Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and Naval Medical Center San Diego hosted a senior leadership panel discussion and networking forum for wounded warriors and service members transitioning to civilian life March 15.
The event is the second in a series of events SPAWAR is spearheading to provide employment support and mentoring opportunities for San Diego area wounded warriors. The event included a panel discussion with SPAWAR and industry leaders and a networking session comprised of members of local businesses to discuss veteran hiring programs, internships and employment opportunities.
Mentoring, Coaching, Leading
SPAWAR Commander, Rear Adm. Patrick Brady opened the session held at the wounded warrior barracks auditorium at Naval Medical Center San Diego (also known as Balboa Hospital). He compared the new generation of injured and recovering service members with the "greatest generation," a term first coined by Tom Brokaw in his book, "The Greatest Generation," where he wrote about the sacrifices and bravery of the World War II generation.
"I really think your generation is one of the greatest, so first I want to say thank you for your service," Brady said. "Events like this are important because you didn't become a member of our Navy or Marine Corps on your own and for those of us here today we know how important it is to help you transition from your military life back into civilian life again. We are here to show you what is possible and to do what we can to help put you on a path to get there."
Brady was part of a senior leader panel that included Marty Brown, deputy director for the SPAWAR fleet readiness directorate; Dan Slack, wounded warrior lead for SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific; Gabriel Castleberry, wounded warrior program manager for the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center; Gerry Borja, wounded warrior internship lead for Qualcomm; Trevor Blair from Manpower; and Justin Casido from Booz Allen Hamilton.
The question and answer portion of the discussion included a broad range of topics, from resume preparation and various benefits for businesses hiring veterans to the advantages of using social media to find work.
Members of the local hiring community said that more than 80 percent of businesses will do a Google search on a job applicant or will check various social networking sites to see if the candidate would be a good fit within their organization. The panel was in agreement that when it came to finding employment the key is in preparation and taking advantage of the employment programs available to veterans and transitioning service members.
SPAWAR developed the event as part of its hiring initiative to ensure 7 percent of all its new hires in 2012 are wounded warriors, which is a subset of the broader group of wounded, ill and injured, said Cmdr. George Byrd, SPAWAR's wounded warrior program manager.
"Our strategy on hiring wounded warriors is more proactive than it was in previous years," said Byrd, who is also the wounded warrior San Diego regional coordinator. "Most of our wounded, ill and injured population in the region are between the ages of 19 and 25 and have not gone to college and may not have the technical credentials necessary to get a job in San Diego — a tech-savvy town with a lower than the national average unemployment rate."
SPAWAR's goal is to help warriors find other paths to their next career through the myriad programs, internships, training and mentoring opportunities that are available to them from a variety of government, nonprofit and private industry organizations.
More than 15 businesses, from large corporations to small businesses and nonprofits, participated in the networking portion of the event. Representatives from Qualcomm, Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, Major Innovations, Soltek Pacific and the Workshop for Warriors were just some of the organizations providing advice or employment opportunities.
"The main goal of this networking event is to connect warriors to opportunities," said Mark McLain, the event organizer for SPAWAR. "Many of the businesses here have some sort of veteran hiring program. They are here today because they care about our wounded warriors and want to provide assistance to the men and women who served their country and now need career guidance and partners for the next chapter in their working lives. It's great to be able to provide that kind of support."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for young veterans ages 18 to 24 was more than 30 percent in 2011. Part of the problem for young veterans seeking work is that they entered service right out of high school and often lack the formal education sometimes necessary to succeed in today's competitive job market. Wounded warriors, many with life-altering disabilities, may face an even more difficult challenge due to their injuries and need for physical accommodation on the job.
Wounded warriors attending the event were hopeful and found value in the panel discussion and networking opportunities. When asked why he attended the event, Marine Corps veteran Marcus Chischilly, a Marine currently participating in a radiology internship, said he attended to find out the types of jobs and programs available for veterans.
