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Local Career Programs for Military Personnel Set for Nationwide Splash
 

By Bill Leonard  3/3/2010
 


A local chapter and state council of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have developed two innovative programs that strive to help U.S. soldiers overcome the challenges they face when they return from active duty and try to re-enter the civilian workforce. These programs have met with great success in Indiana and New Jersey, where they originated, and are generating a nationwide buzz among employers, business groups and advocates for U.S. veterans.

“The response that we have received for the “Seamless Transition” program from all over Indiana and from other states has been very exciting,” said Tara Ricketts, SPHR, workforce readiness director for the SHRM Indiana State Council. “I believe we will continue to see this program expand, grow and evolve.”

The Evansville Area HR Association (EAHRA) joined with the Indiana Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) to develop the Seamless Transition program and help soldiers and reservists who are leaving the military and active duty re-enter the civilian workforce. The EAHRA program won a 2009 SHRM Pinnacle Award, which helped generate national interest from SHRM chapters and state councils outside of Indiana. SHRM’s annual Pinnacle Awards recognize state councils and chapters for creating programs that solve local workforce challenges and surpass the standard activities of SHRM affiliates.

“The responses have been very enthusiastic, and I think we are just scratching the surface of the program’s potential” said Ricketts, who served as the EAHRA workforce readiness director from 2006 to 2009 and was involved in creating the Seamless Transition program.

The program connects soldiers who are leaving active duty with EAHRA volunteers who can provide career counseling services. The career counselors help the veterans write resumes, identify job skills and prepare for job interviews. The program provides military trainers with guidance on the skills, training and certification that employers look for when assessing job candidates.

“There are many skills from military training and service that most people just don’t know how to translate into the skills and competencies that civilian employers look for in job candidates,” said Ricketts, who works as an HR generalist for American Medical Response in Evansville. “One thing that the program has done very successfully is help job seekers take skills that they learned in the military and present them in a way that helps employers understand how these skills can be applied in private-sector jobs.”

Seamless Transition expanded statewide quickly. In 2009, the program provided counseling services and career assistance to 500 members of the U.S. military who were leaving active duty. The program enlisted the help and cooperation of dozens of employers. More than 100 in the Evansville area signed a statement of support for ESGR, and these employers pledged their support to recognize, honor and enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

‘Garden State’ Working to Grow Program Nationwide

As the program in Indiana was gaining momentum, the Garden State Council of SHRM in New Jersey launched a program called “Mission … Career Success!” The Garden State Council program has similar objectives: to provide job-search and career-counseling services to U.S. soldiers who are leaving active duty. The council partnered with the Tip of the Arrow Foundation to create the career transition service program.

“I felt that we needed to develop a high-impact substantive program that provided the support military personnel needed to return to the civilian workforce and really be successful in their careers,” said Sherrill Curtis, SPHR, workforce readiness director for the Garden State Council and principal and creative director of Curtis Consulting Group LLC in Morristown, N.J.

Curtis said she was motivated to developing something better after receiving complaints from veterans who said they had attended job fairs and workshops that weren’t helpful and didn’t connect them with employers that were hiring. She said she believed that the Garden State Council and SHRM volunteers throughout New Jersey had the expertise and skills to develop a program that provided the services that veterans returning from active duty needed.

She was right, and the “Mission … Career Success!” program quickly gathered accolades from military personnel and employers throughout the state. SHRM recognized the Garden State Council for its outstanding effort with a 2009 Pinnacle Award.

“This program has grown and bloomed into something that I don’t think any of us would have imagined a year ago,” said Curtis.

_______________________________________

 ‘We are now looking at the strategies we
need to take this program to a national level.’

--Sherrill Curtis, SPHR, Garden State Council
_______________________________________

The idea for the program surfaced in October 2008, when members of the Garden State Council talked with officials of the ESGR and asked how they could help. Curtis says that the program began to jell when she met with officials from the Tip of the Arrow Foundation, which provides career counseling services to military personnel returning to civilian life from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In July 2009, the Garden State Council and Tip of the Arrow collaborated to hold a two-day job and career event at Fort Dix, N.J. Nearly 80 employers and 140 volunteer speakers, career coaches and recruiting specialists participated in the event. According to Curtis, 600 soldiers attended the first day followed by 800 the second day.

“The response that we received was fantastic,” Curtis said. “I had several service members contact me and say it was the best career event that they have ever attended.”

The key, Curtis believes, is the one-on-one attention that they try to provide to each solider and reservist.

“So many job fairs and career programs don’t offer that kind of feedback and chance to meet directly with employers and recruiters who are actually hiring,” Curtis said.

Even with the soft job market, response among employers has been strong. Many employers know that veterans make good employees with marketable skills and a strong work ethic, Curtis said, so feedback and support from businesses throughout New Jersey has been strong. She says the program has good legs and is ready to take off running across the nation.

“We are now looking at the strategies we need to take this program to a national level and make it work,” Curtis said. “I think there are great opportunities and the potential to expand this program so that it provides these high-impact and useful career-counseling services to nearly every member of the military who is leaving active duty.”

“These are just a few of the outstanding activities taking place across the country by local SHRM affiliates. If you are looking for a way to get involved in these and other important activities, visit SHRM’s web site to find a local chapter near you,” said Pamela Green, SPHR, SHRM’s chief U.S. membership officer.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

Related Links:

SHRM Pinnacle Awards Program Frequently Asked Questions, SHRM Communities

Webinar: Seamless Transition; Evansville Area Human Resource Association

Webcast: “Mission …Career Success!” Garden State Council—SHRM, 2009

Slidedeck: “Mission …Career Success!” Garden State Council—SHRM, 2009

SHRM Webcast: “Recruiting and Assisting Combat-Exposed Veterans and People with Disabilities,” SHRM Online, March 2009

Related Articles:

Pinnacle Award Winners Demonstrate Wide Range of Service, HR News, Nov. 24, 2009

Federal Initiative Launched to Promote Hiring Military Veterans, SHRM Online Staffing Management Discipline, Nov. 18, 2009

Mission: Recruitment, HR Magazine, January 2009

Employers Unsure How to Capitalize on Veterans, HR News, Nov. 11, 2007

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