I have become active in supporting veterans find jobs, supported panel and round table discussions, and courses like Veterans Professional Advancement Course (VPAC) conducted by Cardinal Health and the Military Transitioning Assistance Course (MTAC) provided by Fast Switch.”

Apprenti’s Gadd says, “There are so many organizations like mine right now to help veterans looking for careers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and seek out organizations like Apprenti, Bunker Labs, Team RWB, HireHeroes USA, and others that really care and are here to help the veteran. I am constantly amazed at how many organizations there are now because there really was not a lot back when I transitioned in 1991.”

Jeff Young, known as The LinkedIn Guru, who offers training on LinkedIn for free, emphasizes the value of this tool for those seeking employment in today’s world, pointing out that the company offers one free year of LinkedIn premium membership to veterans and their spouses. “Make sure you are just as well prepared on LinkedIn as you would be with your resume,” he says. And for those on the civilian side, “Act as a mentor to someone you know who is a veteran who is transitioning into the private sector.”

Websites abound for job-seekers; even Google has developed some searching tools that help the effort, focusing search terms on “jobs for veterans.” Other innovative internet resources include the Military Skills Translator + Personality Assessment at Military.com and a full rundown of best jobs, along with employment details and pay scales, at GIJobs.com.

A growing roster of employers have created internal teams to support veterans employed there, and to help develop company veteran policy, as mentioned above by Fast Switch’s Fine and Cardinal Health’s Heath.

What can employers do more of?

The employment picture for separating veterans has dramatically improved, but is far from perfect. The group offered some advice for employers.

“I think it is important to understand the military culture and mindset of those who served,” says Capriato. “Understand that the veteran, especially the newly transitioned, will not have specific industry experience, but the veteran will have unique skills and the aptitude to learn their new role quickly. In the military, a service member rarely has experience in the role they are picked to fill.”
Fine agrees. “The biggest gap I see currently is employer education on the veteran talent pool.” He also points out that employers should hire “an established, proven and passionate military leader to run their Military and Veterans Affairs initiative. I often see employers hire non-veterans to run these initiatives; this needs to have a leader with direct experience to be able to truly relate to the struggles of a transitioning veteran. A company needs to have their C-Suite team to be invested in this initiative as well to ensure this is properly supported and funded.”

“Set clear expectations that take into account the point of view of a veteran,” says Heath. “There are many HR programs I see at large companies that are built to attract the 23- to 29-year old set. If companies are willing to expend that energy, taking even a small amount of energy to develop programs or expectations for veterans would go a long way and access a group of people with profound sets of skills that present a different value proposition and potentially higher return, particularly in experienced people managers.”
“Any employer with openings in good jobs is a perfect fit for hiring veterans,” says Gadd. “If there are already veterans working there, that would be helpful. It would also be helpful if they have leaders that understand the unique situations that can arise, especially with Guard and Reserve members. Know the laws pertaining to veterans, Guard and Reserves, including your tax benefits for hiring veterans. And take advantage of the unique leadership skills and attention to detail that most veterans bring to the organization.”

Good advice from the Columbus team:
What do you want veterans to know as they prepare for transitioning?

• Take time off to decompress
• Establish a network of veterans (they will introduce you to others for support and employment opportunities)
• Network, network, network (every opportunity is a networking opportunity)
• Remove military terms and acronyms from your lexicon and resume
• Continue to network after you start your new job within your new company
• You are never “fully” transitioned or out of the military because of the inculcation of the culture that is focused on throughout your time in the service.
• Just because you are out of the military, it does not mean you forget the values and ethical standards that where instilled in you; it is what sets you apart from everyone else and you are paving the way for those who will follow you.
• Do your homework and really get to understand the culture and climate of the company you want to work at and understand how you will contribute to the team effort.
• Use every resource available to you to increase your awareness, hone your interview/ interactive skills, and create a network to support you
• When you get the chance to interview, have a concise and articulate message about your 5 – 10 year vision for yourself; it will set you apart.
• Start at least 6-12 months out at a minimum before the date when you want to start work and begin building your network pipeline
• Develop several versions of your resume based on existing roles that align with your career goals, so when it is time to officially apply, you are way ahead of the game.
• Networking is the key in this day and age
• Finding a great, responsive mentor is critical as well. It’s about quality mentors not quantity.