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Connecting Veterans With Careers

Former Military Personnel and The Businesses who need them benefit when schools and companies work together

Ever since protests against the Vietnam War shut down its New York City campus in the late 1960s, Columbia University has had a hard time shaking its anti-military reputation -- even though its School of General Studies was created in 1947 largely to address needs of servicemen returning from World War II. Today, the university is once again recognized as an institution deeply committed to veterans -- not only providing them a higher education but partnering with organizations and companies to help them attain civilian employment and leadership roles. The University, says Curtis Rodgers, vice dean of General Studies, where the majority of Columbia's 600 veteran students are enrolled, helps them transition "not only into the academic world, but into what happens after it, too."

Across the country in San Diego, the same "focus on progression to career" prevails at California State University San Marcos, says Navy veteran Patricia Reily, who since becoming its first veteran services director a year ago has forged a partnership with the Northern San Diego Chamber of Commerce:  "We're constantly looking at, what does our community need? That's what we need to provide."

Michael Betancourt has benefited from that kind of thinking. After leaving the Marine Corps in 2012 and attending San Marcos, the 34-year-old disabled veteran and self-professed entrepreneur is thriving. He drew on the school's strong veteran support to land a fellowship through the Mission Continues, a nonprofit that connects veterans with community volunteer projects. That led to a role at an accelerator, Vet-Tech, that helps veteran-led startups scale their ventures, and an IT manager job at biotech company Illumina. "Most veterans want to do something bigger than us, to change the world," says Betancourt. "I get to work for a company that's transforming healthcare, including the fight against cancer, while keeping a foot in the entrepreneurial scene."

In today's competitive, skills-driven environment, aligning educations and training with employer needs is crucial, and particularly so for vets, whose military competencies are valuable in the civilian arena but often don't easily translate as such, says Daniel Nichols, senior vice president of Victory Media, which provides tools for veterans seeking work and helps corporations connect with them. "There's a tremendous amount of confusion about how what you learn skill-set-wise in the military translates into the civilian workforce," says Nichols. "The thinking is we'll take your specialty area one-to-one and you end up with a lot of mismatches. There are no clear pathways." Snipers and explosive ordnance specialists, for example, may incorrectly assume they're qualified only for similar work. However, they're capable of leading small teams in high-pressure situations, have demonstrated attention to detail, and can work under strict deadlines without supervision -- attributes prized by civilian employers.

According to Nichols, helping vets identify and articulate what they bring to the table -- and helping employers understand it -- is key to securing jobs for the more than 250,000 service members who leave the military each year. While post-9 / 11 veteran unemployment dropped below 5% for the first time in August, force reduction in coming years will lead to a swelling population of veterans "pursuing education or civilian careers," he says. "As military departments scale down, I hope we don't lose the momentum we've had for supporting the military and their families."

Each year Victory Media evaluates educational institutions and employers to calculate its Military Friendly" ratings, conferred on those that make an exceptional effort to recruit, retain, and support veterans. Cal State San Marcos has received the designation; so has Columbia, which quickly and enthusiastically embraced the Yellow 'Ribbon Program created by the Post-9 / 11 GI Bill that, in 2009, made higher priced private institutions more financially accessible to veterans. Among Columbia's efforts to help transition its vet student is a partnership with Moody's Investors Service that provides scholarships, including internships and networking opportunities.

Among Military Friendly Employers, USAA is a standout. The financial services organization makes sure vets and military spouses comprise 30% of is annual hires and maintains a robust slate of veteran-focused programs, one of which has made a huge difference in Kelsey Koningsor's life. After the 26-year-old signals intelligence analyst left the Army this year, she felt "a little frantic. After you're out of the military, nobody's there to help you. You're on your own." Then she talked to one of her former first sergeants, who'd been hired by USAA, and applied to VetFit, the company's competitive Java software development training and internship program.

"I'd never seen a line of code --it was terrifying," says Koningsor, who nevertheless mastered the challenge and in September joined USAA's IT team at its headquarters in san Antonio. "The military instills into you hard work," she says. "If I was just straight out of high school, I don't know if I would have had that drive."

Jackie Purdy, vice president for talent at USAA, is inspired by that drive as well as the educations of vets: "Everyone assumes that vets just bring soft skills to the table -- leadership, troubleshooting, logical thinking -- but we forget that the military is a highly educated force that brings hard technical skills to the corporate world."

Only three in 10 applicants are accepted into the armed services; many successful applicants go on to gain highly marketable STEM skills. "A combat engineer in the Army for eight years is much more qualified than your typical four-year graduate who's never had any practical experience," says Andrew Schwartz, a former Marine who now heads Virginia's V3 (Virginia Values Veterans), a government training and certification program with a successful record of helping employers hire veterans. "We're very interested in making sure we capitalize on this highly trained resource. Hiring vets is a solution to business needs, veteran needs, and community needs."

Hiring Vets Accelerates Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Hewlett Packard Enterprise uses technology to accelerate business outcomes for organizations worldwide. We advance this mission by recruiting veterans and helping them accelerate their careers. Today veterans make up an estimated 8% of our U.S. workforce. Our industry-leading HPE Veterans Program includes talent acquisition, mentoring, and an employee resource network that makes us the company of choice for men and women who have served our country in uniform. To date, our specialized veteran talent acquisition personnel have placed vets in Services, Sales, IT, Engineering, and Administration positions. We are proud to hire veterans. Just as HPE uses technology to accelerate business outcomes, veteran colleagues help accelerate our organization.

Hyundai Helping Vets Train For and Find Jobs

Since 2006, Hyundai has forged an award-winning effort recruiting veterans for corporate, dealership and affiliate employment opportunities, HMA's expanding military recruitment effort, the Hyundai /Veteran Employment Transition (VET) program, helps transitioning military personnel with resume development, recruiter introductions, inteviewing and pre-hire technical traing. Hundreds of vets have found employment through the program.

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