Helping soldiers find jobs in civilian life

Anthony Ervin, U.S. Army veteran, sits at his desk at Pennyrile Rural Electric where he is the engineering manager. Ervin left the Army in 2005 and chose to settle down in the area to be near his son.

Anthony Ervin recalls interviewing with a military board to get a promotion when he was in the service, but that, he says, was nothing compared to what a human resources board will do to you if you’re trying to get hired.

“After college, I had never interviewed for a job,” explains Ervin, an Army veteran who now works as a manager of engineering at the Pennyrile Rural Electric Cooperative in Hopkinsville.

Ervin left the Army in 2005 with a medical discharge, wondering what he was going to do since he was no longer in the military.

He took a test to see at what job he might be best, and when the results “literally spit out engineer” he enrolled in a four-year program and finished his studies in 2010. Finding a job then after leaving the military was a process, Ervin says, but now there are so many services to help veterans and retirees. His younger sister, who served in the Navy, was writing resumes, going to classes and looking at job-placement services when she got out of the military, he said.

“They’ve made a significant improvement in the last 12 years,” Ervin noted.

He spoke recently as part of a panel addressing the hiring of veterans during the 2nd Annual Kentucky Workforce Summit, sharing with the group his experiences after he found out that he would be receiving a medical discharge. Ervin noted that “the whole thing became real” at that point.

“I felt at the time that I didn’t have any marketable skills,” Ervin said, noting that he now realizes his military skills were translatable to civilian life.

Katie Lopez, director of military affairs for the Christian County Chamber of Commerce, noted that there’s a gap between military veterans and their job skills and companies in the civilian world who may not understand that veterans do have the skills they want.

Lopez served as moderator for the same panel for which Ervin was a speaker, and she said her emphasis during that conversation was a two-pronged perspective on the transition process for veterans after they’ve left the military. While veterans do have to put in the work to prepare for job interviews, she noted, it’s also important that companies understand veterans have the same skill sets but are wording it differently than it would be in the civilian world.

A soldier leading a group of fellow soldiers, for example, would have similar skills to a manager over a group of people in an office.

“Both have leadership skills and time management and the ability to see projects through to completion,” Lopez said.

She noted that civilian companies need to understand the mindset of the military.

In the service, a soldier is shown a path to a career the longer he or she remains in the military, Lopez noted. But in the civilian world a job opening may be mentioned but will not necessarily show the prospective employee a progression throughout his career.

Lopez said one thing veterans sometimes don’t take into consideration is how important it is that they network and build relationships, and she said they may need help developing those networks, for example, by getting involved in the community. Lopez said industries and industry leaders need to do some intentional recruitment of military veterans, conduct a methodical onboarding program, i.e., having someone to show the new hire the ropes, and have some strategic retention practices in place. Taken together, she said, these three approaches will see more veterans in the workplace and succeeding there.

“Not only do we want to see them get hired, but we want to see them staying in that company,” she noted.

Eugenia Snorton-Davis, a workforce services specialist at the Kentucky Career Center in Hopkinsville, noted that veterans need to be able to show their value to the civilian workforce. She noted that there’s a lot of skills and history among military families, and she said it should be an honor for employers to hire military veterans and their spouses.

“Most employers want to hire military veterans,” she said, noting that an effectiveness to lead, something people learn to do in the military, is what most employers want.

Snorton-Davis noted that the Kentucky Career Center, which operates under the oversight of the West Kentucky Workforce Board, offers a variety of free services for veterans — everything from career assessments and classroom training to career counseling and help with writing resumes.

The center also works with different partners in the community to meet veterans’ needs, among them Hopkinsville Community College and Fort Campbell’s employment readiness program, and officials said they want as many veterans as possible to stay in the community.

Workforce Board Business Liaison Tom Sholar noted that 400 to 500 veterans leave Fort Campbell every month, and he said there is a current push to help veterans and their spouses. He noted that both Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton are veterans.

“We think we’re the only state in the United States with a governor and lieutenant governor who are veterans,” he said.

Sholar said statistics indicate that a large number of veterans would like to stay in the area given its recreational activities and its proximity to Land Between the Lakes and, Snorton-Davis adds, a major airport less than two hours away in Nashville, Tenn.

