The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program welcomed University of Phoenix® as the newest member of its Veterans Employment Advisory Council (VEAC) today at a military hiring fair at the University's Phoenix campus. The contribution from University of Phoenix will enable Hiring Our Heroes to offer intensive employment workshops tailored specifically for veterans, transitioning servicemembers, and military spouses at hundreds of hiring fairs in the coming year. The workshops will emphasize resume writing, mock interview practice, one-on-one career planning, and tools for success. In addition to contributing content to the workshop curriculum, University of Phoenix will also host 50 of the workshops at Hiring Our Heroes job fairs across the country.
Military.com interviewed Kevin Schmiegel of Hiring Our Heroes and Garland Williams of the University of Phoenix about the new partnership. Both are veterans who have dedicated themselves to helping transitioning and active-duty servicemembers find employment and attain job-searching skills.
Can you provide some background on the Hiring our Heroes program?
Schmiegel: I was the founder of the program and it's a little over two years old now. This program started back in March of 2011. The idea behind this was to start a grassroots campaign in communities across America and bring the public and private sectors together in these communities to connect employers with veterans and military spouses. The means we use to do that are hiring fairs. We made very bold commitments – in two years, we planned to do 500 hiring fairs.
The idea behind this is not just to do a hiring fair. If you go into a community and bring together public sector organizations like the department of labor, the VA, the guard and reserve, the Department of Defense, and you bring together nonprofits and veteran service organizations, and you work with local chambers of commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to bring employers of all sizes, your hope is to create a movement across the country. We want all these organizations to form lasting partnerships at the local level. We've seen these structures in communities across America take hold where they wouldn't have before.
What's exciting about this partnership is that we're building on these grassroots efforts to build online programs. We built a resume engine for veterans since their main challenge is branding themselves -- they don't do a good job of talking about their service. We created a fast-track map which points to the 100 cities in America that are growing the quickest and have industries that are driving growth, we're expanding our military spouse program. This partnership is the realization that if we're doing hiring fairs in hundreds of communities and we see some success, we have a responsibility to offer them more than just a connection with employers for a job opportunity. Some of them don't come as prepared as they should be, so the idea is that with this partnership with the University of Phoenix we can expand some of the workshops we offer at the hiring fairs with the goal of doing employment workshops in every hiring fair that we do in our third year.
Can you talk about what resources University of Phoenix is providing?
University of Phoenix is providing significant financial support to help up-scale the program. You can imagine that if we're going to be in several dozen cities with them, if you have a hiring fair you need extra space. What's significant is that with all of our partners it's not just the financial support; University of Phoenix has a program called Start Strong. They specialize in the area of helping people make a decision about what they're going to do next in life in terms of education and employment opportunities and tying the two together. They don't just bring financial support, they also bring expertise in things that veterans should look for in deciding what to do next.
How did the partnership with University of Phoenix get started?
I think people and organizations knew that we were looking to do additional employment workshops. University of Phoenix heard about it and we talked about the mutually supporting roles that we could play. The other important point is that our program, Hiring Our Heroes, has a responsibility to do this. If we know that 10 to 12 percent of the people are going to get hired at our hiring fairs, there are lots of veterans ill prepared for the transition or to talk to employers or are at risk with their resumes, and we have a responsibility to offer additional things.
What are some of the biggest challenges for transitioning veterans?
The ability to personally brand themselves, to build a resume, an elevator pitch that tells a compelling story to employers. As [veterans] are making the decision of what to do next when they leave the military, they're largely making a decision from the heart and they're not making an informed decision about their education and employment opportunities and how those things are tied together. They don't do a good job of assessing what they did in the military and what they want to do as a second career or to pursue an education to get a good paying job in an area that they would have as much satisfaction as they had in the military.
