Military members and their families are no strangers to transitions. Whether undergoing multiple moves or overseas deployments, this highly resilient population is used to adapting. But one transition — from military to civilian life — can be particularly daunting as service members navigate finding jobs, relocating and adjusting to a new way of life.
Support from military-based programs and military-friendly communities can help ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible, while building a region’s access to this highly skilled workforce — a win-win for soldiers and local businesses.
BHS Construction is a general contractor that’s served the Greater Manhattan region for over 50 years. The company has worked with various programs to recruit service members. According to BHS Construction’s human resources director Nathan Redeker, service members bring valuable life experiences and soft skills to the workplace.
“Transitioning service members are very ambitious. They want to showcase their skills and we want to bring them on board and have them be successful,” he said.
With approximately 2,000 soldiers transitioning from Fort Riley each year, the region has access to a workforce rich in experience and skills to tap into. Several programs help connect businesses with this unique talent pool.
The Army’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is a primary conduit. By facilitating everything from briefs about finances to connections with local employers, TAP’s mission is to prepare soldiers for a successful transition to the civilian world. Local partnerships can be an impactful component of fulfilling that mission.
“The Junction City and Manhattan Area chambers of commerce work hard to keep soldiers in the area. I work with them to promote business programs, internships, job opportunities and local resources, if soldiers want to stay in Kansas,” said Master Sgt. Bradley Spaid, TAP liaison, 1st Infantry Division. “We see a lot of interest in the retired population to stay in Kansas. One of the main reasons is that the employment opportunities are vast. Soldiers often find employment here even before they separate from the military.”
Military-friendly communities like those in the Greater Manhattan region see the value in these highly skilled professionals and make an effort to attract them. The Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce’s Military Relations Committee connects active duty and retired service members with local leaders and professionals. The Workforce Advisory Board provides employment and professional development resources.
“There are plenty of opportunities. If a soldier wants to stay in Manhattan, the chamber provides opportunities for soldiers to attend their Business After Hours, get to know the community and find a mentor to welcome them,” Spaid said.
Proximity to Fort Riley means local companies can also develop relationships with soldiers stationed there who are planning to transition out of the military.
An Army initiative called the Career Skills Program (CSP) provides an opportunity for soldiers to participate in internships while on active duty. Service members can leverage their experience while providing a talent pipeline for companies. For example, a sergeant major whose skills may align with those of a project manager can leverage her leadership experience while gaining specialized knowledge in a given industry. If there’s a good fit, an internship can result in a direct hire.
“Annually, we had 703 soldiers participate in the CSP. Of those, 665 completed the program and 553 got immediate employment. It’s been super successful,” Spaid said.
Participation is mission-dependent and at each unit commander’s discretion. This program has connected soldiers with work-based opportunities through:
- Heroes MAKE America: An industry-based program facilitating meet-and-greets with local employers like Caterpillar in Wamego and tours of solar and wind energy facilities
- ABF Freight Teamsters Military Assistance Program: A logistics company enabling soldiers to earn a commercial driver’s license and providing an immediate hire opportunity upon successful completion of their certification
- Airstreams Renewables Inc.: A program providing soldiers with a solid foundation in wind energy, communication towers and related industrial careers. Students learn technical and safety skills to prepare them for entry-level positions in those industries.
- Home Builders Institute (HBI): An educational program introducing soldiers to electric and carpentry trades that has partnered with Habitat for Humanity for participants to help build houses in Ogden
BHS Construction recently hired a soldier participating in the HBI program.
“HBI is a great program,” Redeker said. “It offers 12 weeks of training with six weeks on construction and six weeks on electricity. It gives transitioning service members a taste of what it’s like to work in construction.”
Programs through other branches provide opportunities to tap into military talent at other locations. Skills Bridge is an Air Force internship program that BHS Construction has also participated in.
An airman contacted the company while he was on active duty in California. His family was already in Manhattan, having chosen to locate here after his service. He wanted to work in construction and the six-month program essentially served as a prolonged job interview, with the company providing on-the-job training.
“Before he was done, we knew we were prepared to offer him a job. It was a great experience for us,” Redeker said. “We take hiring very seriously. It’s a big investment and programs like this are a great way to determine if there’s a good fit.”
Local educational institutions like Kansas State University and Barton Community College also offer specialized resources for military personnel and their families. From programs focused on different career fields to scholarships to training, these schools can help soldiers transition to careers in teaching, logistics and more.
K-State’s College of Education Military Initiatives are specifically focused on helping military-connected families take advantage of opportunities in academia as students and educators.
Fort Riley also offers multiple in-house resources to connect soldiers to local career opportunities and employers, including:
- Job fairs: Hosted on base, the focus can range from companies actively recruiting military personnel to local educational institutions showcasing learning and employment opportunities
- USO Pathfinder Transition Program: A mentorship program that helps soldiers create resumes, navigate housing options and more
- Army Community Services Employment Readiness Program: A resource that provides military personnel and their family members with access to career coaching, classes, job listings and more
“It’s not fire and forget. Fort Riley cares about what the soldier does next,” Spaid said. “It’s more than just the transitioning soldier. We want to make sure the whole family transitions successfully.”
For more information about becoming involved in recruitment opportunities for transitioning service members, contact Janet Nichols at 785-776-8829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.