When Jessica Menendez returned from Afghanistan in January, she hoped to find a civilian job that was as rewarding and challenging as her military service.
The Nevada National Guard specialist needed a full-time job, preferably one that allowed her to use the skills she learned during her 11-month deployment. But after a long, frustrating search, the best Menendez, 24, could do was a receptionist job. It was great, she says, but didn't give her the chance to use her leadership skills or knowledge as an inventory manager.
Then she met Michael Ryan, who made her an offer that changed Menendez's life.
A special project manager for the Southern Nevada chapter of the American Red Cross, Ryan was looking for a few good men and women to enlist in a jobs program sponsored by MGM Resorts International. The goal of the 10-week program, Boots to Business, was to help veterans transfer their military skills and knowledge into jobs as front-line service managers for Strip hotels.
Despite high unemployment and a surplus of applicants, it has been difficult for the company to fill those supervisor positions with qualified people, says Cassie Anderson, leadership development manager for MGM Resorts.
Ten veterans were chosen for the inaugural program. Over the course of the 10 weeks, they were given the traditional new-hire orientation, Anderson says, along with additional classes on empathy, emotions, communication and anger management.
Veterans have many of the qualities the company was looking for in employees, says Ryan, who is himself a veteran of the Marine Corps.
"They are a unique breed," Ryan says. "They bring that discipline, that hard work, that dedication. They're going to get the job done. You can rely on veterans to deliver."
When the class graduates today , Menendez will be a full-time supervisor for Mandalay Bay's uniform control. The job is a good match for her abilities; for the first year of her Guard enlistment, she worked as a supply specialist managing warehouse inventory. And, she knows a thing or two about how to take care of a uniform, something that will come in handy dealing with uniforms for the hotel's 6,000 employees.
"This changed my life. Coming back from my deployment, I kind of hit a slump," says Menendez, who was born and raised in Las Vegas. "During a military deployment, you're busy all the time. You get back, you've got time on your hands and you can't find a job but if you do, you're over-qualified for it. When I found this program, I did a 180."
Carlos Valiente, 40, a new supervisor for housekeeping at the Luxor, had a similar experience. An Army veteran and now a sergeant in the Nevada National Guard, Valiente struggled to find sufficient employment after returning from Iraq in 2009.
"Now, I have a career with opportunities," Valiente says.
Unemployment for veterans has hovered around 9 percent nationwide, Ryan says. Some of them may have trouble finding jobs because they don't know how to transfer their military experience into civilian terminology. That's something Boots to Business helped with.
"You take a risk with any hire you have," Ryan says. "In some cases, if a military veteran doesn't have that direct experience, employees won't take a risk on them. But if they're not hiring vets, they're missing an opportunity to raise their workforce and the productivity. They're self-starters they get after it."
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@reviewjournal .com or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.