Often, Veterans face many challenges to reenter the civilian workforce successfully.
It’s not always obvious to employers how skills learned in the military translate into private-sector jobs. As a result, veterans are more likely to be underemployed than others in the workforce—working jobs that are below their skill level or unsuited to their abilities. And when they’re underemployed, they’re more likely to leave a job within the first or second year, preventing them from building a career or financial stability.
That’s why Operation Stand Down Tennessee (OSDTN), a Nashville-based nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans manage career, personal, and financial needs, is launching the Veteran Fellowship Program (VFP). The VFP will provide job training, internships, and education to veterans to ease their transition from military member to civilian. The VFP is funded in part with a SuperGrant from SmileDirectClub and the Nashville Predators Foundation.
Former military members make great employees; they just need help finding a private-sector career that uses their skills and makes them feel fulfilled.
“In the first year on a private-sector job, 40% of veterans leave,” says Eden Murrie, CEO of OSDTN. “In the second year, 80% leave. That’s a staggering statistic and it makes employers hesitant to hire vets. That’s what VFP is going to address. We’re trying to stem that attrition rate by getting the vets to think long-term about what they want to do, to think about their next career versus their next job.”
The VFP will launch in January 2021 with a group of six veterans who will each work a five-month paid internship at a Nashville business while taking classes in business fundamentals at Belmont University’s Jack C. Massey College of Business.
The Belmont classes will be based on the university’s mini MBA program, Murrie says, but will be tailored to meet veterans’ needs. The veterans will go to three hours of class each week for 14 weeks to learn the basics of accounting, marketing, and inventory management. They’ll also attend seminars, panels, learning labs, and events designed to teach them about the private sector business world.
The six veterans will also work 32 hours a week in paid fellowships, where they will get on-the-job training. The employers who will hire and train the vets include SmileDirectClub, the Nashville Predators, Stansell Electric Company, and OSDTN.
“You’ll have an academic piece and an on-the-job piece. It’s a recipe for career success that has been shown to work.” Murrie says.
“The Department of Labor says one of the best ways to reintegrate vets into the workforce is with apprenticeships and fellowships,” Murrie says. “They expose the employer to the benefits the veteran brings to a workforce, and they expose the veteran to what it means to work in the civilian world.”
The program is open to any veteran who served post 9-11, but it focuses on vets who served 10 to 12 years. There are no educational requirements, and applicants will have all of their program costs covered.
The VFP is also open to spouses of veterans. Spouses have a 24% unemployment rate, triple the national average—due to the frequent relocations that come with being married to a service member.
Once the VFP is up and running, two groups of 12 veterans will be selected for the program annually. “We want the cohorts big enough so that they learn from each other, but small enough so they have a tight network,” Murrie says. That’s because the lack of a professional network is another reason vets struggle in the private sector, she says.
The need for the VFP in Nashville is great because there are so many veterans in the city. Murrie says 300 veterans transition every month out of Fort Campbell, the army installation 60 miles northwest of the city, and a third of them stay in the greater Nashville area. On top of that, Murrie says, 80 vets a month move into middle Tennessee.
“We want our program to take Nashville from being vet-friendly to vet-ready,” Murrie says.
SmileDirectClub teamed up with the Nashville Predators Foundation in the 2019-2020 hockey season for the SuperGrant program. The duo plans to give four SuperGrants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 annually to area organizations that empower people in times of transition. Investing in the people of Middle Tennessee is way the Preds Foundation and SmileDirectClub can give back to the community.
“When the Preds Foundation and SmileDirectClub first met with Operation Stand Down Tennessee, they told us that for years veteran support services were focused on reacting to the needs of veterans.” says Julia Wicoff, SmileDirectClub’s purpose platform director. “There were programs to help veterans after they had trouble finding a job, after they became isolated or after they started experiencing homelessness. We liked the idea that VFP was a proactive program. It gives veterans and veteran spouses a chance to transition into their civilian life on the right foot.”
With its roots in serving Nashville’s homeless Veterans, today Operation Stand Down Tennessee’s purpose is to help all Veterans in Middle Tennessee manage their personal, career, and financial needs while creating a life they find fulfilling. With offices in Nashville and Clarksville, OSDT serves Veterans who may have significant needs like homelessness and addiction to those recently transitioning from military service who need career assistance or connection to a like-minded Veteran community.