JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Robert Humes and Ashley Harris are excited. And why shouldn’t they be? The two former Army enlisted soldiers, both currently with the Washington Office of Financial Management, are close to seeing painstaking hours of networking, planning and analysis come to fruition with the launch of the state’s Veterans Fellowship Program in January.
The program will allow transitioning service members to complete 40 nonconsecutive hours of job shadowing from a list of state agencies tailored to fit their individual skills and interests.
Humes described the fellowship as an “experiential learning opportunity” that is scheduled to run through 2014. The voluntary program is designed so candidates can schedule their own shadowing hours and complete the fellowship within 90 days.
The program benefits veterans by allowing them to sample the more than 200 state agencies, network with potential peers and employers and make a decision if whether or not working for Washington is right for them, said Humes, a statewide planning and strategy specialist.
The Veterans Fellowship Program is part of a larger effort by Washington state to recruit service members transitioning from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a goal that Robin Baker, transition services manager at JBLM, wholly supports.
Baker said that in fiscal year 2013, roughly 8,500 service members transitioned out of the military from JBLM – up from 6,000 in 2012. Between 30 and 40 percent of those veterans said they planned to stay in Washington.
“It’s not a small number of people, and the state acknowledged that. They also acknowledged what value veterans can bring to their agencies,” she added.
Service members in transition may be able to benefit from the unique relationship between JBLM and Washington state. Though the Department of the Army mandated that all installations form transition councils, Baker said most only coordinate efforts between military agencies.
“We really acknowledged that you can’t do a transition council well if you don’t have the community involved, because that’s who we are handing [service members] off to,” she said.
Baker added that the Washington State Military Transition Council is the only body of its kind in the country. Top-level executives from state agencies work with their federal, military, private-sector and non-profit counterparts to support veterans and their families as they transition to civilian life.
Humes, who transitioned out of the Army from JBLM, said serving in the military and serving the public through the state are more similar than some veterans think.
“When they think about state government, they think we all sit at desks. We don’t,” he said. “Anywhere things happen in Washington state, that’s where we are.”
Humes compared a military permanent change of station to transferring jobs within state government. Employees may physically move or completely change their careers by switching to a different agency, much like reclassifying to a new job in the military.
“I believe that we have one employer, which is the state of Washington. And with that one employer, I’ve had three different jobs, with three different agencies with three different types of missions,” he added.
While service members are tweaking their resumes to convey their military experience, state hiring managers are learning what unique skills veterans bring to the workforce.
“We’re helping them to understand the veteran might not know how to sell themselves right away and what the benefits are of hiring a veteran,” said Harris, a former Army medical logistics specialist, now a performance and planning assistant with Washington state.
“We know that when you hire one veteran, you get ten times more than what you would get from any one hire,” Humes said. “If we are going to be serious about our success moving forward, we have to be serious about gaining veteran talent.”
The Veterans Fellowship Program is also a way for transitioning service members to find out if working for the state aligns with their employment goals.
“The last thing we want anybody to do is to work 18 months or two years on a plan to work in a company or an industry, and find out, ‘This is not what I thought it was,’” Baker said. “You can only do so much research online. Until you step foot inside, you don’t know if it’s the right fit for you.”
And if a veteran does decide to work for Washington, a foot in the door may be all they need to start a lasting career.
When compared to the state’s total workforce between January 2012 and August 2013, veterans were roughly 44 percent more likely to turn a temporary position into a permanent job, according to data provided by Danica Ersland, a senior workforce management analyst with the Office of Financial Management.
“Jobs are about what you know, what experiences you’ve had and how successful you have been, but they are also predominately about what access you have to people and what you glean from them by proximity,” Humes said.
To participate in the Veterans Fellowship Program, service members must have at least 90 days left in the military. They need to have completed or be working toward a degree, or be eligible to receive education benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Applicants must also coordinate with AACAP to receive their separation brief, participate in the NW Edge program – a daylong tour of a state agency – and meet with a Vet Corp Peer Mentor.
To learn more about the Veterans Fellowship Program, visit www.careers.wa.gov.