Human Resources' program helps veterans transition to workforce

Virginia Tech provides ongoing assistance to veterans returning to the workforce through a one-of-a-kind program that pairs retired veterans with unemployed veterans.

The Department of Human Resources established its Vet-to-Vet program in 2010 after Director of Staffing and Recruiting Curtis Mabry and Staffing and Recruiting Specialist Christy Lowe noticed that the majority of the veterans who were applying for jobs on campus didn’t make the first round of cuts.

   

Vet-to-Vet program volunteer T.O. Williams III, at right, talks with veteran Bill Whitsett about finding employment. Vet-to-Vet program volunteer T.O. Williams III, at right, talks with veteran Bill Whitsett about finding employment.

“This is a program that speaks to both our commitment to service and our long military history,” Mabry said. “In addition to being an investment in our community, it’s just the right thing to do."

In 2011, about 47,000 people applied for jobs at the university. About 1,700 of them indicated they are veterans.

As of fall 2012, Virginia Tech employed about 300 veterans.

“There’s no question that our veterans were, and are, some of our most qualified applicants, but often they need help translating what they did in the military into skills that employers like Virginia Tech are looking for,” Lowe said.

Veterans in the program receive one-on-one assistance from Lowe. She works with them to focus on an area at the university in which they would like to work, develop a resume, and navigate the application process. She also helps them to identify weaknesses in their skill sets and suggests ways to address them to become more competitive in the job market.

At the same time, veterans are assigned to one of two volunteers who assist with the program. T.O. Williams III and Carl McDaniels, both veterans and Virginia Tech retirees, provide counsel and further assist with resumes, cover letters, and interviewing and networking skills.

“Our goal is not just to increase the number of veteran applicants,” Mabry said. “We would like to see the number of those applicants who are successful in getting a job increase as well.”

Changed lives

Through the years, Lowe, Mabry, Williams, and McDaniels have helped more than 100 veterans with their job searches.

Keith Gay, who spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, came through the Vet-to-Vet Program in 2010 and took a job as an academic advisor in the University Academic Advising Center.

Ken Abate, who served in the U.S. Army as an infantry truck driver, worked with the Vet-to-Vet Program for six months before he accepted a position as a housekeeper at the university.

   

Christy Lowe Staffing and Recruiting Specialist Christy Lowe meets monthly with local veterans at the Radford Virginia Employment Commission office to offer guidance on finding employment at the university.

The Vet-to-Vet program was a “game changer” for Lesa G. Schoell, a U.S. Army veteran who works as a benefits assistant for the Department of Human Resources.

Schoell had a successful career in the U.S. Army and then as a civilian who trained as interrogator/linguist and spent three years conducting psychological studies of Latin American countries. But when she started searching for a new job at age 54, she ran into difficulties.

“I made it my job to find a job,” Schoell said. “Each week, Monday through Saturday, I spent eight to 15 hours a day job hunting — searching websites for job postings, tweaking my resume to fit the posted job description, creating cover letters, completing applications, attending interviews, and conducting research to improve my resume and interview skills.”

As a last resort in 2012, she went to the Virginia Employment Commission office in Radford, Va., to speak with a veteran’s representative. Within minutes, she said, she knew Mike Frye, through his connection with the Vet-to-Vet program, was going to help turn things around for her.

A few weeks later, she accepted a temporary position in Human Resources and then, in late September 2012, accepted the salaried position.

Veterans are a priority

“Virginia Tech is making a difference by making veterans a priority,” Frye said.

“These are real people coming out of the military with a lot of skills and good experience and they’re not being welcomed into the civilian labor market,” McDaniels said. “They deserve something in return for giving of their service, limbs, and lives. We have an obligation to these folks.”

Services available for student veterans

    Three student veterans.

While veterans, military students, and their families have always been part of the student population at Virginia Tech, there has been an increase in recent years as troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The university has expanded services to meet the demand.

  • The Office of Veterans Service opened in May 2012 to serve as the first-stop for student veterans and their dependents. The office handles all compliance paperwork with the Veterans Administration and coordinates with the Student Success Center to provide resources to transition to academic expectations and campus civilian life.
  • A student veterans group, Veterans@VT, formed in 2010. The chapter of Student Veterans of America provides transition assistance for incoming and current student veterans in a social and academic role. It is open to undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral student veterans.

Corps of Cadets trains future leaders

    A cadet in the classroom.

The military has a proud history at Virginia Tech and its roots as a land grant institution. That service continues as a vital and visible part of university life today in the 140th year of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets

Most of the Corps of Cadets staff have ties to the military, whether as veterans themselves or through family members. These employees are passionate about developing the leaders our world needs.

Volunteers sought for Vet-to-Vet program

If you are a veteran who would like to volunteer with the Virginia Tech Department of Human Resources to assist other veterans in their job searches, contact Christy Lowe, a staffing and recruitment specialist, at 540-231-7762.

Related reading

Additionally, Virginia Tech News maintains an RSS feed of stories about veterans.

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