Trenton Keen searched for a civilian career path for four years before he finally transitioned out of his full-time job with the Army National Guard.
“I was looking for an alternative in the civilian world, and I just could not find it,” Keen said. “It seemed like every option that I found, every job I applied for, [employers said], ‘Nah, you don’t have the experience we need.’”
Never mind that he was a trained cavalry scout and performed military funeral honors nearly every day for 10 years.
His story is all too common for transitioning service members and veterans. Many struggle to translate their military experience to the civilian workforce, in part because employers don’t understand the immense value military experience can bring to the table.
DAV’s Patriot Employer Recognition Program is helping change that narrative. The program recognizes those employers who demonstrate a commitment to ensuring veterans obtain suitable, fulfilling employment that honors their service. It also recognizes steps companies take to develop their veteran team members and support initiatives in the community that support those who wore the uniform.
“Veterans are some of the most resilient, industrious members of the workforce, and DAV is dedicated to ensuring they find meaningful careers with employers who value their military experience,” said National Employment Director Rob Lougee. “Our Patriot Employers are key to that mission, and we are proud to celebrate their efforts to hire, retain and champion veterans.”
Last year, Keen found his way to a DAV Patriot Employer, Virtual Service Operations (VSO), a Virginia-based tech company providing hybrid cloud management and consulting services. The company was recognized as DAV’s Small Employer of the Year in 2021.
Keen, who always had an interest in tech but no formal training, applied through VSO to participate in an Amazon Web Services apprenticeship program in April 2021. It’s one of several ways VSO recruits and trains veterans for its workforce.
By August, Keen had earned multiple certifications and started a full-time career as a system administrator working with VSO’s public-sector clients. Along with working in his desired field, Keen gets to work alongside fellow veterans. VSO’s overall veteran employment rate sits at 22%, but veterans account for 65% or more of many of the company’s delivery teams.
Numbers only tell part of the story. VSO offers a robust support network for its veteran employees, including an in-house mentorship program, a military-style quarterly review process, career path planning, leadership training and more. Even something as small as a company chat room for veterans makes a difference to employees like Keen.
“The way VSO treats the veteran community is second to none,” Keen said. “They didn’t know me from anywhere, but they knew what I was exposed to in the military, and they took that risk.”
VSO leaders don’t consider it a risk. Marine Corps veteran Mike Hilleary, VSO’s vice president for Federal, credits the company’s success in part to its veteran workforce.
“It’s not just about the corporate social responsibility and the importance of hiring folks from that community,” Hilleary said. “It’s also about high quality of service delivery.”
“Our commitment to mission first resonates throughout our company, and I think that’s why these customers really see a high degree of focus when it comes to the service delivery. And we have really high customer satisfaction as a result.”
Ruth Moore, vice president of Human Resources for Aristech Surfaces, has witnessed what veterans offer firsthand. The global company, which manufactures and distributes surface and design materials, employs 190 people at its Florence, Kentucky, plant. More than 10% are veterans.
“I think the veteran candidates that come in really exhibit an amazing work ethic, which you don’t always find today,” Moore said. “They’re dependable. They’re disciplined. They have great communication skills. … You may not understand exactly what all they did in the military, because sometimes that doesn’t always translate to civilian life. But all of those things that they do really give them a solid foundation.”
Aristech hired Army veteran Kody Blue for a skilled, entry-level position in November 2014. Today, he’s an area supervisor who oversees the operations of the company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment.
“Kody has stepped in and just done an amazing job,” Moore said, “especially for someone that’s only been here a short time.”
What really makes Aristech a DAV Patriot Employer is how the company fosters veterans’ development. Blue was selected to participate in Aristech’s maintenance apprenticeship program to become certified in industrial mechanics. The company applied some of Blue’s military experience as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, allowing him to fast-track his apprenticeship.
“This is a really hard field to get into in the civilian sector, just because formal education is usually a must,” Blue said. “A lot of companies don’t look at the military as formal education. … I was grateful that I was finally given the opportunity to prove myself.”
Moore encourages employers to be open to the value of military experience. Not only is it smart for business, but it’s also the right thing to do.
“This is our way to kind of pay back the people who serve our country and really put themselves on the line for us,” Moore said. “It’s the least we can do as employers.”
Learn more about DAV’s Patriot Employer Recognition Program at patriotemployers.org.