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Partnership is win-win for employers, service personnel

When Johnny Dwiggins signed on in 2008 to work for a new employment program that matched U.S. Army Reserve soldiers with job openings around the country, some thought he was way off course.

Where was he going to find employers with positions to fill at the beginning of a recession? A great concept, sure. It was a way to help the soldiers that was both pragmatic and drenched in good intention, but talk about an uphill battle.

“Everybody told me I was the craziest guy around to take a job like this in the middle of ’08 when jobs were where they were,” said Dwiggins, the project’s national program manager.

It turns out his faith in the program was spot on.

Today there are about 20,000 job seekers signed up with the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces program, which now serves all branches of the reserves, National Guard, as well as their family members and veterans. Whether unemployed or looking for a career change, they have access to more than 700,000 job listings that cover the spectrum — from cashier to ironworker to emergency medicine physician — and currently about 75 job seekers are finding work through the program every month.

Employer Partnership is the brainchild of Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, the chief of the Army Reserve, who saw it as a win-win situation for both sides: Employers would get access to military personnel with training in a wealth of specialties, and soldiers would have a convenient link to job opportunities, Dwiggins said.

There are two major components to the program. The first is its website that provides an easy-to-use employment portal that narrows down a job search based on where someone lives and/or a specific job title. From there, a job description pops up and an applicant can submit his or her resume.

The nearly 2,000 employers that take part in the program are entities both small and large, including Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft and Boeing. Also, while many career websites charge businesses to post their openings, being on the Employer Partnership website is free.

But the major reason employers sign up is the access to qualified candidates, Dwiggins said.

“I’ve assisted a two-star general who is a medical doctor (in finding employment) and a lieutenant colonel whose background was writing textbooks for educational institutions, and we assist that 18-year-old whose never done anything but drive a dump truck and haul gravel in Iraq, and everywhere in between,” Dwiggins said. “And that’s why we have such a wide variety of employers.

“You know we have AT&T and General Electric and Southwest Air, and then we have all the way down to the mom-and-pop shops. The smallest employer I’m aware of is an auto repair shop in Slidell, La. … A gentleman, I want to say, has two mechanics working with him and one of them is reserves.”

The second major component is outreach. There are 20 program support managers, or PSM’s, across the country who reach out to soldiers and family members in need of work and match them to employers. They also help them with job-hunting skills such as writing resumes and preparing for interviews.

“When you register on the site and put in your information, when it takes your address, it automatically populates which program support manager is closest to you, and that’s the one that is assigned to the individual when they register, and they have access to him,” said Erin Thede, director of the Employer Partnership program. “They can call him, they can email him, nine times out of 10 the program support manager will contact the individual to see if they need help. They’ll work with them for resume writing, interview skills, anything they may need.”

Chuck Rackham is the PSM who covers Utah, Idaho and eastern Nevada, including the Las Vegas area. Like all the support managers, he has a military background, having served in the National Guard for 31 years, with 26 of those being on active duty. Sandwiched between his military experience is about a year he spent creating and running a janitorial business with a friend in Salt Lake City.

He brings both experiences together when working with job seekers, many of whom are young and don’t have a very extensive employment background in the civilian world. Some need help clearly translating their skills on a resume in nonmilitary speak and understanding that they bring qualities such as leadership and the ability to work as part of a team, Rackham said. It can also be a matter of honing those interviewing skills.

“A lot of them are used to military interviews and in a military interview you’ll knock on the door three times, you’ll walk in, salute … stand in a position of attention, be inspected. And your answers aren’t always full, they’re, ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘yes or no, sir,’ and things like that,” Rackham said.

“I’ve got kids as young as 18 and 19 I’m working with, and I have service members who are in their 40s and 50s, and veterans who are in their 40s and 50s,” Rackham said. “And the ones I work with cross all branches — Army Reserve, National Guard, Air Force, Marines, all of them.”

One of the soldiers Rackham has recently worked with is Robert Kelley, a 26-year-old Army National Guardsman with the 118th Sapper Company out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Kelley heard about the Employer Partnership program during a briefing after returning home in July from a year-long tour in Afghanistan.

The full-time soldier was transitioning to part-time status upon his return so he needed to find employment in the civilian workforce fairly quickly. He started looking for a job on his own and applying for “anything,” he said, but wasn’t getting any responses based on his resume.

