(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series about the issue of transitioning veterans finding jobs in the local economy.)
As veteran unemployment remains a national problem, Colorado Springs businesses say a team effort is needed between businesses and military veterans to bridge the gap in understanding how military experiences translate into beneficial civilian skill sets.
Progress can be made if veterans sharpen their resumés and employers participate in military job fairs, according to two local defense contractors.
Derek Knuffke, a talent manager at Techwise, said if employers hire veterans who have been provided with the right tools throughout their military training, they’re going to have extremely valuable employees.
“The dedication and sense of purpose military veterans have when given a task is a big advantage for the company,” he said.
“They will take a problem and make sure to run it to the ground until it’s done. You don’t usually have to follow up as often and can give them broad guidance and intent and they will run with it.”
Techwise is a Colorado Springs-based defense contractor that works in the areas of training, logistics, organizational improvement, development and education throughout the U.S. and the Middle East.
Knuffke said the company has hired at least 200 veterans during the past few years to fill positions as air traffic controllers, groundskeepers for support base services and facilitators to help with deployment out-processing.
“On this side of the world we hire more junior veterans — men and women who served their initial term, re-enlisted and then left,” Knuffke said. “Abroad, we hire almost exclusively retired lieutenant colonels and colonels.”
In the past two years, local cyber company Boecore has hired 48 veterans in areas of cybersecurity, network defense and software development.
“Military veterans are great employees and hiring them is the right thing to do given their service to our country,” said Kathy Boe, executive director of Boecore.
The company currently has more than 25 open positions they’re recruiting for in the local community, according to Boe.
Boe said the company’s efforts to reach and support veterans include participating in veteran service-transition programs, attending military job fairs and encouraging the company’s current veterans to provide employee referrals.
That’s an important factor considering that 97 percent of employees are hired through employee referrals, according to the latest skills gap report for the Pikes Peak Region.
“Not only do veterans have experience in a military environment and with government systems, they also often possess security clearances which gives them a competitive advantage over non-veterans with similar skill sets,” Boe said.
Both companies said veterans tend to interview very well.
“Almost all of us who were in the military at some point were required to do some public speaking —whether for a promotion board or presenting briefings to high-level members of the military,” Knuffke said.
Not an easy road
The transition from the military to the private sector is a familiar experience for Knuffke. He recently retired from active duty at Fort Carson, after commanding more than 500 soldiers.
After 21 years in the Army, he said it took him six months to find a civilian job in Colorado Springs.
“I can personally say I had unrealistic expectations as far as salary and level of responsibilities,” Knuffke said. “If you retire as a lieutenant colonel or colonel in this city and the market doesn’t support what you think you ought to make in terms of compensation, it can be a culture shock.”
Knuffke’s best piece of advice to veterans: Understand that military experiences don’t translate easily, no matter who tells you differently.
“If you’re an IT guy on active duty and have your Security Plus and Microsoft certifications and everything else, then that directly translates,” he said. “But if you’re someone like me who was an artillery person, it’s hard for a hiring manager or panel to translate what that means.”
Employers see documents that run the gamut — resumés filled with military jargon and acronyms or resumés entirely watered down because veterans don’t want to sound “military.”
There is a happy medium, Knuffke said.
Military installations, including the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base, offer resumé writing classes that veterans need to take advantage of to close the gap, Knuffke said.
“If you want to learn how to write a federal resumé, which is a very different style — it’s offered as an elective in transition programs,” he said. “Not many take advantage of it; they just bicker on how hard it can be.”
Veterans should remain cognizant that the people reading their resumé might not have a military background, so it’s important to convey skills, experience and value that they’re bringing to a company in a way that is understood, Boe said.
“Veterans should always do research on the companies that they’re interested in and understand the company’s goals, culture and whether or not it is the right fit for them,” she said.
Techwise is working to partner with the Department of Defense and U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program. It allows the most promising active-duty soldiers, sailors and airmen to participate in a fellowship during the last 12 weeks of their military service, Knuffke said.
“We’d like to take on at least a few veterans to help place them in jobs and at the very least give them some exposure to the business world,” he said.
Knuffke said the veteran commitments local employers are advertising on eBenefits helps reach and hire more veterans in Colorado Springs.
“I know that everyone who gets out of the Army gets an eBenefits account,” he said. “Employers that make a commitment to hire as many vets as they can and put it on their wall to try and reach that goal gives veterans more exposure.”
Techwise has sponsored veterans in the UCCS Boots to Suits program and offers a company mentorship program to help veterans enhance their resumés.
“Supporting local hiring events even if your company doesn’t have any open positions is very important,” he said.
“Every bit of information a transitioning vet can get is valuable.”