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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Serco's CEO challenges peers to this 'intelligence test:' Hire a veteran apprentice

Serco Inc.'s chief executive has issued a challenge to his fellow executives in the government contracting space -- get involved in the Labor Department’s veteran apprenticeship pilot or show the world that you just aren’t very smart.

“This is an intelligence test,” Dave Dacquino said of joining the apprenticeship program. “I want my peers to get off their butts.”

What Dacquino is fired up about is a Labor Department pilot program to help transitioning veterans find jobs when they leave active duty.

But the program isn’t just about job placement. John Lowry, assistant labor secretary for veterans’ employment and training, said it’s about helping veterans in finding career opportunities.

The program is up and running at eight military installations: Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Bliss, Texas; Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Naval Station San Diego; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Travis Air Force Base, California; Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina; and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.

The goal is to have 400 apprenticeships across those eight locations and then to expand it to all military facilities, Lowry said.

In a case of unfortunate timing, the program launched in the midst of COVID-19. So currently there are only 18 service members participating, but Lowry said there are around 200 ready in the wings and more than 1,000 behind them.

More than 120 companies have stepped up to participate by providing apprenticeships. A lesson from COVID is that the apprenticeships don’t have to be physically located at or near those eight facilities.

Dacquino's enthusiasm about the program is about how it opens another channel in the battle to get high quality talent. He didn’t learn about the program until recently and when talking to his recruiters he realized that Serco was missing many of these veterans because they didn’t quite fit all of the criteria for their open positions.

That’s what makes the apprenticeship concept so appealing.

“The military is handing me these vetted individuals, with incredible moral fiber, work ethics and they have clearances,” Dacquino said. “Maybe the skills aren’t there 100 percent but its 50 percent or 75 percent.”

Participants in the apprenticeship program get both on-the-job training along with some required classroom work, which can get the veteran the rest of the way.

Lowry said that the average salary for many of the jobs is $70,000 a year and the veteran has no student loan debt to pay back.

“We want to help all vets reach their full potential,” he said.

More than 200,000 people transition out of the military each year, so the pool of candidates is huge.

The program isn’t a one-size-fits-all. The length of the apprenticeship is guided by the skills needed for the job and the skills the vet already has. The types of jobs of jobs are wide-ranging, including trade skills such as pipefitters, electricians, and plumbers as well as IT and cybersecurity specialists.

The program also includes apprenticeship counselors who help guide the veterans through the program. The pilot ends in April 2021 but the Labor Department plans to continue the services through the Navigator program, which is being stood up now.

Veterans aren’t typical job seekers. Many have joined out of high school and haven’t really looked for a job before, particularly a job that can be a career.

The choices they face when leaving the military can be overwhelming. When a person is considering the military, they have four choices – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Once in they are guided on a path. They may have two or three choices but they are guided along the way, Lowry said.

When they leave the military, they often don’t know what to do, which Lowry said "means that their first step isn’t a step in direction where they can reach their full potential."

With the counselors and the apprenticeships, the goal is to eliminate the floundering that occur, Lowry said. The benefit compounds for the veteran when they find that good quality job soon after leaving the military.

“I think of it as a 401(k) and how it grows when you invest early,” he said.

The quality of the job candidates is a major plus for the companies that participate, Lowry and Dacquino said. The quality starts at the beginning when the person first joins the military.

“Only 28 percent of high school graduates qualify to join the military,” Lowry said.

They have to meet physical, intellectual and moral thresholds. In other words, they have to be smart, strong and not have gotten into trouble.

“These are exceptional people going in,” he said.

Once in the military they are learning hard and soft skills. They learn to work with diverse teams and in a culture of accountability that encourages and rewards leadership, Lowry said.

Dacquino is all on board with wanting employees with those skills because it helps his business, his shareholders, and it helps veterans, he said.

“I’ll do anything I can to help a vet but with this I’m helping myself too,” Dacquino said.

He’s been reaching out to his network to get other government contractors involved. He wants companies to commit to five apprenticeships before the end of the year. So far he’s gotten commitments from Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Salient CRGT, BAE Systems Inc., Siemens, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.

He wants to get a total of 200 commitments. At that level, he thinks the program will be sustainable.

“I want my peers to understand that if they do a little bit of work, the benefit to the veteran and themselves is enormous,” Dacquino said. “That’s why it is an intelligence test. We should be fighting over these guys and gals.”

If you want your company to get involved, here’s an email to get more information -- VETSapprenticeship@dol.gov.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 13, 2020 at 8:38 AM

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