SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Hawaii's first Transition Summit for Soldiers, family members and veterans rolled into action here, July 7 and 8, with expert panels, workshops, a networking event and a hiring fair -- all aimed at connecting service members with private-sector companies looking to hire.
More than 2,000 service members, families and veterans attended, and representatives from more than 100 companies were there, according to officials from the Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes program, which was one of the main architects of the summit and similar forums at other military bases on the continental United States and overseas.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald delivered keynote speeches to packed audiences.
Both secretaries have ties to the Army. Perez's father served in the Army, and McDonald's served with the 82nd Airborne Division and earned the Ranger tab, Expert Infantryman Badge and Senior Parachutist wings.
Perez spoke optimistically about the economy, saying it's moving in the right direction and showing growth in all sectors.
He and McDonald agreed that there are many opportunities for transitioning Soldiers in the private sector because Soldiers possess the skills that employers want.
"If you have skills leading people, and all of you have that skill, if you know what DEFCON 1 means, and all of you have that skill, that's why employers are jumping at the bit, whether it be JP Morgan or other colleagues that are here," said Perez. "They want to hire you."
This boded well for those like Spc. Thomas Smarsh, who attended the summit because he plans to transition from the Army by early next year.
"I came because I wanted the opportunity to talk to people outside of the military," said Smarsh. "Specifically, I'm interested in meeting with someone from the aerospace industry because that's what I'm studying."
The summit also featured events (such as the Military Spouse Workshop) that were applicable to military spouses (like Fahiya Hassan) who were looking for employment.
"I'm here because I want to put my four-year degree to use. I'm hoping being here will help me find a job in Hawaii," Hassan said.
Army spouse Desiree Dobbs said she planned to attend the summit's Resume Writing and Federal Careers Workshop.
"I just moved here 30 days ago from Joint Base Lewis-McChord," she said. "I've done banking work in the past and am looking for administrative work. But actually, I'm really interested in getting a federal job."
Smarsh, Hassan and Dobbs already had a direction for their career search, but for those who may not have, McDonald offered some philosophical advice, urging his audience to "find a purpose or mission in your life."
Just as these service members and their families have served and protected the country by fulfilling their military missions, so should they give themselves their best chance for success beyond the military by preparing for their career "mission."
Ross Brown, head of Veterans and Military Affairs at JP Morgan Chase, a speaker on the Perspectives on Transition from a National Level panel, built upon McDonald's words, saying, "Identify and objective and plan accordingly. Have several resumes, one for each of the fields you're interested in."
JP Morgan Chase was one of nearly 100 companies with representatives on post to meet with and possibly hire transitioning Soldiers, family members and veterans.
Added Col Adam Rocke, director of the Army's Soldier for Life Program and a panelist added, "Transition is a process; don't make it an event. It takes (an average of) 9-12 months to land that first job."
This type of real-world advice mixed with optimism and the promise of available jobs -- for Soldiers who were willing to stand up and get them -- summed up the spirit of the summit, which took place as the Army announced plans to reduce its Soldiers by 40,000 and its civilian employees by 17,000 over the next few years due to budget shortfalls.
Meanwhile, representatives from Microsoft, a major summit partner, said they had numerous positions to fill.
"There are many pathways into the company. We need software developers, coders, electricians, diesel mechanics," said Sean Kelley, program director for Microsoft's Military Affairs program, adding that if Microsoft is looking to fill these positions, then so are other IT companies, such as Apple, Amazon and Google.
"Rule yourself into the industry; don't rule yourself out," he continued. "Service members don't lean into this industry as much as this industry needs them. Human resources needs to understand the value of hiring veterans, and veterans need to believe in the value they bring to the industry."
-- Tips for Transitioning
Transitioning is different for every individual, but employers, employment experts and service members who have made the transition to civilian employment seemed to agree on a general strategy for success:
- Find a passion or purpose. If you're unsure of what field to pursue next, consider taking a personality inventory and/or aptitude test.
- Create multiple resumes. Different companies/fields have different requirements and look for different things.
- Cast a wide net. Your next job need not correlate exactly to your military occupational specialty. Consider options, such as the GI Bill, which can help you obtain the education/experience you need to get where you want to be.
- Be patient. It can take up to a year -- in some cases longer -- to find your next career.
- Start early. Think about and plan your next move while you are still in the military.