Through the month of March, Student Veterans of America Illinois hosted a signature event series called Bridges To Employment (BTE). The BTE event series assembles executives and senior managers from the public and private sectors to engage in a panel discussion educating veterans on the strengths they bring to future careers. Following the panel, veterans in attendance connected in a networking forum with professional partners to empower student veterans with networking skills necessary to succeed. BTE seminars were designed to arm veterans with pertinent networking skills and provide an opportunity to effectively market their skills.
The BTE events took place at colleges across the state of Illinois. BTE visited Northwestern University in Chicago, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Illinois State University in Bloomington/Normal. Through the four events over 150 student veterans were able to connect with over 100 public and private sectors and not only work on their networking skills as they finish their degree, but potentially connect with a future employer.
I was able to attend the Northwestern University and Northern Illinois events and witness the student veterans and employers in action. As part of the Veterans Program at the McCormick Foundation, one of our major areas of focus is employment, education and training so that servicemembers returning home can smoothly transition into the civilian workforce into jobs in which they are well qualified. Attending BTE allowed me to reflect on my own transition as I exited the Navy in 2006 into the civilian world. I was unsure of what profession I wanted to pursue or where to turn. Through my experience then and through the past several years, I have learned of many resources and opportunities to help for a smooth transition. Here are four takeaways I have learned:
Volunteer and informational interviews – I was unsure of what type of work I wanted to do when I left the service. I also moved to a new community where I did not have many connections. While on terminal leave I took the time to get to know my new community and started to volunteer at several organizations to include the American Red Cross, Athens County Historical Society and Museum, and on a small political campaign. This not only gave me a chance to use my skills I gained while in the Navy and to explore some different professional opportunities but also a valuable chance to build relationships with local leaders. These relationships later ended up serving references when I applied for several jobs in the area.
Join a network – As more and more post 9/11 veterans return home from service, there have been many networks and organizations that have started for veterans to take part. Even if you are not planning on going back to school right away, look up the local Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter at a university or college in the area. Team Red, White and Blue is an organization that provides fitness opportunities and an avenue for veterans to connect to their community. Mission Continues offers fellowship and volunteer opportunities for veterans.
Make a plan on how to use your Post 9/11 GI Benefits – These benefits should not go wasted and it’s worth taking the time to research how you can best utilize them. Whether it be to go back to traditional school, for a post graduate degree, or a certification - taking the time to do your research on how to best utilize them is well worth it. Making contact to local SVA chapters can be a good resources or seeking out veteran service officers at local universities and colleges.
Transitional Employment – many of us do not have a job lined up right away or are not ready to go back to school when we leave the military but income is needed. Many new organizations and companies offer creative ways to get employment while looking for full time work. Locally in Chicago, a nonprofit called Leave No Veteran Behind offers transnational employment and job training. Uber has also entered the space offering jobs to transitioning veterans.