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Still serving | Local business helps veterans transition into civilian workforce
For R.J. Naugle, entering the military soon after Sept. 11 gave him a sense of purpose that was critical to his being. When he left, he wanted his civilian job to employ the same sense of pride.
“When you transition out, sometimes you lose your identity,” says Naugle, director of military and veteran recruiting programs at local tech consulting firm, Direct Technology (DT).
In the next five years, 1.5 million service members will return from active duty, he says. Veterans often face the grim reality of unemployment, addiction, homelessness and high rates of suicide. But while these are truisms, a growing number of federal, state and private entities are attempting to funnel veterans into technology, IT and engineering jobs that are suffering from talent gaps.
Among them is Direct Technology, which recruits and trains veterans on everything from resume writing to interview skills. It comes easily to the company, where 20 percent of the employee-base has served in the military.
“It's interesting, when you're young and you enter the military, they shave your head, they put you in the same uniform and you know whose team you're on,” says Rick Nelson CEO of DT and an Air Force veteran. “When you come back to civilian life everyone dresses the same...and when you take a job you don't always connect immediately with the higher goals or how the task lends itself to that mission.”
There are programs in place on a federal level to rehabilitate veterans, but Naugle and Nelson both insist that the responsibility should equally fall on local companies.
“[The awareness] is growing. We’re getting a lot better at it. The private sector is opening up to military talent,” says Naugle. “We also recognize it’s a tradeoff. We’re trading a formal education at a major university for the ability to operate in a high-pressure situation and harsh conditions and to have communication skills and more training that doesn’t come with someone straight out of college.”
When Naugle enlisted in 2003, he turned down a promising offer with a subsidiary of GM to serve his country. He trained to become a paratrooper and was stationed at Fort Lewis where he met his wife, a helicopter pilot. Naugle later became an officer, moving to Maryland and Kentucky. In 2007 he joined Microsoft. Helped along by his own network of veterans, he founded a training program called Military 2 Microsoft, which paired the skill sets learned in the military with jobs in the high-tech field.
“The military is downsizing,” explains Naugle. “Some of these are involuntary separations, which doesn’t mean they’re not honorable discharges, it just means the military shut down that job. We equate it with layoffs in the private sector.”
He points to one example of an individual who was honorably discharged after being told he’d served his country. The following Monday he started a job with Microsoft. Success stories like this one are important both for the individual, says Naugle, and for the public. In 2012 veteran unemployment rates reached 7 percent, a number that will likely grow as military operations further wind down.
Outreach typically begins in the last few months of service, during the military's mandatory Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Where TAP stops, Direct Technology picks up, says Nelson, adding that with Seattle and Bellevue’s growing demand for tech jobs, training is usually made with the local market in mind.
“There are certain developments and skill sets for which there is simply not enough talent out there,” says Jennifer Halabi, account executive at Direct Technology, who before joining DT was a technical recruiter for six years. “I used to always kid, ‘I wish there was a way to incubate people and grow them ourselves.’ Well, essentially that’s what we’re doing. It’s exciting because it not only benefits the military, but also the tech industry because we’re filling gaps we can’t now fill.”
While companies take pride in hiring veterans, they often don't immediately know where to place them.
“One of the great values we see in military members is this tremendous discipline and work ethic,” says Nelson. “…There’s a sense of pride bringing them into a company and helping them start careers.”