- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When the national Hiring Our Heroes campaign launched in March 2011, the U.S. business community was quick to respond, turning their efforts toward hiring veterans of the U.S. armed forces and Southern Maryland was no exception.
Since the start of the campaign, more than 9,500 veterans and military spouses have found jobs nationwide, according to the National Chamber Foundation, which said it is on track with partner agencies to host a total of 400 hiring fairs this year.
The goal is to engage the business community to commit to hiring 500,000 veterans by the end of 2014 and with more than 250,000 service members transitioning out of the military each year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the initiative couldn’t have come at a better time.
Fostering the concept, corporations such as Disney and General Motors have funneled dollars into marketing efforts in line with the new directive, with both helping to pay for job fairs across the country aimed at finding meaningful employment for returning veterans.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has joined with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense as recently as last month to launch a training program for transitioning service members and veterans called “Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup,” to help them become entrepreneurs and create jobs.
Even still, the National Chamber Foundation estimates that 1 million men and women will be leaving the military within the next five years, leading to higher-than-average unemployment among veterans.
So why should companies hire veterans?
“I haven’t seen actual numbers, but if you were to look at our region from a per-capita basis, we probably have one of the larger percentages of veterans than any area in the nation with proximity to the bases we have and our distance from [Washington, D.C.],” said Reuben B. Collins II (D), vice president of the Charles County commissioners. “And I know in terms of Charles County we have a very solid veteran community, and so I believe it is incumbent upon local government to recognize what veterans bring to the table and help them out as much as possible.”
Calvert County Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said of the need to hire veterans, “Obviously, it is critically important. ... Most of our veterans, if not all of them, have incredible skills. Just to survive and thrive in our current military environment requires skills that most employers would benefit from everything from discipline to leadership, time management, technical skills of various kinds, teamwork I could go on and on.”
Kory Raftery, plant spokesman for Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, agreed.
“Veterans generally have a value structure that benefits companies,” he said. “A lot of times, when we hire veterans, though we certainly appreciate their service, but we hire them because they’re the best people for the job.”
Robert Shea, executive vice president for strategy at Smartronix Inc. in Hollywood, added, “People in the military aren’t a bunch of clock-punchers; they’ve got a strong work ethic and they’re problem solvers.”
Shea retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in September 2006 as a lieutenant general after 36 years of service.
“They’ve not only got the technical skills, but the leadership skills, the ability to follow, the ability to be innovative and creative when faced with adverse circumstances, and they’re able to perform even when they might not have all the resources they need, because they understand there is still a mission to accomplish.”
What are companies looking for?
“Generally speaking, obviously we are looking for someone with the right technical skills for the job,” said Tania Dawson, command recruiting program manager for Naval Air Systems Command, headquartered at Pax River. “Then, of course, if the technical qualifications are there, we move to the interview process where we look for people who are team players, have good communication skills and things like that,” she said, noting that of all of NAVAIR’s 800-plus external hires in fiscal 2012, which ended June 30, more than 47 percent have been veterans. “We have roughly 1,500 hires a year total, and at least 40 percent or more will be veterans.”
Explicit detail on a resume also is key, Dawson said.
If a veteran qualifies for 30 percent or more disability, that, too, should be added to a resume.
“Put your medals and special commendations on there,” Dawson said. “Everything you’ve done or received, detail that on the resume so that a prospective employer knows exactly what you have to offer. ... Let us know who you are and what you can do up front.”
Julian Dickerson, director of recruiting at The MIL Corp. in Lexington Park, said, “I think the greatest value resumewise is something that indicates how a specific task or duty was performed. ... What we want to see is the level of effort that they put toward a task, and by virtue of watching the level of dedication of these individuals who work so hard to ensure our freedom, I would hope that most people realize that we need to re-indoctrinate them into the civilian workforce after such a sacrifice.”
Scott Binkney, recruiting lead for Smartronix, agreed that resume detail is key.
