Partnership redeploys veterans to the private sector

ABINGTON, Pa. -- Although companies are inundated with applicants, they still struggle to find qualified, career-track employees. Meanwhile, countless military veterans return home to discover a saturated job market. Enter a partnership between Penn State Abington, Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS) and Prudential Financial Inc. that successfully bridges the employment gap between businesses and veterans.

"It is a systematic approach to transitioning veterans into the workforce,” said Arthur Langer, chairman of the nonprofit WOS, who also holds multiple faculty positions at Columbia University. “We provide them with professional training and career guidance -- something other programs don’t do.”

Corporations and veterans often lack the resources to address two issues critical to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship: translating military training into actionable business skills and integrating former enlisted men and women into corporate culture. Three years ago, WOS and Newark, N.J.-based Prudential decided take on these problems and the high national unemployment rate for young veterans.

The two organizations partnered with Rutgers University-Newark to develop a unique program dubbed VETalent that would train post-9/11 veterans for information technology jobs. The first information technology class graduated in July, and a second class is under way. WOS and Prudential also have launched a class in cooperation with the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.

“Veterans offer a distinct set of qualities and skills that can easily translate to the corporate workforce and add value to the organization,” said Raymond Weeks, a veteran and vice president of Veterans Initiatives for Prudential Financial. “Our program is a best practice model, and we are actively working to share our insights with other corporations.”

WOS’ pioneering work-study model relieves firms of screening, training and educating veterans. Veterans are selected for a program sponsored by a corporation and in academic partnership with Abington campus. One group of veterans is about to complete its coursework at Abington, which it balanced while working in business operations at Prudential in Fort Washington, Pa..

Army veteran Maurice Wilson, 30, works in Group Insurance at the Fort Washington site and attends classes at Abington. “It’s been such a positive experience. I gave 100 percent to the military, and I am doing the same thing in my work with WOS and Prudential.”

Wilson praised the academic portion of the program. “At Penn State Abington, we are learning from full professors. Some of them are ex-military so they understand the mentality of a soldier.”

Companies can contract with WOS for outsource services or hire veterans through WOS for full-time positions. The process begins when the sponsoring company meets with WOS representatives to identify and define the skill sets an organization needs. WOS, in conjunction with Abington’s Continuing Education unit, then develops a customized program complete with a curriculum and timeframe. WOS also works with local affiliates to identify veterans who must complete a rigorous pre-certification procedure.

Once they are accepted, veterans work at the sponsoring corporation while attending classes at Abington in subjects such as business operations, written and verbal communications and project management. WOS provides ongoing senior management support.

Russ Yorks is the WOS onsite client service manager at Prudential in Fort Washington. He said the regular meetings WOS facilitates between Prudential management, veteran participants and Abington faculty and administration keep dialogue and feedback flowing and are critical to the program’s success. York is a veteran and a former commercial mortgage banker.

“We convert veterans’ skills and nurture them and make them successful in a corporate environment,” he said. “We capitalize on their existing practiced leadership skills, commitment, discipline, ability to perform under extremely stressful situations and solid work ethic.”

After successfully completing the program, each veteran receives an academic certificate from Abington and has the opportunity to work at the sponsoring corporation. The current class will graduate on March 15.

Eva Klein, assistant director of Continuing Education at Abington, coordinates the program’s academic portion with WOS. “Penn State is thrilled to be working with WOS. Everyone involved wins: veterans find jobs and companies find great employees,” she said.

Companies interested in exploring the Abington/WOS initiative may contact Klein at (215) 881-7387 or evaklein@psu.edu

For more information about WOS, go to www.wforce.org

To see a video about firms that are benefiting from the program, go to yourbottomline.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/11/from-the-battlefield-to-the-office/.

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Last Updated March 09, 2012