While the USO may be better known for military entertainment and airport lounges, it is also evolving to meet the needs of our nation’s service members and their families, especially as they transition back into the civilian world.
The range of programs the organization provides has broadened to include career transition programs, according to Kelli Davis, the Troops & Family Programs director for the USO of North Carolina.
Across the many bases in the Tar Heel state, some 20,000 members of the armed services transition from military to civilian careers every year. While the military invests considerably in the professional development of servicemen and women, the biggest barriers in transition tend to be intangible.
“Service members are unaware of the change in culture that may be a barrier to employment,” said Ms. Davis in a phone interview. “In the military you know what to expect from a new job and what’s expected of you – but in the civilian world, service members have no concept of expectations on either side.”
“The military member doesn’t understand civilian HR benefits or what a 90-day probationary period means. We try to teach them how to navigate the civilian HR system.”
Moreover, it’s not just active duty personnel that struggle with civilian career transitions, but also National Guard and Reserve component service members. The high operational tempo of the past decade has strained their civilian careers with deployments and extended periods of training.
“These service members are an important component of our military forces and are often unemployed or underemployed,” said Ms. Davis citing data compiled by the Office of Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR). “The North Carolina National Guard has units in 80 of the 100 counties in the state.”
While employer education programs such as NC for Military Employment are fostering a more veteran-friendly employment market, preparing individuals is also a critical aspect. To that end, over the last two years, the national USO and the USO of NC have steadily developed programs that supplement existing military programs and enhance the transition training to service members.
These service members are an important component of our military forces and are often unemployed or underemployed.
“High Touch” Veteran Transition Programs
Every service member exiting active duty is required to attend Department of Defense transition classes, according to Ms. Davis. While it’s a good start, it’s not enough and the USO of NC is striving to fill in the gaps at the request of military leaders based in the state.
Every month the USO of NC hosts complementary two-day workshops for service members and, if needed, their spouses. The number of attendees is capped at 25 people, which provides what Ms. Davis calls a “high-touch” model and personalized instruction.
The first day is dedicated to resume building and “skill-based” information. This focuses on helping attendees “translate” military experiences into commensurate business skills. It also teaches them about business networking, organizing a job search, and guidelines for presenting oneself on social media.
The programs are making a difference according to the troops. One junior enlisted airman, a young lady stationed at Ft. Bragg, was so impressed with the resume building part of the course that she called to thank the USO after the course had ended. She has never seen her military skills and experiences eloquently translated in business terms – it made her very proud of her military achievements, Ms. Davis said.
Business Leaders Provide Realism
During the second day of the workshop, volunteers from the business community conduct realistic with mock interviews. Mock interviews are both useful for preparing for real interviews – and it’s a method of teaching with which service members are already familiar.
Throughout one’s military service, military proficiency is often tested with situational training exercises designed to be as rugged and realistic as possible. Actors, mock villages and even technology simulations are used to create scenarios mimicking the real world battlefield.
Mock interviews essentially use the same techniques – even providing donated business attire to wear during the session. This helps Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Marines understand both appropriate business dress and prepares them for civilian careers.
This training is working. Ms. Davis notes a Walmart executive had volunteered to conduct the mock interviews and was so impressed with an Army staff sergeant that the company offered him a regional HR manager position next day.
Teaming with Local Business; Helping Thousands
Over the last couple years, the LexisNexis Raleigh Technology Center has become increasingly involved with the USO in NC. What started with a handful of LexisNexis employees volunteering at the USO lounge in the Raleigh-Durham airport has blossomed into a cultural learning exchange of sorts.
The USO of NC state staff recently provided a team building session to an annual all-hands meeting of the LexisNexis sales team hosted by BJ Schaknowski, the senior vice president of sales and professional service for LexisNexis in Raleigh and a former marine. As part of the event, the team was broken down into small groups with a service member was assigned to teach them about that branch of service.
“We create programs based on need and we’ve come to rely on local businesses to donate and get involved,” noted Ms. Davis, in observation about the event. “The team building event with LexisNexis is a good example – it gives the organization the opportunity to see the impact its donations and involvement are making.”
To date, and including a broad range of services from hiring events to ongoing case management, Ms. Davis says the USO of NC has helped 2,000 uniformed service men and women transition to business and civilian careers. All the programs and services offered by the USO of North Carolina are provided at no charge to its service members and their families.
The organization says it is only through the generous corporate and individual financial support they can continue in its 75-year history of strengthening America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.
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Note: LexisNexis is currently hiring in the Raleigh area and welcomes inquiries from troops and veterans transitioning to business careers. To learn more or to see open positions, please visit www.lexisnexisNC.com.
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