Stephanie Drake holds a degree in Oceanography from the United States Naval Academy and served eight years in the United States Marine Corps. Although a logistician by trade with the Marines, she held seven different jobs during those eight years, including managing an airport, training Iraqi policewomen and carrying out historic preservation work on 19th-century buildings. in Washington, DC, to name a few.
Drake’s service record is unique to him, but his overall military experience is not.
“I was trained as a logistics officer, but along the way I learned other skills, and that’s not special to me,” she shared with a UpSkill work forum public at the end of 2021.
After his military service, Drake spent almost seven years working for Shell and now leads NextOp, a Houston-born nonprofit that helps veterans turn their vast skills and military experience into civilian careers. Each year, more than 200,000 men and women leave the armed forces and return to civilian life. About 5,000 of them are moving to or returning to Houston, which, with more than 250,000 veterans in residence, has the nation’s second-largest and fastest-growing veteran population. Veterans and transitioning military members bring a wealth of experience to the civilian workforce, but often struggle to enter the civilian workforce. Their skills and competencies can seem alien to civilian hiring managers and talent acquisition teams, and so they get overlooked and miss out on good opportunities. In turn, employers unwittingly pass on good talent.
A path of transition
According to data from the Pew Research Center, one in four veterans had a civilian job after leaving the service; these were more than twice as likely to have been commissioned officers than non-commissioned officers or enlisted personnel. Pew research shows more than 40% of post-9/11 veterans felt overqualified for their first job after leaving the service – nearly half (44%) of all veterans left their first job within a year , including 20% in the top six. month.
About 80% of all service members are considered “intermediate enlisted,” meaning they hold ranks E-3 through E-11. Typically, these members are between the ages of 22 and 28, have served between four and eight years, and may have some post-secondary education or even a two- or four-year degree. They are the ones NextOp specifically helps launch meaningful civilian careers. NextOp’s team of employment coordinators work with candidates to convey their accomplishments and skills in terms that civilian employers can recognize and value. The team helps “civilize” resumes, prepare candidates for job interviews, and research companies and opportunities that would suit a candidate. It also helps employers understand how to recognize the talents of veterans, see their potential for growth, and prevent them from being inadvertently excluded from a pool of candidates.
“They don’t have a college network to lean on. […]. They don’t have years and years of military experience, so they don’t have a huge personal network either. Their friends back home, if they’re from here, aren’t necessarily well-built in their careers either. So they rely on our network of business partners to learn about all the different industries that are here,” Drake said. “We really work to frame each part to understand each other and find the best fits.”
Veterans have experience working with counterparts and peers, leading teams, and assessing risk and making decisions. They are no strangers to training and generally learn quickly, Drake said. And, like Drake, they often held multiple positions in seemingly unrelated fields. Employers might confuse such a move with an unwelcome “job change” record, but, Drake said, it can actually reveal a veteran’s attractive attributes such as adaptability, the ability to learn, as well as than the ability to follow the direction of leadership at work. where someone is needed – all advantages in a dynamic company or work environment.
This learning ability is part of what makes candidates with a military background attractive to Carla Thompson, workforce development manager for industrial construction, maintenance and servicing company Turner Industries Group, LLC. .
“For me, veterans are so valuable to any organization. The training they went through in the military is amazing – it saves me weeks and months of training,” Thompson told the forum. “When I hire a military candidate, I hire someone who is used to schedules. I receive someone who is used to being on time. I get someone who is going to do the job 100% because that’s what he was trained to do. They ask questions. They are not afraid to lead when needed.
Thompson — and Turner, in general — recognize how well veterans with certain training or knowledge can fit into a range of roles within the organization. Those with a logistics background can transfer their skills to warehousing and warehousing management, Thompson said, and those with a mechanical background can transfer to millwrights and piping. with additional learning.
Open doors to veterans
Attracting talented veterans starts with having an open mind about a candidate’s background and potential.
Thompson works closely with Turner hiring managers to understand business needs and recommend promising candidates. These managers are open and ready to listen, she said. The company is able to attract new talent that it knows will meet immediate and future needs.
Drake said some employers are surprised to learn that veterans aren’t interested in continuing a job they held while serving. Employers can look to veterans in their existing workforce to better understand how to attract, develop and retain great veteran talent, she said.
For example, another large, veteran-friendly employer, Silver Eagle Distributors Houston, LLC, has created community veteran resource groups to help its network of veterans and build camaraderie from their service experiences. shared, according to the company’s head of talent acquisition, Katrina Salazar. Veterans also provide feedback on future programs and initiatives, she said.
Employers new to recruiting veterans can set small hiring goals, Drake said, and receive support. In 2018, the US Department of Defense launched the SkillBridge program, which allows service members to use up to their last 180 days of service to train and learn through an apprenticeship, internship or similar program with an industry partner, while continuing to receive military pay and benefits. In other words, employers can bring this talent into their organization (and try it out) at no cost. NextOp facilitates the program in the Houston area. Employers can partner with organizations such as veteran-focused Adaptive Construction Solutions to train and hire veterans through apprenticeships and the Greater Houston Apprentice Network (GHAN) to create their own apprenticeship programs.
Attracting veterans also requires clarity from employers. Employers can help veterans and transitioning military members, as well as organizations like NextOp, by articulating skill sets, certifications, and other workforce needs. Employers can “open the doors” to veterans and transitioning military members, Drake said.
“A big part of what service members are looking for is clarity,” she said — not necessarily binary absolutes, but a path of growth. “They like to see expanded opportunities, expanded responsibilities and what that gives them.”
The Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative aims to strengthen the talent pool employers need to grow their business and help all Houstonians learn relevant skills and connect to good careers that increase their economic opportunities and mobility. . NextOp Veterans, Silver Eagle Distributors Houston, LLC and Turner Industries Group, LLC are among more than 200 regional partners in the initiative. Learn more.
The UpSkill Works forum series features conversations with regional business, education and community leaders; policy makers; and high-level thought leaders on key labor issues facing the greater Houston area. View all past forums here.