Kennebec Valley Chamber

Serving the Kennebec Valley, Maine Region

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Friday Report ~ May 27, 2016

"Helping Our Heroes" - Many people change jobs, and even professions, numerous times over the course of their careers. I would imagine very few of you are in the same career in which you started; or even for which you received a degree. There is nothing wrong with that: as people grow and change, their focus changes and they choose a new career path.

Unfortunately, this transition to a new career is most difficult for those leaving the military. I retired from the Navy in 2008. At that time I had a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and Senior Vice President level experience running large departments and coordinating logistics for hundreds of personnel and million dollars of assets. I had developed military officer leadership skills, and what I believe to be a solid set of management skills. Even with a strong resume, I was faced with one crucial question at every interview: "What do you know about our industry." The truth was, I didn't know much about banking. I don't know much about insurance. I didn't know much about construction planning software. I took the opportunity to shadow professionals in different industries when it was presented, and I learned quite a bit. But still no luck.

The rest of my story seems to exist just prove the old adage, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." I had retired in April and by September I still had no offers of employment on the horizon. Looking to blow off some steam, I joined a very good friend at the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival on Labor Day in Brunswick, Maine. As one is apt to do at a bluegrass festival, we enjoyed the music and spent the following hours of the late evening/early morning sitting around various campfires playing guitar and singing bluegrass songs. At one point a woman next to me, between songs, politely asked what I did for work. I mentioned that I was a retired Naval officer with an MBA actively looking for employment. She wished me luck and we all went back to the music.

The very next morning, I got a call from my good friend's father. He informed me that the woman I had spoken to at the festival was an Optometrist in Brunswick who was currently looking for somebody to manage the practice. He asked if he could give her my phone number and I, of course, obliged. Within 24 hours, I had accepted a job offer and was looking forward to starting my first civilian job - in an industry I knew nothing about.

My transition was successful but there are many, many others that don't have such happy endings. There are several reasons that military individuals have difficulty connecting with the civilian workforce. Some of the most prominent are:

-          Lack of industry skills - As I mentioned, not knowing the field is one of the first hurdles.

-          Definition of skills - Many veterans have difficulty accurately describing the skills they have obtained in the service.

-          Education - Military training does not result in a formal certification or degree.

-          Rigidity/ Discipline - Many civilian positions require a degree of flexibility that veterans are not perceived to have.

These difficulties are not insurmountable and it just takes a new viewpoint to understand the applicant. So, as we approach Memorial Day and we spend time honoring those we have lost, let's also spend some time thinking about those who still need our help. There are thousands of veterans returning from the wars of the last 16 years with incredible technological skill, dedication and work ethic. There are certainly unique challenges in managing an individual with a military background, but I would argue that each and every employee presents their own set of challenges and strengths.

This Memorial Day, the City of Augusta will hold a special ceremony at Old Fort Western celebrating our veterans. At this event, Mayor Rollins and Brigadier General Farnham will sign a community covenant declaring Augusta as a Military Friendly Community. This pledges that the government, businesses and citizens of Augusta will support veterans, active military, and reserves, and the families that support them. Please join us at this event at 1pm on Monday.

Finally, if you do not currently offer preferred hiring practices or military discounts, please consider it. We have the greatest military in the world, and there's no reason that the workforce should not become the greatest civilian workforce in the world. Thanks for your help.