“Your [Military Occupational Specialty] or primary skill set might label you as, say, a network person, but you might have other collateral duties for support equipment, hazardous material handling, safety officer, aircraft ... officer,” Binkney said.
He spent 14 years in the Navy as an aviation electrician technician and Navy recruiter.
“If you don’t spell that out, we’re going to think you did nothing but networking, and we might miss a skill set that could have landed you the job,” he said.
Binkney added that of Smartronix’s 575 employees, approximately 75 to 80 percent served in the military.
“Honestly, if we had a choice between two people, and the only difference was prior military service, we’re going to pick the veteran 100 percent of the time,” Binkney said.
From uniform to business suit
Wes Worsham, a former intelligence officer who spent 5½ years in the Marines, has worked for Walmart since October 2008, serving as a market assets protection manager. But life before Walmart was tough, he said.
Upon separating from the military in 2005, Worsham pursued a law degree from Charleston School of Law and soon after taking the bar exam found himself faced with crushing debt and no job. While actively seeking employment, Worsham sought help from military recruiting firm Orion International, which sent him to a job fair in Atlanta in hopes of finding a new career.
“At the time, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, I guess,” he said. “When I was at the job fair, Walmart was one of about a half-dozen companies I interviewed with. They really stood out to me; we were speaking the same language.”
Worsham said he received a call from Walmart a few hours after the interview offering him a job.
“They asked if I wanted to help run a few stores for them, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since,” he said.
Worsham said his job requires a good deal of travel, taking him from the District to Bowie, Clinton, Waldorf, La Plata, California, Prince Frederick and Dunkirk weekly.
“I absolutely enjoy my job,” he said. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, and if I had another veteran sitting in front of me, I’d tell them not to feel like they have to stay in the field they were in while in the military. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and explore other opportunities outside of your military job specification.”
Nineteen-year-old Lance Cpl. Brian Reilly, a Marine Corps reservist, rolled into his entry-level networking job at Smartronix shortly after completing basic training and MOS courses at a time when he was looking for a more substantial income and stable career. One of the lucky few, Reilly said it didn’t take him long to find meaningful work.
“I put my resume in on a Monday, and by Thursday I was coming in for an interview,” he said. “I had a follow-up interview that Friday, and by the following Monday, I had got the job.”
Reilly said he, too, attributes his swift hire to his military training.
“I think that just being a part of the Marine Corps really stood out for me, because I’m still very young, and I didn’t have any formal schooling beyond high school,” he said. “And it didn’t hurt that Mr. [Tom] Kelly, who hired me, served in the Marine Corps as well,” he joked.
“It kind of also plays into that old adage of ‘taking care of our own,’” said Kelly, a project manager and information assurance officer for Smartronix, who spent four years in the Marines. “But it goes well beyond that it’s the hard work, the dedication, the attention to detail the things that the military brings to the table that the kids who have just graduated from college just don’t have.”
David Fiore, general supervisor of outage management at Calvert Cliffs, added that pride and professionalism are essential. Having spent six years in the U.S. Navy as an electrician’s mate on submarines, Fiore said he attributes his subsequent 22 years of success at the power plant to his time served.
“Being able to draw from your experience in the military is a big positive you have to be able to sell that, know what people are looking for, find your niche and then sell yourself in that niche,” he said.
What resources are out there?
Alan Crawley, local veterans employment representative for Southern Maryland at the Waldorf office of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said whatever local veterans need, he can help them get it.
“We offer resume workshops, tips on interviewing skills, job-seeking workshops to show them how to actually go about their search, networking skills — you name it, we do it,” said Crawley, who travels the tri-county area each week helping veterans in the transition process.
Crawley said he works with about 50 veterans a month, be they young service members looking to transition out or more seasoned vets who have been out in the workforce for some time.
“The main goal is to provide them with the opportunity to connect with various employment opportunities in Southern Maryland as well as across the state,” he said. “We help with out of state, too, though.”
Crawley also touted the importance of familiarizing veterans with the bigger job search engines available.
