How colleges prepare veterans to use their unique skill sets in the work force Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Academic institutions play a vital role helping veterans transition from military life to the business world by simply allowing them some leeway to shift their priorities toward civilian life.

By partnering with a college or other academic institution, businesses have access to veterans who have been prepared to use their skills, experience and leadership in a new environment.

“Higher education institutions provide a bridge between veterans and the business world, locally, regionally and globally,” says Lucy Drenth, associate registrar and military and veteran education coordinator at Delaware Valley College. “Veterans who pursue a degree have the expectation that they are receiving a quality education and will earn a degree that will mean something in the business world. And businesses that partner with colleges have the assurance that the credential the veteran earned has value.”

Smart Business spoke with Drenth about how veterans can offer hard-to-find skills to your business and how colleges prepare veterans to re-enter the work force.

What role do academic institutions play in transitioning military members to the business world?

It’s similar to the goal of educating ‘traditional’ students, but veterans are ahead of the learning curve because they already possess many of the skills that traditional students must still learn. Leadership, perseverance, the ability to be a successful team player, respect for procedures and advanced technical skills are just some of the qualities that veterans bring to the classroom.

When veterans enter the classroom, either brick and mortar or online, they are provided with a safe environment in which to learn how to enhance those skills and to focus on civilian life and the business world. College provides the veteran with latitude to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

They are also provided opportunities to work on practical skills that traditional students also need to develop, such as how to draft a resume, or how to handle a job interview. All experiences, in the classroom or out, independently or working with other students, provide great opportunities to help veterans see themselves in new ways and experience success outside of military life.

What are some of the challenges that active duty service members and veterans face as they integrate into academia?

One of the challenges they face is being on their own. From day one in boot camp, they’re a member of a team and they do everything with a buddy. The ability to contribute to a team effort is a highly desirable quality in an employee, but equally important is the ability to work independently and autonomously. The classroom is a good place for the veteran to work on shifting focus in that direction.

Another challenge for them is learning how to interact with traditional students. A 25-year-old veteran who was responsible for the 40 guys in his platoon and several million dollars worth of equipment might find it challenging to find common ground with a traditional student who has never experienced anything close to that level of responsibility.

How can the college smooth this transition for veterans?

Their focus while in the military was very different than what is now expected of them in civilian life. The college can, and should, help the veteran bridge that gap from first contact. Any of the zillion things that are inherent to being a college student can be very daunting for veterans who may be going to college for the first time.

They are not looking for special treatment, but they sometimes have unique circumstances that do not quite fit academia’s rigid timetable or policies. Once veterans are accepted to college, then it’s on to the business of learning. The classroom allows the platoon leader I mentioned earlier to find ways to successfully interact with students he thought he had nothing in common with.

It’s far better to learn from mistakes in the classroom than to go out in the business world unprepared. College is not about perfection; it’s all about learning.

From a business’s perspective, what are the benefits of building relationships with the colleges that are educating veterans?

It all comes down to relationships. A business that establishes a good working relationship with a college knows exactly what students at that college must do to earn that degree. It could be particularly beneficial for a business to partner with a specific academic department within the college.

For instance, why not allow some marketing majors to intern with your company over the summer? The business that fosters a relationship like this has the inside scoop for a work force that is not only well educated but also has hands-on, practical experience that is invaluable in a new hire.

A veteran with a college degree brings even more to the table. Proven leadership, strong accountability and determination, the ability to perform under pressure and an advanced technical proficiency are just some of the identifiable and transferable skills veterans already possess when they begin classes. They have overcome challenges and obstacles through strength and determination. Couple those qualities with the depth and breadth of a college education, and you get a great employee who will prove to be a tremendous addition to your work force.

Lucy Drenth is associate registrar and military and veteran education coordinator at Delaware Valley College. Reach her at (215) 489-2475 or Lucy.Drenth@delval.edu.