Nevada County eases military-to-civilian transition
After 22 years in the military leading and serving others, Air Force Maj. Paul Cummings felt lost, like he was back at high school.
Cummings will retire from Beale Air Force Base in February, and like many veterans, worried about the transition into civilian life and choosing a career path that will determine the next stage of his life.
“I’m leaving this very safe and comfortable place where I understand this world and going into a whole different world,” Cummings said. “I found myself wondering, what am I going to be when I grow up?”
After surviving Hurricane Katrina with his family, he dreamed of becoming an emergency manager to ensure his community wouldn’t have to face the same operational crisis in response to a disaster.
Thanks to the Nevada County’s veterans’ programs, Cummings secured a six-month internship at the local Office of Emergency Services, making his transition from serving his community as a soldier to serving it as a civilian a little more structured.
“I knew I wanted to be in emergency management when I left the military, I just didn’t know how to get there,” Cummings said. “I knew I had to make that jump from active duty life to the civilian world. This just made it so much easier.”
Nearly 200,000 service members shift into the civilian world from the military each year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2014 University of Southern California study found that nearly 80% leave the military without a job, expecting to be able to quickly find meaningful employment with their service experience.
In California, the biggest obstacle to transition assistance for the nearly 25,000 unemployed veterans is not a lack of resources and funding, but a lack of coordination, according to the veterans affairs’ military-to-civilian transition report.
In a signing ceremony Thursday, Nevada County formalized an agreement with the U.S. Army — the Partnership for Youth Success program — helping veterans transition easier by guaranteeing qualified Army veterans an interview for certain county positions.
According to County Executive Officer Alison Lehman, Nevada County is home to more than 8,000 veterans whose skills the county would like to leverage.
“This provides us with candidates with the highest professional standards, the leadership skills and the technical expertise required to assist us in supporting our community’s needs,” Lehman said.
The new programming is just one of the county’s initiatives to help veterans find employment championed by Nevada County Human Resources Director and 25-year Air Force veteran Steven Rose, who said veterans need help matching military skills to civilian ones.
“The terminology and the lifestyle is just different enough that some people, even if they have the skill set to be successful, don’t recognize how their skills can translate,” Rose said.
Rose retired from Beale Air Force Base in 2011 and joined the Department of Homeland Security, gravitating toward the federal government in his civilian career because it was the only employer he had known since he was 17 years old.
After taking advantage of transition opportunities during his time in the military to make his civilian shift successful, Rose vowed to pay it forward, making veterans’ opportunities a priority in his employment strategy.
“In all of my capacities in the last eight years, I’ve made it my point to also help other veterans, to make sure they get the benefits and advice they need,” Rose said.
The county also participates in Veterans Affairs funded work experience programs and the Department of Defense SkillBridger program that brought Cummings a smoother transition into his dream career.
The focus in matching transferable skills will be crucial to meeting veterans’ employment needs, but the programs also retrain veterans if their skills aren’t an exact match.
“Some veterans that leave the military are going to transition better than others depending on their skill set, that’s why I hope private industry and the county will be open minded,” Cummings said. “I needed some rebuilding, I needed to be requalified to an extent.”
Rose said he remembers his transition was similar to Cummings, wanting a structured plan and feeling adolescent.
“It’s just daunting because I joined the military at 17, right out of high school, and I was in the military my entire adult life,” Rose said. “I’m a planner by nature so I was thinking about the transition a lot actually.”
Danny Newlon, a retired Army veteran interning in the Human Resources Department through its non-paid work experience program, is creating a system to link the job openings posted by the county to military skills and occupations making it easier for veterans to find jobs they’re qualified for.
“It’ll allow veterans to look at their current military skill sets and find out what are the transferable skills to do other work outside what they were doing in the military,” Rose said. “They have the skills and they have the leadership experience that Nevada County could use.”
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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