How I Do It: Taking Advantage of the DoD SkillBridge Program - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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How I Do It: Taking Advantage of the DoD SkillBridge Program

Each year nearly 200,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces, stationed in over 140 military installations in the U.S. and overseas, will separate from active duty and re-enter the civilian workforce or pursue higher education.

For the past two years, Environmental Management Inc. (EMI) based in Plain City, Ohio, has been able to tap into this pool of skilled and highly motivated service members as they transition out of the military through the DoD SkillBridge Program.

Joe Lewis, LIC, growth and development manager for EMI, says he heard about the program from a fellow Marine, Zach Rohr. They were discussing Rohr’s upcoming retirement after serving 24 years in the Marine Corps in the infantry during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I told him about the DoD SkillBridge and asked if EMI would allow me to be an intern,” Rohr says. “I was immediately impressed once I met the ownership and team. What makes EMI so special is its people, and that is what attracted me most about the company. Take care of them and they will take care of you.”

How It Works

The DoD SkillBridge is an opportunity for service members from any branch at any enlisted or officer rank to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships, or internships during their last 180 days of service.

The program connects service members with industry partners, who provide real-world job experience. Those who want to become industry partners can fill out an inquiry form.

While in traditional internships the employer pays the interns, with SkillBridge the service members are still being paid by their respective branches. This program can help service members bridge the gap between their end of service and the beginning of their civilian careers.

Separating service members are eligible for up to 180 days of Permissive Temporary Assigned Duty to focus solely on training full time with an approved industry partner once their Unit Commander provides written authorization and approval.

Benefits of the Program

Since EMI has started using the program, they have brought on two employees full-time after their internship. After his six-month internship, Rohr was offered the position of director of development and oversees all HR functions including payroll, benefits, safety, training, and marketing.

When Rohr joined the team, he added the energy and professionalism needed to ensure EMI’s employees that their HR team is in place to support them.

Another service member EMI was able to work with through DoD SkillBridge is Pat Kennelly, a naval officer.

“EMI does not have any jobs that require anyone to captain a ship, but we do have a need for high-level thinkers that can complete tasks and help develop sound plans & initiatives,” Lewis says. “Pat helped us implement the Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS), and many other strategic initiatives aimed at better serving our clients and our employees. In return, Pat gained experience and confidence that the skills he developed in the Navy translate extremely well in the private sector.”

Lewis acknowledges that for some companies, it may be hard to understand the value added by bringing on service members, as there are no military occupations that directly translate to lawn care and landscape industry. He encourages owners to educate themselves on this opportunity.

“The ‘hard skills’ within our industry can be taught, but the desire to learn, the humility to be trained, the focus on mission accomplishment, and the years of leadership development will prove invaluable to every company in any industry,” Lewis says.

An example of how veterans’ skills can benefit the landscape industry is when EMI hired retired Marine, Brian McGrady. He was a supply & logistic Marine and is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

McGrady revolutionized EMI’s inventory and tracking processes by implementing RFID tracking for their equipment and tools. This immediately decreased their lost and stolen tools. He also implemented a better process for routing jobs and tracking inefficient time.

“Most landscape companies wouldn’t think that a service member with a supply management could impact their company,” Lewis says. “McGrady’s technical skill combined with his top-level leadership and management skills transformed what an assets & facilities manager means to our company.”

“Whether a service member served 4 years or twenty plus years, an employer is getting someone with a magnificent work ethic, driven to succeed, takes considerable pride in what they do, and are accountable,” Rohr says. “All these qualities are great to have in an employee, yet hard to find and takes time to develop. It was my honor to have served this great nation for as long as I did. I know I would not be where I am today without the Marine Corps and my family. I feel very privileged to have two careers where I feel I am making a difference in people’s lives.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.

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