Military veterans get help in translating the job skills they learned in the armed services into desirable traits sought by savvy employers.
Launching a career and landing the right job can be a steep climb for military veterans, as former Air Force Sgt. Sean Poncinie can readily attest. For him, the journey began when he left the service in 2005 and ended seven years later when he was hired as a quality assurance analyst at IGS Energy in Dublin.
In between, Poncinie, who had served as a security specialist in the Air Force, earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Otterbein University while working his way through school as a bartender and server at a restaurant. The Westerville native graduated from Otterbein in 2009 in the depths of the recession and grew frustrated when he struggled to find a job with the sort of technology-centric career path he was seeking.
Then Poncinie received a phone call in 2012 that was to change his life. It came from Halcyon Solutions Senior Director Alan Day, who had spotted Poncinie's resume on a job site as he looked for candidates for the Dublin-based information technology consulting firm's Veteran Workforce Development Program. The program, launched in 2011 by Halcyon CEO Mohan Viddam, provides free IT training to veterans and helps them find jobs after they complete a five-week course in software testing.
"It seemed too good to be true that someone was actually calling me and that such a program for veterans even existed," Poncinie remembers. "But I said, 'I'll give it a shot.' Other than marrying my wife and us having a child, that was the single greatest decision I ever made in my life. They took me under their wing and gave me the tools to be successful."
IGS Energy hired Poncinie two weeks after he completed the Halcyon program. He has been promoted twice since joining the company and now works as a systems analyst.
He calls the whole experience "a dream come true," and that is exactly what Viddam had in mind when he created the Halcyon program. He sees it as an extension of his company's other efforts to give back to the community, whether that's helping the needy in his native India or adopted home in central Ohio. Since its creation four years ago, the Halcyon program has trained about 30 veterans with more than two-thirds of them landing IT jobs with average starting salaries of $55,000 a year.
"I've lived in this country 35 years and am very proud to be a U.S. citizen," Viddam says. "I want to help these veterans who have defended our country get training in IT and get jobs."
Such sentiment is common among employers in central Ohio and throughout the state as companies see the value in hiring veterans with skills that transfer well to the workplace, says Eileen Corson, communications director for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.
"We have a lot of employers that are real champions for veterans and work hard to hire them," she says, pointing to Cardinal Health, Chase, American Electric Power, Nationwide Insurance and Scotts Miracle-Gro as local examples.
Corson also says that ODVS encourages employers to register on the state's Veterans Business Support Center at OhioMeansJobs.com and identify themselves as "veteran friendly." The center can help employers find qualified veterans for job openings, post jobs, screen resumes, find demographic information about veterans in any area of Ohio and get information on tax credits and other workforce development programs available for companies hiring vets.
The Business Support Center is one of a number of efforts by Gov. John Kasich and state legislators to help veterans find jobs and improve their access to higher education, Corson says. Many were included in Ohio House Bill 488 that Kasich signed into law in June 2014. Among them were fast-tracking the process for qualified veterans to get professional licenses, ranging for ones for truck drivers to medical assistants, from state agencies; giving veterans college credit for their military training and experience, and encouraging public colleges and universities to help vets make the transition to college.
In addition, veteran employment representatives with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services work with vets looking for jobs or to start a career. That includes helping them put their military training and experience into language that employers can understand.
Translating those skills is one of the biggest challenges that veterans face when trying to find employment, says Merry Korn, founder and CEO of Columbus-based Pearl Interactive Network, which provides staffing and recruiting services nationally for call centers, administrative services, back-office support and help desks.
Her 11-year-old social enterprise company specializes in employing veterans, people with disabilities and those living in "geographically challenged areas" where jobs are scarce. In line with that mission, Pearl Interactive has been successful in placing disabled veterans in jobs, even working virtually from their homes.
There are a lot of employers who don't know where to look for veterans, Korn says, but numerous organizations stand ready to connect them. At the state level, they include ODVS, ODJFS and Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission. Openings can also be posted on military job boards operated by Career Builder, Monster, Recruit Military and Vet Success. In addition, they can be posted with veteran's organizations such as AmVets, Catholic War Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart and Ohio National Guard.
Korn says employers who are able to match their job requirements with the skills of the veterans they hire find the high quality of work and retention rates (especially with disabled veterans) are a "tremendous benefit" to them. She cites a long list of attributes that vets bring to the workplace such as leadership, maturity, critical thinking, loyalty, resilience and perseverance as well as being goal- and team-oriented and performing under pressure.
Employers should also be aware that officers coming out of the military are experienced in keeping projects on budget and on time, leading teams and focusing on metrics and outcomes, says Cliff Rich, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who works as manager of enterprise information technology at Cardinal Health in Dublin. The challenge for veterans looking for work, he says, is translating those skills and experiences in business terms such as return on investment and cost savings.
Rich also feels that many people don't understand the type of work done in the military because only about one percent of Americans have served in the armed forces.
"The only reference that the vast amount of people have about what we do in the military comes from the Hollywood image of (soldiers) as action figures-door busters, trigger pullers and bomb droppers," he says. "That's generally not accurate. It's a population with a lot of highly educated, strategic-thinking experts who are people-oriented."
That would describe Rich, who has a master's degree in international relations and served as an intelligence officer, pilot, unit commander and diplomat during his 22 years in the Air Force. After retiring from the service, he focused on finding a corporate position in central Ohio where his wife, Natalie, had grown up. His research and networking efforts led him to Cardinal Health where he was hired as a program manager in human resources in November 2013. He advanced to his current position in April.
Cardinal Health has made a commitment to hiring and retaining veterans on a number of fronts and is an example of what Rich calls a company that is "cracking the code" on the talent coming out of the military.
"Veterans are a good investment," he says. "While they think it's great when people thank them for their service, they also appreciate it when (employers) take time to peel back the layers in their resume and connect the dots on the skills and leadership they developed in the military."
Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.