An IT firm’s jobs program helps veterans make the leap from military life to civilian careers.
After a two-year hitch in the Army, Kyle Marks, a veteran of the Iraq war, worked some on landscaping crews and built decks. But he had unsettling feelings as tried to navigate civilian life. After considering his options, Marks signed up for another tour in the infantry in 2007.
“I thought about college and other jobs,” said Marks, who made sergeant. “It was difficult to get going. I wanted to go back with my buddies. I never had to think about what to wear or worry about a car payment. There’s a bond, a cohesion among your brothers and sisters in arms.”
Marks, now 26, left active duty in 2011 and struggled to find work. After months, he was hired as a night security guard at a St. Paul college by a supervisor who was also a veteran. Marks had a job, which eludes many post 9/11 veterans who have an unemployment rate at least double the overall rate. But it was not the one he wanted.
And then he was found by Nick Swaggert.
“When a soldier or a Marine says he’s served in the infantry or artillery or [armored division], he is almost always told he is employable as a security guard, a police officer or in law enforcement,” said Swaggert, a Marine veteran who left active duty as a captain in 2010. “There are other options, as there were for Kyle.”
Swaggert, 32, who also struggled with civilian life after the service, is the St. Paul-based director of veterans recruitment for Genesis 10, the national IT placement and consulting business.
Swaggert was hired last year at Genesis10. He went in to interview for one job. But astute St. Paul branch manager Angie Brekke persuaded Swaggert with little trouble that he’d be the perfect candidate to execute on CEO Harley Lippman’s plan to hire more vets.
Swaggert estimates that he’s helped hire or place more than 100 veterans over the past several months. Marks and Josh Stinar, 32, an eight-year Navy enlisted man who worked with radios and technology, both were hired by Swaggert.
“I was a little apprehensive about the job market,” confessed Stinar. But he was recruited by Genesis10, and went through a “reverse boot camp” run by Swaggert that trains veterans for cubicles, meetings and corporate lingo. Stinar has been hired in the IT area by CHS, the big farm-and-fuel cooperative based in Inver Grove Heights.
Swaggert is a graduate of the Blake School, a scholarship kid from a working-class, broken home. He joined the Marines after high school graduation. He went to college on a Marine scholarship and was commissioned as an officer upon graduation in 2005. That was followed by five years of active duty, including combat tours in Iraq.
“I did well in the military because I was used to a transient lifestyle,” Swaggert said last week. “My gifts are finding my way around in the woods in the dark. … I don’t need much to eat and I’m good at sleeping on the ground.’’
After two deployments to Iraq, coming home was hard for Swaggert.
“In the military, you are part of something bigger than yourself with a group of people who understand you. When you leave, that support structure isn’t there. Many, myself included, need coaching and training to be part of the [civilian workforce].”
Swaggert graduated from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs after active-duty service but couldn’t catch on with a job in city management. It struck him as odd that he was passed over because he had no municipal-government experience.
But in Iraq, he was chosen to live six months in an Iraqi village, reaching out to tribal leaders. He proudly recounts making tea and speaking halting Arabic to calm tensions and advance U.S. strategy, through local negotiations rather than gun battles.
Swaggert, who also worked a year as a distribution manager for Target, said veterans make great hires once they learn the difference between military and corporate life.
In the military, “speaking tersely and not much about yourself’’ and getting to the bottom line fast are valued attributes, he said.
Back home, veterans struggle with “nebulous chains of command” in corporate environments where missions and roles are often more ambiguous or complex, Swaggert said.
“With a little coaching and mentoring, veterans can do amazing things,” Swaggert said. “I simply encourage companies to think about developing this next generation of talent. Each of us wants to go from ‘Capt. Swaggert’ and ‘Staff Sgt. Marks’ to Nick and Kyle. It just isn’t [as easy as] flipping a switch.”
Marks, who’s got a job with a future, is planning to enroll in college.
“Kyle was underutilized and this is an opportunity to give him a chance and to make more money and build a career,’’ Swaggert said. “And we’re helping ourselves, too, because he’s talented. We’re capturing that value that other people didn’t see.”
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org