ConnectOC Blog

From the Front Line to the Employment Line: Helping Veterans Get Back to Work

Posted by: Orange County Community Foundation on 5/25/2016

Orange County employers cite a lack of available talent as an obstacle to growth, while too many returning military veterans struggle to find career success in their civilian lives. But thanks to local nonprofit organizations focused on improving assessment and referral services for veterans and their families, the solution to these difficult problems could lie in employment-support programs, such as Goodwill’s Tierney Center For Veteran Services and WorkFirst Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, a division of Easter Seals Southern California (ESSC). As part of our Orange County Veterans Initiative, OCCF awarded $75,000 to Goodwill Industries of Orange County to help veterans and their families find economic independence and self-sufficiency. ESSC was awarded $50,000 to bolster its results-oriented, individually customized, career advancement program, which provides participants with free assessment, employment-related guidance and holistic support from job specialists who also are veterans.

One of the top employment hurdles Goodwill’s Tierney Center and WorkFirst help veterans overcome is translating their military experience and skills into language employers understand. OCCF funding is helping both organizations assist veterans through employment and career counseling.

According to Eric Cook, a Veteran Employment Supervisor at OC Goodwill, before any organization can lend this kind of assistance, they have to connect with veterans. This oftentimes is the biggest barrier to developing employment-ready veterans, he said.

“What would happen if you left Orange County and moved to another state for four years?” Cook asks, making a point of comparison. “When you returned, you probably wouldn’t have a network to tap into. Coming back from deployment is the same. We make sure they have a warm handoff, but first, we have to reach out to them and let them know they can take advantage of our services.”

Ensuring Orange County veterans know about available services is one of John Funk’s priorities, too. He serves as director of WorkFirst/Military & Veterans Services. ESSC debuted the WorkFirst model in San Diego in 2014 and expanded it to Orange County earlier this year thanks in part to OCCF funding. Since its San Diego County inception, WorkFirst has provided more than 300 veterans with employment support and placed more than 200 in civilian jobs.

Although only in operation for a few months in Orange County, WorkFirst is delivering strong results to local veterans already.

“We’re helping them see that a world is available to them beyond what they did in the military,” Funk said. “A lot of them had positions based on the needs of the military. Those positions may not be aligned with their passions today.”

WorkFirst offers individually tailored, one-on-one support to help veteran clients determine their interests, skills, desires and goals.

“Many of them have worked their entire adult life in the military and wonder if they can be successful in the outside world,” Funk said. “We help them get past the uncertainty. They find the motivation and inspiration they need to gain confidence in the civilian world here.”



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