Translating Military Experience to Industry Skills

Onward to Opportunity

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families helps veterans translate military experience into skills needed by industry.

Winners of the IVMF/Citi Realizing Your Dream event pose for a photo on stage
IVMF founder and executive director J. Michael Haynie (fifth from right) joins award winners at the 2015 IVMF/Citi Realizing Your Dream event. Among the winners was Leah Olszewski (green top, center), who launched FEMTAC, a company that makes tactical apparel for women field professionals, with her sister.

During his seven years in the U.S. Army, Lee Moreland built and led IT teams that provided secure internet, radio, and satellite communications for a combat division in the desert of Iraq; maintained critical server, automation, and communications links for airlifts and VIP flights across Germany and Belgium; and equipped, trained, and supported 25 Civil Affairs teams tasked with responding to disasters in the Asia-Pacific region, while at the same time providing IT support for headquarters at his home base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington. And he did it all while in his 20s.

Yet when Moreland interviewed for an internship at Starbucks as part of his transition from the military to civilian work and life in 2016, the boss who would ultimately hire him to manage Starbucks’ technology program in China said he couldn’t tell what Moreland actually did in the Army. “He said, ‘I have no idea what your resume says,’” Moreland says from his Starbucks office in Seattle. 

Lee Moreland portrait in front of an Onward to Opportunity banner
Lee Moreland earned an Onward to Opportunity certificate and now teaches in the program.

One reason for this communication gap is that the military and private industry speak different languages. Another is that people on one side of the military/civilian divide know little about how things work and what people do on the other. This makes it difficult to understand how knowledge, skills, and experience gained in the military translate to civilian job roles. Plus, it’s hard to convey the breadth, depth, and character-forming impact of military experience on a standard business resume. “No matter how hard you try,” Moreland says, “there is no way you can ever tell that full story on a resume.”

For Moreland and others, that’s one area where the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University can help. The IVMF, through its Onward to Opportunity (O2O)-Veterans Career Transition Program (VCTP), assists post-9/11 veterans, active and transitioning military, reservists, and their spouses in translating military experience and responsibilities into the skills, accomplishments, and competencies recognized by outside industries. The IVMF—in partnership with the Schultz Family Foundation (Onward Veterans), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (Veteran Jobs Mission), and others—also enables veterans and transitioning service members to develop new skill sets and acquire industry-specific training and certifications needed to succeed in the civilian workforce.

When they complete an IVMF program, graduates receive a certificate from Syracuse University confirming they have successfully completed coursework and training in a specific career track. They also solidify their connection with the IVMF, the University, and its worldwide alumni community. “They become proud members of the Orange Network, and we welcome them,” says Sue Ballard, associate vice president of alumni engagement. “It is an incredible network—one that spans the globe—and we hope these graduates will stay engaged with Syracuse University, no matter where they live or work.”

Through the innovative programs, research, and initiatives of the IVMF, establishment of the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, and creation of the National Veterans Resource Complex now underway, Syracuse University is continuing a legacy of service to veterans and their families that began when it welcomed thousands of World War II veterans as students under the GI Bill. In his inaugural address three years ago, Chancellor Kent Syverud insisted Syracuse “must, once again, become the best place for veterans,” and the University has acted in a variety of ways to make it so.  

A lot of it comes down to education, to helping people on both sides become educated consumers. The military is filled with project management professionals. They just don’t have PMP after their names.

—J. Michael Haynie

Since October 2015, the IVMF’s O2O-VCTP program has provided training, career counseling, and job placement services to nearly 8,000 service members at eight military installations across the United States and online around the world. At the same time, the IVMF and its corporate, institutional, and nonprofit partners have worked to educate industry CEOs, HR departments, recruiters, and hiring managers on what military people—exiting the service at a rate of about 200,000 annually—offer employers. Through partnerships with such companies as Amazon, Citibank, Hilton, Starbucks, First Data, USAA, and others, and links to veterans’ service agencies, such as Hire Heroes USA, the IVMF acts as both liaison and talent pipeline between exiting service members and outside employers. “A lot of it comes down to education, to helping people on both sides become educated consumers,” says J. Michael Haynie, founder and executive director of the IVMF and vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation at Syracuse. “The military is filled with project management professionals. They just don’t have PMP after their names.”

Traits employers say they value in employees are often ones embraced by military personnel and promoted—nay, celebrated and enshrined—by military culture: Loyalty. Leadership. A commitment to team and mission. Flexibility. A desire to serve, help others succeed, and be part of something greater than oneself. Still, business people, recruiters, and hiring managers usually want to know the breadth and depth of a veteran’s knowledge and skills—and industry-recognized certifications attest to that. That’s why the IVMF offers more than 35 training and certification courses across several career tracks, including IT, business management, and customer service/hospitality. “Certification is a door-opener to employment,” says Maureen Casey, the IVMF’s chief operating officer. “In some positions, it’s a requirement. Even where it’s not, if you have an industry-recognized credential, it gives (the hiring manager) a level of comfort about what you know and can do. It can get you an interview.” 

Moreland, for instance, who was part of the first cohort of O2O participants at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, earned a Cisco certification as a network technician, even though he holds both undergraduate and master’s degrees in IT and had seven years of experience building and maintaining IT networks for the Army. “Particularly in IT, where you must have expertise in specific domains, technical certificates count,” says Moreland, who now teaches for O2O.

For those who’ve worked for years in their fields while in the military, IVMF training can be a refresher or a chance to fill in skill or knowledge gaps, the testing and certification a confirmation of what they already know. For others, it’s a chance to substitute a certification—or several—for lack of a degree or formal education. For still others, the programs are a way to develop new skills in preparation for a career change.

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