There was not much out of the ordinary at a networking event in Lakewood June 21: there were suits and snacks and business cards, polite conversation and plenty of handshakes.
There were also several attendees in Army Combat Uniforms.
The event, at Great American Casino, was organized by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army Career and Alumni Program to help transitioning service members find job opportunities and ease into a civilian mindset. If all goes well, the program will also help Army leaders prepare Soldiers to leave military life and successfully enter the civilian workforce.
We dont all stay in the Army forever, JBLM transition services manager Robin Baker said. We need to give (Soldiers) the same service when they go out as when they come in.
The afternoons of networking started only four months ago after the JBLM ACAP program began shuttling service members to a similar event in Seattle with a couple of goals in mind. First, even in a tough economy there are plenty of employers willing, even actively recruiting, former military members but they dont always know how to reach them. Second, leaving the military can present a pretty significant culture shock, and creating a safe space where transitioning Soldiers can practice talking to employers helps take the edge off.
The result is something like job speed dating or, for the more nervous participants, a middle school dance. Each job seeker carried a card for 10 employers to sign after meeting them that could then be entered in a raffle. Military members, some in suits and ties, others in ACUs, moved among bar tables passing out their resumes and introducing themselves, and in particular, asking questions about jobs or industries they might want to pursue.
Sergeant Derek Jarvis, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Inf. Division attended his first networking event last week, and admitted to feeling a bit intimidated.
Its the rest of my life Im looking at, he said, but knew that chatting with employers would make it easier for him to decide what he wanted to do next, and get comfortable talking to the people who would help him do it.
Really, most of the roughly 35 corporate partners in attendance were friendly faces. Representing everything from real estate to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, many recruiters had military experience themselves or came specifically because they wanted to hire veterans.
Brad Grantz, an Army Reservist who returned from a deployment only weeks ago, came to represent the Divers Institute of Technology, which trains commercial divers to perform traditional construction jobs underwater welding, for example. Former service members have made a very positive impression.
They tend to be more tough-skinned, he said, noting that the work comes with a lot of military-esque demands. Commercial divers must be competent with top-of-the-line equipment, are expected to always be on time and need to know that someone doing the wrong thing at the wrong time could be a danger to everyone.
The military gets that, Grantz said. Keren H. Wick, from the University of Washingtons Physician Assistant program, saw a lot of similar skills in veterans not to mention that many come pre-loaded with very real medical experience.
We like having the veterans in class mixed in (with civilians), we think they have a lot of assets, she said, noting that after the stress of someone shooting at you, midterm exams rarely inspire panic.
Whether or not participants found their dream jobs, they did see benefits. Many of the recruiters were also career counselors, and gladly gave feedback on resumes and tips for talking to employers.
At his second event, Staff Sgt. Kris Huhner is starting to see a change in himself.
Ive gotten more comfortable with the whole aspect of talking to people and letting them know Im available for employment, he said.
The networking events are beginning to show results. At least five people have been hired in the last few months as a result of connections made there, according to Baker.
Now shes hoping the installations leadership will take notice, and encourage Soldiers to make the most of their final months in the service.
Its about a legacy, she said. Take care of people so they can go out and be advocates for the Army.