Chischilly lost his left leg in Afghanistan last year when an improvised explosive device detonated near him, "The difficulty for me is the physical aspect. I'm somewhat limited in what I can do. My hope is that I can find something I like and enjoy. This is a great opportunity to see what's available."
Back to School for Opportunities in STEM Carreers
In December 2011, SPAWAR and San Diego State University hosted a panel discussion and networking forum for veteran and wounded warrior students studying for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Held on the SDSU campus, the event gave veteran-owned small businesses an opportunity to mentor students, while SPAWAR representatives provided information on doing business with SPAWAR to small business owners.
Rear Adm. Brady emphasized the benefits of networking. He said that networking is a two-way street. Students learn what companies are looking for in new hires and can align their education and military experience for success. In the same way, small businesses can interface with the future workforce and the educational institutions that are preparing them.
"Networking is like ballroom dancing," Brady said. "You can't do it alone, and you may not be very good in the beginning, but with practice it gets easier and you get better at it."
A panel discussion followed Brady's opening remarks with participation from SPAWAR senior leadership and private industry. Participants included Tim Dowd, contracts director for SPAWAR; John Metzger, acquisition manager in the Program Executive Office, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (PEO C4I); Will Nevilles, senior vice president of INDUS Technologies; Benito Hobson, director of business development for Integrits Corp.; and Joe Bulger, senior business development manager for SPAWAR programs, Lockheed Martin.
Panel members shared perspectives on success strategies and skills necessary to compete in today's tough job market. Top strategies discussed included the importance of vigorous networking, thinking competitively, working as a team and understanding the cost of doing business.
"As you go through your studies and careers, you have to think competitively, and you have to think about what other gifts you can bring to the workforce," Metzger said. "You will need that business edge to be successful."
Metzger added that the PEO C4I's success in moving capabilites to the fleet is the result of three priorities: controlling contracting costs; contracting for technology that can be delivered today; and funding stability. He told the audience they will have to be able to understand cost models to make sound business decisions as STEM professionals.
The Navy is competing with industry for technical talent. Statistics show only 6 percent of U.S. high school seniors will earn a bachelor of science degree in a STEM field. The United States is ranked a disappointing 27th out of 30 for college graduates with STEM degrees in developed countries. Further, the U.S. shortage in STEM professionals is expected to worsen because of the aging Defense Department workforce since 30 percent of DoD's science and technology professionals are expected to retire by 2020.
SDSU has approximately 1,100 veterans currently enrolled. SDSU hosts the Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center (http:// arweb.sdsu.edu/es/veterans/) and ranks 30th among 100 universities nationwide for services offered to military veterans.
The staff at the Veterans Center does everything from helping coordinate psychological counseling for veterans who might need it, to managing the nation's first on-campus housing reserved exclusively for veterans.
Because the unemployment rate for veterans ages 18 to 24 hovered around a startling 30 percent in 2011, it is anticipated that college attendance will increase as many leave the service and have difficulty finding work.
According to SDSU's College of Engineering, veterans are twice as likely to go into engineering careers than other disciplines.
"I spent time in Guam and when I returned to California, it was hard to find a job," said James Sparks, a veteran and SDSU engineering student. "I thought there would be more job security in an engineering field, so I decided to go back to school and enrolled here at State."
The United States is ranked a disappointing 27th out of 30 for college graduates with STEM degrees in developed countries.
Engaging with Small Business
SPAWAR is an advocate for small business opportunities. In fiscal year 2010, it obligated approximately $1.2 billion, or roughly 20 percent of the command's total obligation authority, to small businesses. It depends on the interoperability and non-proprietary solutions provided by small business to ensure that cutting-edge technology is available for the Navy.
The small business program at SPAWAR provides training, advice, guidance and innovative strategies to ensure those quality solutions are available, while at the same time maximizing opportunities for small businesses, as required by the Small Business Act and Federal Acquisition Regulation.
As the Navy's information dominance systems command, SPAWAR participates regularly in events and programs for students with a goal of inspiring and preparing young men and women for STEM careers with the federal government.