In corporate America, walking up to a CEO shows ambition and initiative. In the military, it shows a lack of respect.
Upon leaving the service, Florida’s veterans have gained invaluable life experience and expertise that could aid Florida’s companies. But navigating the transition into the corporate world is where many veterans fall short.
SkillBridge is a Department of Defense program that helps service members get work experience during their last 180 days in the military. The program matches service members to potential employers by way of fellowships, internships or industry training.
A bill in the Florida legislature, SB 586, would designate the nonprofit Veterans Florida as the state’s principal assistance organization for the SkillBridge program. According to the latest census information, over 15,000 veterans live in Alachua County.
Veterans Florida executive director Joe Marino says putting the nonprofit in charge helps veterans learn about the program by promoting their website and registration.
“When service members and their families transition out of the military, they just get inundated with so much information,” he said. “They have to plan their move, turn in their gear and go to transition classes– It’s information overload.”
The nonprofit reported over $1.9 million in government grants according to its latest tax filings. Over 10% of their nearly $2 million expenses goes to executive compensation.
Marino wants to reach transitioning service members through the clutter of information they receive at the end of their active duty.
“We want to make it easier for them to access employment opportunities in Florida,” he said.
According to Marino, while veterans have the experience and skills that employers are looking for, employers are looking for specific credentials.
“Service members already come out of the military with a lot of soft skills: teamwork, camaraderie and working towards a common mission with a common goal,” Marino said. “They also have a lot of hard skills and technical skills, but they don’t have the industry certifications or credentials.”
Marino says the name of the program accurately describes its purpose.
“It’s quite an appropriate term,” Marino said. “Service members are coming out with skills, and this program helps bridge that gap between the skills they gain in the military and the skills the employer needs.”
Learning corporate terminology and practices is one way veterans have tried to bridge that gap.
When Barron Mills left the U.S. Marine Corps and tried to enter the workforce, he was unprepared for the discrepancies between the military and civilian workforce.
“Plain and simple: I had no idea what it took to get a job,” he said.
Now, Mills is the executive director of Florida Association of Veteran-Owned Businesses and helps service members avoid the mistakes he made upon leaving the military.
“When it comes to making a resume, veterans write down a lot of terms used in the military, and those don’t translate to somebody who hasn’t served in the military,” he said. “Even though they are saying things that are applicable to employers, there is a disconnect.”
Mills says that practices used in the corporate world, such as networking or pitching yourself, are foreign to veterans.
“In the military, it’s all about the team,” he said. “It’s never about promoting yourself or talking about yourself, which is part of going after a job in the civilian world.”
He believes the messages portrayed about veterans in the media affect the way employers view them.
“A lot of what people see about veterans on TV is about the difficulties veterans face with homelessness and mental health,” Mills said. “Those are issues that need to be tackled, but that is a small percentage of the veteran population. The vast majority of veterans are able to do any task asked of them.”
Although they may be qualified, without quantifiable work experience or certifications, veterans in Florida are not easily shifting into the corporate world.
The bill has passed unanimously through two committees in the Florida Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Its companion bill in the House, HB 435, has passed through three of its four committees and awaits a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.
During their SkillBridge program, the military still pays the service member’s salary and benefits. Bill sponsor Senator Tom Wright believes this will help industries that require apprentices.
“A lot of companies throughout the state are looking for ways to find good apprentices, but they don’t have the funding available, and this will allow our veterans to still be paid through the federal government the last 180 days,” Wright said.
The program will also come at no cost to the state.
“It is a federal program, so there is no fiscal to the state of Florida,” Wright said.
Senator Victor Torres, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, understands the challenges facing veterans after leaving the service.
“We give up our youth, the amount of years we serve, and we come back home and sometimes we don’t know where to go,” Torres said.
Torres supports the bill for veterans finding career paths.
“This bill addresses how we help veterans transition into civilian life and job opportunities,” he said.
The transition pipeline from active duty to civilian workforce could rival the college pipeline in coming years.
Mills believes economic councils across the state have been overlooking veterans as a workforce group alternative to college graduates.
“What they have more than any college student has is experience,” he said. “They’ve led a team, or done accounting, or run machinery.”
He hopes that employers will realize the talents within Florida’s veterans.
“I don’t think most companies understand the value a veteran employee can bring.”