Military training can provide an edge in tight job markets

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Charles Dillard landed a job in the health care industry through his military training.

The 50-year-old was trained as a medic in the Army. Today, he works as a supply specialist at MCG Health Inc., ordering supplies for the operating room and several clinics.

"I used everything I learned in the Army. Being in the military, I think they give us the skills to do any kind of job. I had to do a quick study of a job and fulfill it. I was able to do this (current) job because of my military training," Mr. Dillard said.

He retired from the Army after 20 years in 2004. His job is demanding, he said, but the Army taught him how to "organize and manage his time."

"Rather than just come in and do a job, I'm actually able to excel in the job. Without the military, I don't think I would have been able to do that," he said.

About 100 soldiers transition out of the military each month at Fort Gordon, said Eddie Ferguson, transition services manager for the Army Career and Alumni Program. Mr. Ferguson helps soldiers re-enter the job market.

"They can usually find a job readily or within two or three months after separating. We usually average 55 percent of the service members on Fort Gordon who already have a job before they separate from the military," Mr. Ferguson said.

"Most employers send their job openings to us because they are actually looking for veterans or retirees. For some of the obvious reasons -- military folks tend to have good work ethic, be drug free and they know how to come to work on time and do whatever it requires to get the job done," Mr. Ferguson explained.

Being the home of the Army's communications command, Fort Gordon, unlike some military installations, is unique in teaching skills that easily transfer to civilian work, he said.

"We train all of the Army folks here that are in the communications field and information technology. When those folks get out, communications and information technology are in demand. We also have an abundance of military intelligence here, to include linguists, and the medical field who are in demand," Mr. Ferguson said.

Government contractors are also interested in hiring veterans, he said.

ALL SOLDIERS LEAVING the military are mandated by Congress to complete a briefing, including information on employment assistance, relocation and educational training.

There is no shortage of training opportunities.

They are also encouraged to participate in a 21/2-day Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshop series conducted by the Georgia Department of Labor. Topics include strategies for an effective job search, interviews and reviewing job offers.

In addition, the Army Career and Alumni Program offers job research tools, résumé and cover letter writing software, practice interviews, a job bulletin board and access to counselors.

Among the resources is software that allows soldiers to determine how their military skills translate into the civilian occupations.

This month, Fort Gordon joined with the Georgia Work Ready program to offer WorkKeys Testing, which verifies a person's job skills.

The Seamless Transition Center and Georgia Department of Labor are also available for assistance. Also, those interested can attend sessions with the Small Business Development Center.

Sgt. 1st Class Keith Murray, 41, is retiring from the Army and plans to use the GI Bill to attend culinary school or receive a bachelor's degree in business management. One day, he hopes to open his own restaurant.

He's considering jobs in telecommunications for which he received his military training, but his ultimate goal is entrepreneurship, he said.

Master Sgt. Willie Bates will retire from the Army in July. He works as a career counselor at Fort Gordon, and he's targeting human resources and IT jobs. His job search is going well.

"I've gotten a couple of offers, but I've found out that in the civilian sector they want you to work now ... but I told them I can't be available until a certain date. But they're holding on to my résumé," he said.

He said that ACAP's interview sessions are extremely helpful.

"They give you mock interviews, and you ... practice those skills to help you when you transition. It also helps you to get out of the military jargon or acronyms that we may use and go over to the civilian side," he said.

THE TROOPS TO TEACHERS program assists qualified active duty, National Guard and reserve military members who want to start second careers as public school teachers. Many teach in subjects with critical shortages such as special education, math, science and foreign languages, said Bill Kirkland, program manager for Georgia's Troops to Teachers Program.

"Studies have proven that military veterans make great teachers. They bring a wealth of life experience to the classroom that adds a great deal to the learning experience. More importantly, they are making a difference in the lives of children," Mr. Kirkland said. "Many have won local teacher of the year awards for their outstanding service in the classroom."

Participants can receive up to $5,000 to pay for teacher certification.

Joyce Law, 54, a retired lieutenant colonel from the Army Reserve, participated in the program and has entered her second year of teaching. She works at Hephzibah High School as a special education teacher.

During her military service, she worked as a communication assistant. Prior to her teaching career, she worked for two years as a communication assistant for the speech and hearing impaired, which helped her to understand the special needs population, she said.

"That was a great influence on my decision to pursue special education. I love teaching," Ms. Law said.

Throughout her military experience, she held teaching roles. As a non-commissioned officer, she provided remedial training for soldiers preparing for their military occupational speciality tests. As a young soldier, she ran a small school in Guam to help Vietnamese refugees who were coming to the U.S., she said.

"The biggest aspect of my military experience was my exposure to diversity, by age, gender, culture and capability -- to see all of the different ways that people think and approach learning," Ms. Law said.

"It also enhanced my confidence to approach and learn any subject area because as a special education teacher ... I have to teach a range of subjects to my students. I have to teach almost everything that they study in their curriculum," she said.

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

NEED MORE INFORMATION?

For more information about the Army Career and Alumni Program, visit www.acap.army.mil.

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