Despite their training and skills, post-9/11 American military veterans have higher rates of unemployment than the general U.S. population—several percentage points higher than the national average according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It could get worse as about one million service personnel are estimated to leave the U.S. military between now and 2018.
The Veterans' Employment Challenges study (PDF,644KB) reported that “finding a job” is the greatest challenge of veterans transitioning to civilian life. A large part of the difficulty is an inability to explain how their military experience translates to skills of interest to a civilian employer.
In 2012, looking to get a jump start on preparing for life outside the military, an active duty army captain serving in the Washington D.C area reached out for help through American Corporate Partners’ (ACP) Veteran Mentoring Program. ACP matched her with Stacy Gorin, a skills leader at IBM, who volunteered with ACP to assist veterans in their career development—a terrific match since Stacy’s job at IBM involves performance coaching and skills development. “I learned about ACP on Veterans Day several years ago on IBM’s web site,” says Stacy. “It seemed that my coaching background could be put to good use and it was a perfect opportunity for me to give back to those who give so much to our country.”
It’s not about bragging, it’s about your experience
Since 2009 IBM has been a partner of American Corporate Partners, a not-for-profit organization that helps war veterans re-integrate into civilian life with free career counseling and mentoring. ACP was the first nationwide corporate mentoring program for returning veterans and IBM has provided more mentors than any other corporate partner, while also contributing technology solutions to support the organization.
ACP mentorships are twelve months, giving ample time for the mentor and protégé to get to know each other and work on the protégé’s objectives. “The captain and I meet at least monthly via conference call and exchange emails on a regular basis,” says Stacy. “When she needs advice on a particular matter we will either chat or talk by email about the issue, whether it is about an upcoming networking event or how she might best reach out to someone she met.”
Though Stacy has no ties to the military, she had mentored an ACP protégé before, giving her some familiarity with a veteran’s perspective on re-entering civilian life. While every mentor relationship is different, Stacy says that “It begins with establishing a relationship contract or designed alliance as we call it in coaching, which deals with how best we will work together in a confidential manner.” (Abiding by that contract, this story refers to Stacy’s current protégé by her army rank as captain rather than by her name.) Stacy adds that “Trust is the key component and establishing connection and rapport. It's about asking thought provoking questions, providing support, guidance and always listening.”
Returning veterans have many traits that make them desirable employees—discipline, leadership experience, problem-solving ability and, often, hard-to-find trade skills. The captain’s current posting gives her access to heads of state and business and Medal of Honor recipients and includes participation at significant ceremonial events. “When I suggested she leverage those experiences to help her in her job search outside the military, she had to be convinced that it would not seem like she was bragging,” Stacy says.
This past May, the captain contacted IBM to express her gratitude for the partnership she and Stacy have developed. “Stacy gave me guidance on resume building and interviewing techniques, and motivated me to expand my professional networking,” she said. “Most importantly, Stacy gave me the confidence to see the worth I might bring to the civilian sector. I struggled to translate my skills prior to our work and now I feel at ease communicating how I can be an asset in and out of the military.”
From mentoring to Think40
Stacy has spent the last twelve years of her 32 year career at IBM helping team members enhance their skills. The ability to positively influence and impact others—teammates, clients or people in our communities—based on expertise and skills is a highly valued competency at IBM.
The “Think40” initiative asks IBM employees to initiate and complete 40 hours of professional development each year. While Stacy assists IBM employees in their professional development, her experience mentoring others outside IBM has also served her professionally. “I have learned more from the hours I spent mentoring and coaching ACP veterans—it’s invaluable experience that makes me a better coach,” she says. “I believe both mentors and coaches can gain as much as they give. I know I always benefit from my coaching relationships.” In fact, Stacy’s hours mentoring outside IBM count toward achieving her 40 hours of professional development for the year, while also being personally satisfying.
Talking about her time spent mentoring veterans, Stacy says “I have seen things from a totally different perspective and have had my eyes opened to what our service men and women endure on a daily basis.” She adds, “I am most proud that I am able to give something back to the two incredible service women I have had the honor to work with, who have each put themselves in harm’s way to fight for our freedom.”