Veterans and their spouses offer diversity, Snorton-Davis said, and their skills are translatable to the civilian workforce.

She noted that veterans need to realize there is life after the military and be willing to take chances and not give up.

“Realize there are individuals who want to help and will serve veterans and their families,” she urged.

Veterans may also find help getting a job through the Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program at Fort Campbell.

That program offers job fairs featuring employers from the local area and elsewhere throughout the year. It offers employment workshops and help with resumes and job interview skills and tips for selling yourself and negotiating your pay at a civilian job.

“We do a lot to help soldiers with employment,” says Harold Riggins, the program’s manager. “We connect them with employers that want to hire them.”

Riggins notes that veterans lived a different life as soldiers in the military, spoke a different language and even viewed their jobs differently so they need to learn how to translate those skills to the civilian world as they prepare to leave the military.

Riggins explains the difference, noting that “in the Army, we go work where we’re told to work.

“In the Army, we just do what we’re told,” he said. “In the civilian world, you’ve got to find a job.”

Reach TONYA S. GRACE can be reached at or 270-887-3240.

Few Kentucky employers attend Army job fairs

Few Kentucky employers attend the job fairs offered through Fort Campbell’s Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program.

“We’ll have a handful from Kentucky,” noted Harold Riggins, the program manager. “Ninety percent come from Tennessee.”

Riggins said two or three Hopkinsville employers will be among the handful from Kentucky, along with one from Paducah and maybe another from Cadiz. But most attend from Clarksville, Springfield, Nashville and Murfreesboro in neighboring Tennessee to hire the soldiers who are leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life.

Riggins said the biggest representation from Kentucky at his program’s job fairs comes from Teletech and Hopkinsville Community College, which has a CDL licensing program. He also noted that Soldier for Life has blacklisted some Kentucky companies because they failed to show up after agreeing to take part in the job fairs.

Some 400 soldiers leave the Army post every month, Riggins said, noting that “a good bit of those would like to stay local” if communities offer good jobs, fair housing and the like.

Among its other services, Soldier for Life focuses on helping soldiers who are leaving the military find jobs, and the program offers four job fairs a year – two of them one-day events in the summer and winter. The other two events in the fall and spring offer national and local job fairs, inviting employers from the community and elsewhere to come meet the soldiers who are seeking jobs.

Riggins said the local events focus on employers within a 100-mile radius of Fort Campbell, which would include Hopkinsville.

Soldier for Life also brings in employers each week to connect with soldiers and hire them, according to Riggins.

“We connect (the soldiers) with employers that want to hire them,” he noted. “But we don’t get a lot of Hopkinsville employers that want to hire them.”

Riggins said two of the issues causing concern are wages and taxes on the Kentucky side of Fort Campbell. Very rarely does his program find Kentucky employers who want to pay $15 or more for good labor, and they do not pay comparable to Tennessee, he said.

Additionally, taxes in Kentucky are “exponentially higher,” than those in Tennessee, Riggins said.

He noted that manufacturers in Kentucky want to pay anywhere from $9 to $13 an hour and charge 8 percent for employment taxes, and then there are state and federal taxes on top of those, Riggins said. He also pointed out how Tennessee does not tax military retirement, while Kentucky does “after a certain amount of money,” he said.

Riggins says Kentucky needs to do a better job of attracting people to the state, of encouraging them to stay in Kentucky communities once they leave the military. Tennessee is doing a great job of steering military folks into their communities, he said.

Alongside good jobs and housing, he also noted that soldiers want amenities like malls, restaurants and movies in the communities where they live. Figure out how to get that stuff, Riggins said, and you’ll attract Fort Campbell’s exiting military.

“There’s not enough done to attract people to move to, to reside in and ultimately to get out and stay in that community,” he said.

Area Job Leads

Military spouse career event: Networking reception from 6 to 8 p.m. March 1, hiring fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 2, both at Cole Park Commons, 1610 101st Airborne Division Road, Fort Campbell; employers and spouses may register at

2017 spring job fair: March 22 with national/international employers and March 23 with local/regional employers, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Cole Park Commons on post; for more information, call 270-798-5000 or 270-798-4412; also employers wanting to participate may call Fred Workman at 270-798-6507

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