After two weeks Kelley contacted Rackham who looked at his resume and advised the soldier to go beyond a basic outline of education and work history. He suggested that he research the job openings and the various companies, then rewrite his resume with details that fit each specific position, Kelley said.

Knowing that Kelley was interested in security and law enforcement positions, he also started forwarding job announcements to the young soldier including companies that were specifically looking for service members.

Within a week of contacting Rackham, Kelley was hired by a company called Securitas to work security at a government building; the sergeant and team leader who had disabled roadside bombs in Afghanistan and provided convoy security in Iraq was more than prepared for the job.

“The jobs that Chuck sends out are military friendly so it’s one of the best services to go through. … They weed out this giant search and send emails of specific (job openings),” Kelley said.

Rackham worked with another soldier in Salt Lake City who had been laid off due to the recession before heading overseas to Iraq where he worked as a helicopter mechanic. By the time Rackham met the soldier, who was in his late 20s, he had been back from Iraq for a little over a year but still had not found a job.

Rackham stayed in regular contact, helped him hone his job-seeking skills and eventually got him into the interviewing process with a company called IM Flash Technologies. By the end of the three required interviews, there was a job offer as a manufacturing tech on the table, about two months after the soldier initially met Rackham.

“He could multitask, had attention to detail and that mechanical background. … Our soldiers have the skill sets, they have the abilities, they just sometimes need the opportunity and a little bit of guidance,” Rackham said.

There are many businesses that see the Employer Partnership program as a way to help the men and women who are serving, or have served, the country both at home and overseas. But it also makes good business sense and many of the employers who have joined the program fully understand that, Thede notes.

By employing soldiers knowledgeable in areas such as medical, transportation, IT/communications, administration and intelligence/security, they are saving money on training and the hiring process.

“Seven out of 10 individuals in the United States don’t qualify to be in the military service because they don’t meet our standards, so when they’re in the military (employers) know they’re drug free, they’re physically fit, they’re reliable, they’re responsible,” Thede said.

“Again, a lot of these employers look at it that we want to help our veterans, we want to help our soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen; that’s something they want to do to show their patriotism. But at the end of the day they still have a business to run, and they also know that a veteran is a good resource to have just by the very nature of what they do and who they work for on the weekends.”

In fact, one of the reasons Stultz started the program in the first place was the fact that the medical, law enforcement and transportation industries were stepping forward and looking for service members to hire since the military was already putting in most of the necessary training.

Coupled with this was the recession, which meant there were going to be soldiers coming back home to a rising unemployment rate and, in some cases, jobs that were getting phased out, Thede said.

“We were seeing some growth in unemployment rates among veterans and potentially amongst our ranks in the reserve component as well,” Thede said. “What (Stultz) tried to do was capitalize on all this great training that we have in the reserve components and make that available, and make it more of a substance that employers in the private sector could use.”

The soldiers’ values were another draw.

“(The employers) really like the work ethic. The fact that the service members know how to work in a teamwork environment, but they also know how to step up and take the lead when the situation demands it.

“I’ve had owners of trucking companies say to me, ‘They can drive 20 percent longer, 20 percent quicker and take a lot better care of my equipment because they know how to maintain my equipment so I have less breakdowns.’ So they’re very focused, they’re very team-oriented.”

AlliedBarton Security Services has thousands of clients across the country and regularly works with Employer Partnership to fill openings for positions such as security guards, emergency medical technicians and firefighters, said Jerold Ramos, the company’s corporate manager for talent acquisition.

Only recently AlliedBarton hired 12 military personnel in Louisiana in one day. So far this year, it has hired about 155 soldiers through the Employer Partnership program and 300 overall. Las Vegas is among the cities it recruits from.

“The individual in the military comes to us with the ability to take direction really well and utilize their training in our industry … and they understand the importance of wearing a uniform,” Ramos said.

“I think it’s important to realize the Employer Partnership group is dedicated to helping American heroes. … I believe that’s a special calling and they do a very good job of it,” he said.

Those who want to learn more about the program can visit: www.Employer
or call toll free, 1-877-450-HIRE (4473). Service members may also email GetHired@EmployerPartnership.org, and employers can email Hire

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