A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place July 7 for Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s new American Job Center inside Hawk Transition Center on Lewis North, bringing together officials from JBLM, Washington state and various local business leaders in what is considered a groundbreaking effort for helping transitioning military service members.
The goal of the new on-base American Job Center is to bridge the gap between members of the military community and employers seeking their skills — an initiative started when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed Executive Order 13-01 for transition services in May 2013.
“This is a giant talent pool that I don’t want to let escape,” Inslee said. “It’s partly economic growth, but it’s also a part of our obligation to these (military) families.”
JBLM is the first military installation to have a job center inside the gates; although, it has been open and operating for a few months. It took about two years of planning between Col. Daniel Morgan, JBLM garrison commander, the Washington State Military Transition Council, the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and other groups.
With nearly 2,500 locations across the country, the American Job Center network has already found success after being established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act of 2014. The Department of Labor has reported helping more than 1 million service members find jobs after their military careers.
The American Job Center is expected to add onto what is currently offered at JBLM’s Service Member For Life — Transition Assistance Program. The program has a history of providing excellent transition services — including job interview preparation, resume building and job seeking tips.
“I do believe this is a model to continue to other parts of the United States,” Morgan said.
The center will provide additional specialists who can do all of the above tasks, plus connect veterans with job opportunities with local and national employers.
Large name corporations like Amazon, Boeing and Starbucks are once again connected to a JBLM transition effort, but transitioning service members and veterans will also see opportunities in fields like engineering, computer programming and informational technology.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the people on hand for the ceremony were able to take a tour of the new center — meeting with staff and learning about how the efforts of Camo2Commerce have helped placed more than 1,000 military community members into jobs.
Both Inslee and Alfie Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, said they don’t want to settle for the status quo. They led a round-table discussion with veterans, spouses and currently transitioning service members about what has worked and what needs improvement.
“This (center) is just one part, but we’re going to keep this ball rolling,” Inslee said.
During the discussion, Inslee and Alvarado-Ramos heard mostly positive reviews from those who have made successful transitions and those who are not far from a dream job.
Sergeant Justin Thompson, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, said he received help from JBLM SFL-TAP to build his resume — resulting in several job offers and a final interview with General Electric for a chance to be a jet engine mechanic in North Carolina.
“That was very helpful because I’m more of a hands-on person,” Thompson said.
Although the program has been advertised to help veterans and active-duty service members, spouses and family members have also joined the list of success stories. It certainly helped Michele Helfgott-Waters, wife to Staff Sgt. Robert Waters Jr., 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Helfgott-Waters had about seven career changes as she moved to different installations with her husband. Now, she works with the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce to support Camo2Commerce.
“We move, we lose certification and we lose our networks,” Helfgott-Waters said. “Naturally, that is the biggest challenge for spouses. Being part of these programs has been invaluable.”