By Rob Comer, Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council
A first-in-the-nation pilot program to employ management-level military veterans was crafted from scratch by Washington’s WorkSource system.
Owen McCurty, Sean Murphy and I created the Heroes Corporate Fellowship Academy – a new program that gives military managers an opportunity to work in corporate level civilian positions before they leave the service. Owen is a veterans-employment specialist for Employment Security. Sean directs and I manage projects for the Camo2Commerce program with the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council, which was awarded a U.S. Department of Labor grant to meet the very specific needs of service members leaving the military.
More than 9,000 service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) make the transition to the civilian workforce each year. While WorkSource helps these veterans in a variety of ways, we had no formal way to help those who served in leadership positions: junior- to mid-grade officers and senior non-commissioned officers.
Owen, Sean and I worked together to build a program to meet the needs of these veterans.
“This program is unique,” said Owen. “Through a competitive process, service members are placed in a part-time, 13-week ‘fellowship’ position with an employer while they’re still getting a paycheck from the military. This takes the financial pressure off the employer, who usually pays a veteran’s wages in more traditional apprenticeship programs.
“It makes sense,” Owen said. “Employers don’t have to put money in the game and service members get valuable experience and networking opportunities – and possibly a job offer when they leave the service.”
Developing the program included working with JBLM leaders to release participating service members from active duty and also finding interested employers.
Owen assisted with outreach efforts, and the following companies agreed to participate in the pilot: Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, ThyssenKrupp Aerospace, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Compass Group, Thurston County Economic Development Council, TrueBlue, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Starbucks. They’ll provide service members with a wide array of management level experiences.
In order to get there, service members had to compete in a two-step interview process. The first 29 candidates – mid-level managers with at least 10 years of leadership experience, preferably with a bachelor’s degree, who are getting ready to leave the Army or Air Force – were selected for a basic pre-screening interview. Owen developed some of the questions and helped with the interviews.
Selected candidates then proceeded to final interviews with employers, who chose the final 16 fellows.
These service members, or fellows, began working with their respective businesses in January. They train with their assigned corporate partners three days a week, followed by one day a week of additional training in business writing, project management and other topics to ensure their success in the corporate setting. Participants spend Fridays back at JBLM, fulfilling their service obligations.
The ultimate goal is for corporate partners to offer service members an interview for permanent jobs when the program is complete.
“Even if the fellows aren’t offered a job after they complete the program, there’s value in building a corporate network and building a résumé,” said Owen. “The experience will help bridge the gap in life and on paper between the military and corporate America.”
In addition to the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council and Employment Security, the United States Chamber of Commerce is another partner in the Heroes Corporate Fellowship Academy.
“The Fellowship Academy…represents the very best in collaboration between the military, the public workforce system and corporate America,” said Cheryl Fambles, CEO of the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council.