Military veterans help others find civilian jobs.
This year, members of the Overwatch Partnership will celebrate Veterans Day knowing that their fledgling organization has grown to serve more than 60 military service veterans returning to civilian life in central Ohio.
Starting in early 2016, Overwatch Partnership now boasts dozens of mentors working face-to-face with student and early-career veterans of the post-9/11 world, as well as talent and corporate HR professionals helping connect veterans to job opportunities.
Overwatch began with help from companies that hired several veterans to work consulting and support jobs.
“Mike Rogers, Jon Rust and I, the cofounders, all worked at Nationwide as consultants,” recalls Overwatch Board President Eric Gentzel. “We started going out to lunch once a month, talking about veteran issues and our careers. We finally said, ‘We can keep talking about the problem every month or start doing something about it.'”
Based on their own experiences, they developed a formula to help returning veterans, including matching them with mentors, connecting them with recruiters and helping them build their networks. “Mentorship and networking are probably two of the biggest things that have helped us in our careers. We have pretty good networks ourselves, and we know a lot of talented people who would be willing to help, to be mentors and recruiters,” says Gentzel, a program manager for OhioHealth and an Army Reserve major.
“There's mentoring up to the point where they get their first job, but it doesn't end there. We are constantly having those conversations,” says Rogers, a senior manager with Centric Consulting and a master sergeant in the Ohio Air National Guard.
A lot of people may think that the armed services and the Veterans Administration help facilitate the transition to civilian work, but it's not that simple, Rogers says. “It's hard for (veterans organizations) to scale, because there are so many people getting out. It's not just going and sitting in a class, teaching you some aspects of transitioning. It's a high touch that we offer that you don't get from the military.” Gentzel adds, “I became frustrated with the hiring process. I didn't know how to apply for jobs. I didn't know how to interview. I didn't have the networking skills.”
“Now we've got mentoring, we've got coaching; we've got the talent specialists that are interacting with the mentee all through the process. For the military to do that, that would be extremely challenging,” Rogers says.
Half of the mentees are ready to enter the work force fulltime, but the other half are students, thanks to email marketing and connections with Michael Carrell, assistant provost and director of the Ohio State University's Office of Military and Veterans Services, who has also become an Overwatch mentor.
Ohio may not have strong military employment like Norfolk, San Diego or Washington, D.C., where strong veterans assistance groups already exist. But Ohio does have the fifth largest veteran population in the country, Carrell says.
Other Big 10 schools will get the message about Overwatch Partnership at a fall conference at OSU, and similar organizations are expected to get organized at Ann Arbor and West Lafayette, home to the University of Michigan and Purdue, Carrell says. There are nationwide mentoring services online for veterans, but the local, personal approach of Overwatch is unique.
For James Moore, an OSU student in health information management, life after his seven-year service in the Marines didn't include much help from other veterans groups or the VA. After arriving in Columbus, though, he received mentoring help from Columbus Rotary, which has lots of veteran volunteers, and from Overwatch.
“Before, I had always enjoyed networking, but I never thought about it on a professional level,” Moore says. Now he has plenty of job opportunities and plenty of new friends in his network, which also includes his Pelotonia training group. He has received job and interning opportunities at OhioHealth and Nationwide Children's Hospital, and a mentor at Cardinal Health. He credits Overwatch mentors and talent recruiters for much of his success.
“I don't think you can have too many mentors, because each of them has different knowledge and experiences to share,” he says.
Mike Mahoney is a freelance writer.