“Maryland Workforce Exchange the state database for employment is a one-stop shop that spiders in jobs from all of the big websites like USAJobs.gov, Indeed.com, Monster.com and things like that, and even pulls jobs from surrounding states,” he said, noting that the main thing veterans should focus on is being specific in their job searches. “They really have to identify what it is that they want to do. ... If you are doing the ‘I can do a little bit of everything’ kind of search, you’ll never find anything.”
Pax River’s Fleet and Family Support Center also is available to veterans and those looking to transition out of the military, offering regular Transition Assistance Program classes as well as a handful of other courses.
“We offer resume review, career classes for interview skills and resume writing, ‘How to Work a Job Fair,’ ‘10 Steps to a Federal Job’ and more,” said Angela Armer, manager for TAP on the base. “We also keep a job book here stocked with all the latest job openings on base and in the local area.”
NAVAIR also is working to assist transitioning vets, Dawson said, noting the company’s Shipmate to Workmate program a collaborative Navy program reaching out to approximately 2,941 sailors who have been told to leave as of Sept. 1 due to overmanned ratings.
“Some of those people affected by this Enlisted Review Board have up to 14 years of service with families and so on, so NAVAIR has been dedicated and aggressive in reaching out to those folks to make sure they have all of the information they need to not only transition out successfully, but also understand how the federal government application process works and what they need to do to be considered for government jobs in the Navy or elsewhere,” Dawson said.
NAVAIR recruiters also attend local veteran hiring events as part of their outreach, and the organization also conducts myriad Wounded Warrior efforts throughout the year.
“Through the Wounded Warrior program, we’re looking for those individuals who have decided to serve their country and have obviously paid a heavy price, and in many cases they want to continue serving but are not able to do so,” said Capt. Jim Litsch, Wounded Warrior program manager for NAVAIR. “What we try to do, then, is identify other opportunities and career paths for them, but the key is that we’re not just trying to find them a job we’re trying to find them a career.”
Veterans who can claim 30 percent or more disability can qualify for noncompetitive hire, Litsch said, noting that NAVAIR has brought more than 350 Wounded Warriors on board across the organization since 2010.
“Beyond that, don’t hesitate to take advantage of your GI Bill and continue your education a degree can sometimes be the make-or-break factor in the job hunt,” Litsch said.
The 1 percent
“Overall, finding employment nowadays requires a lot of effort,” Litsch said. “Some even say that finding another job is a full-time job in itself. But the great thing about veterans is that they bring a lot to the table with respect to leadership skills, their ability [to] learn quickly, their ability to overcome adversity, and they just end up becoming a big plus in the workforce.”
Shea added, “We always talk about the 1 percent in the United States in reference to wealth, but I would say that we’ve got another 1 percent, and those are the ones who serve. ... And I think it is incumbent upon the nation, it is incumbent upon our government that we have set the conditions so that every one of those men and women has the opportunity to find a job when they take off their uniform. It’s something our country owes them — never have so many given so much and asked for so little.”
To learn more
For more information about additional opportunities for veterans available through the U.S. Small Business Administration, go to www.sba.gov/vets.
For more information on the Operation Boots to Business training program, and on how to take part as a transitioning service member, go to www.sba.gov/bootstobusiness.
To request a free print version of the Technology Handbook for St. Mary’s County, a directory of technology businesses, human resources contacts to assist job-seekers and listings of local education and training institutes for local workforce development, call 301-475-4200, ext. 1400, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veterans and current service members interested in Patuxent River Naval Air Station’s Fleet and Family Support Center classes on resume writing, interview skills, “How to Work a Job Fair,” “10 Steps to a Federal Job” and more, call 301-342-4911.
For Naval Air Systems Command job opportunities, go to the NAVAIR career site at www.navair.navy.mil/jobs.
To schedule an appointment with Alan Crawley, local veterans employment representative for Southern Maryland, call the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation at 301-374-1144.