Eighty percent of transitioning servicemembers and military families go back to their hometowns, their spouses' hometowns, or settle around the installation where they've already built a support network. When I say they're making a decision from the heart, I mean they're not making an informed decision about where the jobs are in America. What industries are hiring and have huge demand for skilled workers? We have 3.7 million jobs in America that aren't being filled right now because we lack a trained workforce. Wouldn't it be great if we pointed to the cities in America that are growing in terms of jobs, and point veterans to the industries that are driving that growth? We want veterans to consider the cities and industries where they can relocate to and land a good paying job in an industry that is desperate for their skill-set. I don't think veterans and transitioning servicemembers and their families are given the information they need to make an informed decision about where the employment opportunities are.
Is information about the best cities and industries to focus on present in the fairs?
In our workshops our intention is to highlight some of our signature programs. The guts of the employment workshops can be any range of things. Remember, we bring a wealth of private sector knowledge and experience across a bunch of different companies. There are companies that represent financial services, healthcare, energy, we have lots of expertise that we can bring to these employment workshops on financial planning, healthcare planning, there's lots of expertise. We have the capability of highlighting our program on the personal branding resume engine – we can drive veterans through these workshops to use that tool because its state-of-the-art technology that's easy to use. We've kept in touch with HR managers, and we think it's a product that will resonate with them because they're the ones who will be looking at veterans' resumes.
Do you customize the job fairs to target those industries?
Not only that, what we're looking at doing in our third year is actually doing hiring fairs in each of those 100 cities. Then what we can do is tailor the hiring fairs to focus more on the industries that are hiring. If we go to the western part of Ohio, for instance, we can focus on five or six industries that are driving growth in those cities to include a company like General Electric who is building a factory in that vicinity. There are lots of initiatives out there like Get Skills to Work on the manufacturing side that points to high-tech manufacturing jobs and Troops to Energy in the utilities industry. If you look at energy across all the different platforms – oil and gas, utilities, electric, nuclear, green energy – they're in desperate need of skilled workers. There's an aging workforce and there's additional development in these industries. Energy, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, there are cities that have a huge demand for skilled workers in these industries and all we're trying to do is point folks in that direction.
Do you reach out to military bases?
We'll be looking at running 50 to 60 hiring fairs on military instillations in our third year. We want to reach that population earlier, and we can point them to our programs before they come out of the service.
Can civilians or veterans help with the Hiring our Heroes program?
Yes. What we're looking at right now is establishing a volunteer network. There are opportunities for companies to help with the employment workshops. The other thing that we've launched is a program called e-mentor. Unless the mentor and mentee want high interaction, this is a program that's about connecting them for advice and questions and we have that for spouses and for veterans. If people want to volunteer, there will be opportunities.
What's the number one thing veterans can do to prepare for transition?
I think it's about mindset. I would say to veterans that they have something they need to market and they need to brand. They need to compete in a tough job market. The notion that this isn't charity applies to companies and veterans – they need to realize this is a tough job market. If I know anything about veterans in my 20 years of service as a marine, I know that they like to compete. They're not afraid of a challenge. I think they just need to realize that it is tough out there. When an employer is looking to hire, they're looking to get the best human talent. The whole idea of branding is talking about your service in a compelling way. They need to talk about how everything they've done in the military makes them a better candidate than anyone else who walks through the door.
The following is from Military.com's interview with Garland Williams of the University of Phoenix.
Can you talk about the military division at University of Phoenix?
Williams: The military division was formed in 2001 with the express purpose of servicing the military students that we have across the world. The military division provides the enrollment, academic, and financial advising for all military whether they're active duty, veteran, or spouses – that includes National Guard and Reserve. We have about 900 people in the division and we work across all 24 time zones in the world because that's where we have students. We work both online and provide academic and financial advising for our ground students that are across the country.
Can you talk about how the partnership was formed with Hiring Our Heroes?
We have an initiative called Education to Careers. The idea is that we want to provide the right education that helps our students, not only military but all our students, become a viable member of the working class. Somebody can get a good job with a corporate partner in the job of their choice, and the military is a natural extension of that. We have over 100 degree programs to be able to reach their educational goals and we also have something called Phoenix Career Services which helps them take their education and their experience and turn it into a viable resume with coaching techniques to be able to interview with corporate partners.
