Veterans Issues
Vets With Job Skills
Apr 19, 2016 - 10:12:58 AM

( - Kevin Gonzales’ life seemed stalled. The Marine Corps veteran’s two-year struggle to transfer his military experience into a meaningful career had left him disillusioned and on the brink of homelessness due to having, in his words, “zero in the bank.” Less than four months after being accepted into a pioneering Rush University Medical Center program that prepares military veterans for careers in health care information technology, he was choosing between job offers that would pay far more than anyone in his family had ever made.

Accepting an offer from a consulting firm that staffs Centura Health System in Denver, Colorado, in March was an important milestone. “No one in my family ever made more than $30,000 a year,” Gonzales says. “Now I have the potential to earn twice that amount and more.”

He adds that the word “earn” means far more than the dollar amounts. “I was bombarded with feelings of skepticism and doubt I had been given false promises and assurance in the past and was constantly being told about ‘opportunities for veterans,’ only to be disappointed when learning most of the opportunities were minimum wage positions,” says the 23-yeard-old, who left the Marines in 2013.

Finally, during one particularly bleak afternoon working behind the counter at a Chicago pawn shop, Gonzalez resolved to not let his circumstances keep him down. “I am a United States Marine,” he reminded himself. “I am able to do better than this.”

He remembered that a veteran’s advocate had recently told him about the EN-Abled Vet program at Rush. Gonzalez applied to the program, was accepted and was soon on the path to a new life.

The EN-Abled Vet program is a 13-week, paid internship that provides military veterans hands-on information technology experience and job search skills to help them enter and succeed in the growing health care information technology field. Jaime Parent, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is Rush’s vice president of Information Services and associate chief information officer, founded the program in 2013 after observing the difficulty many veterans had in applying skills learned in the military to civilian careers.

“Kevin’s situation mirrors that of thousands of vets,” Parent says. “He has the work ethic, discipline and character employers need, but his resume didn’t list specific skills sets they are looking for.”

Lack of civilian work experience seen as vets' main challenge

According to a 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, veterans — particularly Gulf War-era veterans — had considerably higher unemployment than the national average. A2013 White House report attributed most of that gap to a lack of civilian work experience:Despite having valuable military experience, veterans frequently find it difficult to obtain formal private sector recognition of their military training, experiences, and skill sets.”

The primary skill Gonzalez developed in the military was keeping complex communications equipment functioning. The daily operations of thousands of people relied on that technology and his efforts, but because it was only used by one organization in the world — the Marine Corps — that skill set wasn’t marketable to civilian employers.

The EN-Abled Vet program, which has now placed nearly 20 veterans into technology careers, differs from other veteran job training programs by providing participants hands-on, marketable technology experience, not just classroom learning.

In addition, the first day of the program provided Gonzales with badly needed affirmation he hadn’t received during his discouraging civilian work experience. “Jaime and the team right away reminded me that ‘You, sir, are a Marine. We have your back,’” he says.

“It had been a long time since someone called me sir. Then they assured me that they’d teach me what I need to know, and if I stuck with it I’d have the tools and the resume I needed to compete.”

He spent the next ten weeks as a paid intern, learning by working alongside technology professionals at Rush. The program’s curriculum then shifted away from adding skills to helping Gonzalez present himself, including guidance on how to write his resume and practice interviews to help him convey how he would put those skills to work.

“The resume prep and mock interviews were so important,”  he says pointing out that each interview led to a job offer.

“To go from one rejection after another to then be sought after …” Gonzalez says before quietly adding “I am forever grateful to Rush University Medical Center. Thank you for changing my life


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