State of the Union – Lessons Learned While Helping Veterans Transition
Terry Jenkins, Founder & CEO, ETAC Inc. home of usveteranjobs.com
I began a journey a year ago that changed much of the focus of my life, business and career. It began by aggravation, well actually anger, at how Veterans are being preyed on and taken advantage of. I am a USAF Veteran myself, I left the military almost 20 years ago to begin my journey in the corporate world of IT. Like many others I meet from that era or earlier, we had very limited resources available to us when we made the transition. I received a basic resume workshop which didn’t really help me. The only other significant thing I remember is a 4-hour long personality test they gave me.
So the question that has plagued me over the past year is; with all of the programs, the Internet, the Veteran focused groups at every turn and thousands of YouTube videos, why are they having a harder time than we did?
From my perspective I think it is due to several reasons which I will briefly outline below.
Veterans are Big Business Today
I recently looked at the past 5 years and was blown away that the annual VA spend on Education Benefits has averaged $12B. This explains why there is so much ‘help’ available. Everywhere you turn there are Veteran oriented non-profits. There are literally 100s of websites, job boards, recruiters and job fairs. Schools have, in my opinion, gotten out of control. They all market to the Veteran telling them all of the choices they have, which of course, are covered by the GI Bill. The Veterans separate trusting the VA to protect them but are ultimately unarmed to approach these organizations and counter their sales tactics.
Too Much Information is a Bad Thing
This generation has more information available to them than any generation in human history. However, in my opinion, the amount of stupidity and ignorance is also at its highest level in history. I believe our entire culture faces this problem but Veterans are especially vulnerable to it. How can we be so exposed to information and yet so ignorant at the same time. I think its due to the fact that anyone can create the information. If 10 people say this is how you do something, likely 10 more people will be motivated to write the opposite. Contradiction gets exposure on the Internet. Its an age of hits, likes and follows. The Veteran is focused on providing for their families now that their military income has stopped. They are vulnerable and naive when deciding which transition information is good. How would they know, they have never been in this environment before?
Veterans are Seen as Damaged Goods
Today’s culture also creates a disease or syndrome for every situation we are faced with. Regardless of how you feel, act or think there is probably a diagnosis for it. We have become a culture of analyzers. We want to sit and discuss everything but at the same time we seem to be a little light on actions.
For example, I would never say PTSD is not a real and serious issue but I will say it has become an over saturated and unbalanced Veteran issue. While on the one hand we need to raise awareness, which I am glad to see, especially to call the government to take action. Its a double edged sword. The civilian population doesn’t understand the issues nor do they want to. The terrors of war will always be terrifying to those that do not fight. They too are plagued by information overload and base their perceptions on the commercials, advertisements and movies they watch. So unless there is a balanced amount of information out there about the many Veterans that do not suffer from these issues, what are they left to assume?
We need to also address the other 70-80% of Veterans that do not have issues. One of the biggest misconceptions Veterans face today is that the general public is starting to equate Veteran to combat to PTSD, when in reality most of them will never meet a Veteran, effected so badly by PTSD, that it would even be known to them in the workplace. Perceptions are our problem not theirs.
I recently read about the teacher that bashed Veterans as ignorant idiots. How should the Veteran community react to such a bad misconception? Over the years I have coached many engineers on a simple concept. I am used to working with people that have spent years mastering disciplines in engineering. Literally spending tens of thousands of dollars mastering their skills and yet many of them put little effort in learning to speak to business leaders. Through this I have often given a simple set of advice that I believe applies here as well.
If I am the CEO and I assume something about you, is it my responsibility to change that perception or is it yours? As the executive my opinion is the only one that matters, after all I have the money, job and opportunity you want. If my perception is wrong, don’t waste time trying to argue with me. Instead, figure out a way to show me something different. If the civilian employer world assumes Veterans are under-skilled, ignorant and mentally damaged it is our responsibility, as Veterans, to change that by showing them something different. To take this a step further, I specifically think this task falls to those of us that have led the way and succeeded in our transitions. We need to work diligently to show our peers in the corporate world a new perspective so those behind us won’t need to.
My Advice to Those Serious About Helping Veterans
I did not write this to discourage, attack or even disagree with any Veteran focused group. I am glad there are good programs out there to balance the many that should be eliminated. My advice is simple, they need help navigating all of the resources, information and programs. They need leaders and action.
We need more organizations that do less talking and more doing. At ETAC, we also coach Veterans through their job searches, resumes, interviewing, etc. but we do this through a “follow me approach”. As a matter of fact, this aspect of our program came after launching the core program which is oriented towards building engineering skills for those that want to break into IT.
The reason we added this Pre-IT phase to the program was simple. They didn’t have a clue or chance to successfully navigate the job market. Without that what use are those engineering skills? My focus was to help them launch careers not sell training. What’s the point of creating highly skilled, unemployed Veterans? I wanted to be different from the organizations I feel are exploiting them to get to their education benefits. I could have made a lot of money by creating yet another program to analyze them, categorize them, coach them or come up with my unique way to TELL them what to do.
Instead, we choose to simply show them. We roll up our sleeves and jump in the mud with them. We run ahead of them and lead them through it. I don’t just tell them how to talk to the employers, I get on the phone with them and talk on their behalf. Maybe some will think my way is great and others will criticize it, I don’t care. What I care about is getting them in new careers. I would rather be known for the 1000’s that get hired because of our program than if my book is a best seller. (I don’t have a book, working too hard these days to be able to write one.)
Call To Action
I encourage more groups to stop putting out information and start putting out actions. The problem with information is that the employers can read it too. In their world, the interviewing and screening process must remain adversarial. They are overwhelmed by the sheer number of resumes and applicants they receive. They constantly adjust and tweak their processes and systems to help them get an edge. Time is money and hiring is expensive. So the advice you give today is likely wrong tomorrow.
We have taken a revolutionary and cutting-edge approach…we go old school. The one sure fire way to demonstrate someone’s abilities, character and personality is to have a good ole fashion conversation between two people. We help them constantly adjust the approach with one goal in mind, get around the system and get to the person.
Why Its So Important
Veterans today are not ignorant or naive because they lack intelligence. They simply lack time to come up to speed. They have an extreme pressure on them to transition fast enough that it won’t hurt their families financially. If we want to really help them we need to get them through this maze not try to educate them on it.
In our conversations with many transition offices across military installations we are hearing something with alarming frequency. They tell us, we wish we could change how many Veterans plan to enroll in college immediately so they can collect BHA to live on while they figure it out. What a waste of such a great benefit, especially now that it lasts forever. With such giant flag of surrender waving we should all stand up and act now.
To learn more about our program or to connect us with a Veteran that needs some help visit us at www.usveteranjobs.com.
Please comment and share your opinions, good debate creates great ideas!