For the hundreds of veteran-serving professionals who gathered for the Warrior Community Integration Symposium in Atlanta this September, the ultimate goal is to help ensure a better quality of life for all former service men and women who have served our country. In many cases, that means making certain veterans find meaningful, family-sustaining work once they leave the military.
Organized by the America’s Warrior Partnership, the Symposium is an opportunity to share best practices, find innovative solutions, and form new collaborative partnerships to better help the veterans in their communities address the work challenges they sometimes encounter when making the transition to civilian life.
AWP’s mission is empowering a collective community to empower veterans.
“The whole intent is to have a conversation about collaborating together and everybody working. What I say is no single organization is the puzzle. We’re all just pieces of the puzzle. We have to work together to create a solid, strong veteran community,” according to Jim Lorraine, the President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership.
WorkingNation set up its cameras at the Symposium and interviewed the speakers and attendees about the important issue of helping veterans deal with workforce challenges. You can follow the conversation on our social media under the hashtag #WorkingNationOverheard.
More than 200,000 service men and women separate from active duty in the U.S. military each year. Each veteran is different, but many of them report that they have trouble translating their military skills into civilian terms. This can lead to underemployment in their first post-military job and a lack of a sense of purpose in their work.
When it comes to finding a job, employers are looking for both soft skills and hard skills. Lorraine’s hard skill is that he’s a nurse. He spent 22 years as an Air Force Officer and Flight Nurse. He served in Saudi Arabia, Central America, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“In the military, for the last part of my career, I really didn’t do a whole lot of nursing. That’s where I think the soft skills — leadership, organization, commitment, never quit, et cetera — played a big role. Being able to focus on multiple tasks, being able to keep the objective foremost, and then moving toward that objective with success,” explains Lorraine.
“Someone told me they can teach somebody to work a machine, if it’s a milling machine or whatever, or they can teach someone to perform a task, but it’s really tough to teach someone the values of showing up on time, without a substance in their system, with a focus on working together as a team, completing it, and moving forward,” he adds.
He believes that when a serviceman or woman is preparing to transition into the civilian workforce, they underestimate their value. “It’s unusual to find a soldier who says, ‘I know what I want to be when I get out.’”
He has worked with hundreds of men and women preparing to transition out of the military. “Usually when I talk to them and when I work through it with them, the first thing I’ll ask is where do they want to live. And then we go from where they want to live, what are the jobs in those areas, down to what they can do, what are their skills, and what are they interested in doing.”
Lorraine says he takes this approach because asking them, “What do you want to do?” is just too broad of a question. “If I go down to an infantry unit and talk to the soldiers about what they want to do after transitioning to civilian life, most don’t want to do anything related to what they’ve been doing. They want to do something completely different.
“They think that they don’t have the skills to go out and be successful. They sell their soft skills really short,” he tells WorkingNation.
These are the very skills that could put them on the pathway to a good job, with the right help. And that’s where America’s Warrior Partnership and all of the other veteran-focused groups are stepping in and lending a hand.