That brings in the military piece – what we want to do is marry our military veterans and soon-to-be veterans that are on active duty with partners that are ready to hire. What our partnership with Hiring Our Heroes does is provide events where we can receive workshops to help them with their resume and counseling techniques, then marry them up the same day with employers who have jobs ready to hire. The reason we partnered with Hiring Our Heroes is it's a great initiative by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and it allows us to capitalize on their ability and they want to capitalize on our educational reach, so it's a perfect partnership.
Is the University of Phoenix spearheading some of the job fairs themselves?
The agreement is that we're going to do 11 Start Strong events over the next two weeks. They're co-branded and co-sponsored by us and Hiring Our Heroes. The reason we're doing it over the next two weeks is that this is the sweet spot for people getting out of the military. They're getting out of the military in the summer, that's when they really need to be talking to corporate people. So that's the timing right now. The rest of the agreement is that we're co-sponsoring with them 50 events across the country with Hiring Our Heroes as the lead.
How are you incorporating your programs into this partnership?
On phoenix.edu, part of our Phoenix career services, we have two tools that anybody can use, it's open to the public. One is to figure out what should be your desired career. We run you through a series of survey questions that narrows down, based on your answers, which career matches your personality and what your desires are. The second piece is to look at the market. Say you go through that and it says you should be a comptroller, then you can figure out by the next tool where they're hiring in the United States for comptrollers. Or, if you want to say you want to only live in D.C., you can check if the market there for comptrollers is good, the average salary, and it's all based on Bureau of Labor statistics.
What do you see as one of the biggest obstacles for job-seeking veterans?
The biggest challenge is to be able to translate what they did in the military to certain words that non-military understand. What we're trying to do is take someone that was probably a great team leader in Iraq or Afghanistan and take the skills of leading men, saving money, supervising lots of material and vehicles, and phrase it in a way so the guy at Home Depot or Sears or Walmart can understand exactly what they did. There's not a great need for someone to carry a gun in Walmart, but there is a great need for leadership and discipline and the stick-to-itness that they learned in the military at Walmart, and those are the things they should capitalize on when they go in for their interview.
Is the University of Phoenix doing more than just connecting veterans with employers at the job fairs?
We have some workshops that we're providing to help people with their resume and they're all a little bit different. One might be dress for success: how you need to present yourself for the interview. Most people in the military are used to wearing uniforms, they're not used to wearing suits. One piece is coaching: how you present your credentials in a 30 second elevator speech and take out the jargon. How you present yourself in an interview without standing at attention, and part of it is just figuring out what's the right fit for you, because again this fair tomorrow has 66 employers, and not all 66 may be a good fit. By winnowing down what your interest is, maybe we can make the job fair a lot more useful for you.
What's the main strength of having the veterans in the workforce?
We see it in our classes – they are more disciplined, they stay on task, they have the ability to take something complex and break it down to their simple parts and use those simple parts as intermediate tasks to reach the final objective. Those are the things they learned through their military training and experience that they can bring to their civilian counterparts. I remember years ago when I was thinking about getting out of the Army when I was a major, I went to some kind of a fair and they said the biggest thing the military members bring to the civilian workforce is they show up, they show up on time. Obviously there's a lot more to it than that, but they have learned the discipline to break down their day and do something where they can be effective.
What's your number one piece of advice to transitioning veterans?
Don't limit your options. There are a lot of jobs out there that they've never heard of, and I'm a shining example of that. I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be working in what I'm doing, and a recruiter reached out to me and it's the perfect job for me because I get to work with soldiers, and work with a company that has the ethics I enjoyed for 28 years in the military. A lot of the time veterans come out thinking that all they can do is a security job or a defense contracting job because that's sort of a direct translation of what they did in the military. They don't take in account the leadership pieces that they bring to corporate America, or the ability to look at things with new eyes. Don't sell yourself short, and be game for anything.