Helping veterans find work is what Grant Heino does.
In March, the Ramsey man traveled to Kuwait with a nine-member Minnesota delegation to get the members of Minnesota National Guard’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, a Red Bull unit, ready to look for jobs when they return home in May.
“It was the first time the Army has brought in a civilian team to help assimilate them back to civilian life,” said Heino, a WorkForce Center senior veterans employment representative.
The Employment Resources Training (ERT) delegation, which was in Kuwait from Feb. 29 to March 7, included representatives from Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Target, Best Buy and US Bank as well as St. Paul Chamber of Commerce President Dick Daniels.
Approximately 19 percent of the soldiers returning this spring will be unemployed and that is an alarming statistic, said Lt. Col. Kevin Olson of the Minnesota National Guard.
To give returning soldiers a head start, the National Guard brought the employment specialists to Kuwait to teach the service members how to best gain jobs, he said.
“The commander (Col. Eric Kerska) did not want the Red Bulls to come back and be out of work,” Heino said.
The unemployment rate for returning service members is about 19 percent, whereas the state unemployment rate is about 5.6 percent, he said.
During a five-day period, the nine-member team and its two military employment resource team leaders worked with approximately 1,080 service members and taught them new strategic tactics for interviewing, networking, writing resumes and how to describe their military skills for the civilian market.
The team was working with career military personnel that will be moving into a civilian world as well as service members who were working for minimum pay before going into the military, Heino said.
Career military members do not know how to look for civilian employment or how to translate their military skills into a civilian job market, he said.
Serving in the military may have changed the skill set of someone who used to work for minimum pay.
“They have been in charge of millions of dollars worth of troops and equipment and now are more manager material,” Heino said.
Working in four-hour sessions, the team, which broke up into groups, did mock interviews, covered employment opportunities and employment websites (including www.positivelyminnesota.com) and did workshops on how to network and market conditions in Minnesota.
The team also worked with the unit members on how to promote themselves as individuals.
“Vets don’t do a very good job in interviews because they don’t talk about themselves. It’s not part of their makeup,” said Heino, an Army veteran who served from 1970-1973.
“There is no ‘I’ in team. But when a hiring manager is hiring, it’s an individual, not a team, to be part of a team.”
“They have to get them back in the mode of promoting themselves, what they did and how they contributed to the team.”
They also have switch from the military mind set.
Veterans have to learn how not to use military acronyms to describe their job skills, Heino said.
Skills learned in the infantry would translate into jobs as asset managers or operations managers in civilian life, he said.
The Red Bull members were referred to websites that take the military skills and identify the civilian equivalent.
Hiring managers may pass by resumes using military acronyms, Heino said.
“We are helping set them up for success,” Heino said.
The program was well received by the soldiers.
“It was very common for a soldier to come back after class and work late into the night with the team members,” Olson said.
The employment training will continue once the unit returns home and completes the 30-, 60- and 90-day reintegration training, he said.
The ERT was so well received that other military branches are looking into the program, Heino said.
Most of soldiers are focused on coming home and reintegration with the families and friends, Heino said.
They are not thinking about looking for employment, but the ERT mission was to get them thinking about finding employment before they even get home, according to Heino.
As a DEED representative, Heino helps set up veterans with employers, prepare their cover letters and identify their skills.
“We help them overcome barriers to employment,” be it education, disability or skills, Heino said.
One way DEED and the WorkForce Center helps veterans is with websites that give veterans preferential treatment in job searches.
The websites denote veterans with a waving flag , Heino said.
DEED also works with MnSCU to set up customized training for veterans.
Heino uses his personal experience to help unemployed veterans, Heino said.
He worked in commercial construction, real estate development and architectural design for many years, but things dried up after 9/11.
“I was out of work and had to reinvent myself,” said Heino, who is working on a master’s degree in project management at St. Mary’s University.
After being unemployed, Heino became active in veterans networking groups and over the years began doing workshops on creative networking and job searches.
“I feel privileged to be selected one of the nine people to go (to Kuwait) and work with the service members,” he said.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]