By Russell Levy, JD, president of Veterans Transition Support, with contributions from Sam Friedman, Army veteran and senior manager of Salesforce development at the San Diego Workforce Partnership
Veterans Transition Support is an all-volunteer San Diego and Orange County California based 501(c)(3) nonprofit created in 2014 to help active-duty service members and veterans bridge the gap between military service and civilian life through job training and one-on-one mentoring in career development, education planning and obtaining veteran benefits to launch their next career.
Bridging the Gap Between Military Service and Civilian Employment
Every year, thousands of veterans transition out of the military and face challenges in bridging the gap between military service and civilian employment. As an organization that has provided no-cost training in OSHA Safety, LEAN Six Sigma and Supply Chain to more than 10,000 active-duty service members and veterans, we wanted to address some of the most common questions we receive from veterans.
Does a lack of a college or higher education degree mean I won’t find work after I leave service?
No! There are many lucrative and meaningful jobs that do not require a degree. Safety, cybersecurity, sales, production supervisors, many manager positions, vocational trades like maintenance, electrical or mechanical, and other skilled technician positions can all lead to very high levels of income with no degree. In skilled positions, technicians can even make more than managers because they are compensated for overtime.
What industries are the most common fit for veterans without degrees?
There are many industries with management, supervisory and technician positions where education is not essential and veterans have a distinct advantage because of their military experience. Occupational health and safety, industrial services, construction, sales, real estate and skilled trades are just a few examples of industries that have meaningful positions that do not require an education. In addition, some job descriptions now consider experience and relevant certifications in lieu of a degree.
How does military training impact my ability to find civilian employment?
Military training enhances a veteran’s ability to find employment because it is practical, documented training in specific topics. However, that military training must be translated into civilian terminology to make it valuable in the eyes of a company. Generally, this can be accomplished by completing a civilian version of the military training.
For example, the military ground safety course is more comprehensive than an OSHA 30-hour safety course, but civilians do not know what a ground safety course is. A veteran could consider obtaining their OSHA Safety Card to showcase their knowledge and experience.
How does military structure differ from working with civilians and how should I handle this transition?
The military has a clearly established culture, hierarchy, rank and protocol that is created by a common foundation of training and mentorship. Alternatively, every civilian company has a different culture and business model and each employee has a different background. When entering a new job, everyone, not just veterans, must learn to adapt to the corporate culture they find themselves in. Look for a job at a company who shares your values and meets your job criteria for location, commute distance, company size and work life balance practices.
How do I translate my military history to employers?
The best way to convey your experience to employers is to study and learn about the industry you want to join. Once you have a grasp of the jargon, you can more easily explain your history in a way that makes sense to civilian employers. That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish so we recommend taking certification courses and speaking with veterans in the same industry.
Veterans Transition Support focuses on providing no-cost training in OSHA Safety, LEAN Six Sigma and supply chains because every veteran has experience in safety, process improvement and various aspects of a supply chain. Since every company must have a safety program, every company needs to invest in process improvement and nearly every company plays a role in a supply chain, therefore these trainings provide value to any veteran who completes them. There are also many other resources for free or low-cost certifications such as Coursera.org, Onward to Opportunity, EDX.org, LinkedIn Learning, Alison.com and FEMA Independent Study to help veterans prepare for their job search. Additionally, the Workforce Partnership offers many training and certificate programs; find the right one with Program Match Finder.
How can I best address and overcome cultural barriers?
There are cultural barriers between civilian and military personnel just like there are cultural barriers between people from different regions, different industries and different socioeconomic backgrounds. Cultural barriers can be overcome by cultivating a genuine interest to learn about other people’s differences and build understanding. Asking questions like “how did you get into this industry?” or “what was your first job?” can tap into warm feelings of nostalgia and bridge differences that build rapport. Participation in orientation and training also provides a high-impact way for veterans to bridge cultural barriers.
The main barriers we see veterans face at Veterans Transition Support when it comes to acquiring meaningful employment is the lack of a comprehensive plan for career development, education planning and finding a cultural fit. There’s also the issue of obtaining veteran benefits. The Workforce Partnership offers job search support and services and Veterans Transition Support offers services to help veterans fill these gaps and more. Visit The Veteran Transition Support website to see how we can help.
Sam’s transition from the Army to civilian employment
We asked Sam Friedman, Army veteran and senior manager of Salesforce development at the Workforce Partnership, about his experience transitioning into civilian work and what advice he has for other veterans.
Did you know what you wanted to do for work before you transitioned out of the Army?
When I was preparing to transition from the Army, I looked into a wide range of career fields. At the time, I was afraid of being stuck in a cubicle, as I’d watched others close to me do that and they seemed to have low satisfaction and no passion for their work. Within that context, I explored career fields that allowed me to work outside of an office and be creative, such as construction, landscape architecture, music production and entrepreneurship.
I learned a lot about myself during this time of discovery and experimentation, mostly through failure, and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I found myself grappling with an identity crisis while my transition date loomed closer. Under pressure to find a new career quickly to avoid financial strain, I became a lot more practical and focused on my core competencies and careers with good income and growth potential. My fear of the cubicle was no longer guiding my decision making. I started to explore my interest in technology by learning the basics of Python and taking a Udacity nanodegree in Android development to learn how to create mobile apps, setting me on my current career path in IT.
How did your job in the Army help prepare you for your current role?
In the Army I was a Cavalry Officer which gave me experience managing teams of over 100 employees and resources exceeding $70 million. My Army experience helped prepare me for a management role as a civilian. However, it seemed every civilian career required me to have industry experience and my Army career did not give me any industry-specific experience which is why I pursued additional education.
What was something challenging or surprising about transitioning to civilian work?
I was mostly surprised how difficult it was to get a job, even in entry level positions I felt overqualified for. Additionally, there are an almost limitless number of organizations that provide resources to veterans, but navigating those resources and figuring out how to make use of each was an exhausting process in itself, and most of them had significant overlap and focused on building a resume or mentorship. What I believe I needed was some industry experience (i.e. internship, apprenticeship, OJT) and a foot in the door with an employer.
After hundreds of rejections, I realized that without any industry experience, I needed credentials as my Army experience didn’t seem to be opening doors for me. With this in mind, I looked into IT certifications and after exploring a few different paths in IT and project management, I found a company that was hiring veterans for part-time Salesforce training. This helped me prepare for my Salesforce Administrator Certification, and I started my current position one month after earning that certification.
What advice do you have for other veterans who are looking for work?
Industry experience seemed to be the main barrier I had to overcome during my transition, so my advice is to find any opportunity that gives you that experience rather than relying on employers to understand the value of your military experience, even if you’ve translated it into civilian terminology on your resume. For San Diego veterans looking for a start in tech, I would recommend checking out the Workforce Partnership’s CyberHire and TechHire programs, which focus on building careers in technology, and I would also advise to look at employers that have veteran-specific programs to get that first tech job. Veteran-specific employment opportunities allowed me to get a foothold in technology, and I wish I had found them earlier in my transition.
Other Workforce Partnership resources for job seekers:
- Workshops on everything from finding the right career path, growing industries and the labor market, interview help and more
- On-demand library for free online training opportunities
- Brainfuse is a free virtual resource for live resume coaching, written feedback on resumes, live interview coaching and more
- One-on-one career development support and computer labs through our six career centers, including an Able Disabled Veteran Services Office in our Metro Career Center