Coraopolis firm moves to match vets to jobs

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The joyful welcome that military service members receive from family, friends and strangers when they return to American soil doesn't always extended to the job market.

According to the 2010 National Survey of Veterans -- which polled 8,710 active duty, demobilized and retired service members -- 28.5 percent of veterans ages 18 to 30 were looking for work.

The survey also found that 18.8 percent of black veterans and 14 percent of Hispanic veterans who had served since September 2001 could not find work at the time the survey was conducted.

Hoping to fill gaps between skilled veterans lacking opportunities and companies seeking skilled high-tech workers, Coraopolis-based communications company Victory Media is expanding its operations to include an advanced technical institute designed to use a combination of skills testing and on-site job training to match veterans with the positions and employers that best suit their talents.

"The goal for Victory Tech is simple: we want to recruit, test, train and build special relationships to help military veterans and their families transition into new jobs," said Daniel Nichols, program president and director.

Mr. Nichols said the idea came by combining his skills in training returning vets for the workforce with Victory Media's ongoing mission to educate veterans and connect them to private-sector opportunities.

While working with the U.S. Department of Labor in 2003, Mr. Nichols created a jobs training program for wounded service members in California and, in 2007, established the Military to Medicine jobs training program in conjunction with Washington D.C.-based Inova Health System. The initiative trained more than 1,000 veterans and their family members for careers in health care.

Founded in 2001 by three Navy veterans, Victory Media creates publications and for-profit training programs to address the needs of military veterans and families. The new Victory Tech program will become the company's sixth global brand, adding to the G.I. Jobs and G.I. Education websites, Vetrepreneur and Military Spouse magazines and The National Veteran Owned Business Association.

Victory Media has 30 full-time employees and 35 part-time contract employees.

Using a $750,000 initial investment for its newest program, the company built the Victory Tech Learning Studio in a 1,000-square-foot former storefront in Coraopolis.

While the bulk of the funds went toward renovation and equipment costs, Mr. Nichols said the company cut some costs through agreements that let vets train on a potential employer's equipment. If all goes well, the company anticipates it will train at least 200 veterans for high-tech positions over the next year.

Getting vets in contact with equipment is one thing, but making sure they have what it takes to work the machines is the top priority, said Mr. Nichols.

Veterans hoping to be placed through Victory Tech must take a free validation screening test to measure science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Validation screenings will help when it comes to job placement, but also will help individuals note skills they may not be aware that they gained through deployment. Mr. Nichols said a former Marine Corps sniper who struggled with math all through high school took the test and found to his surprise that it had become his strongest skill.

"The test lets people know it's not about what's on your resume that you think works, it's what you can do now," said Mr. Nichols.

Once results of the validation test are approved, veterans will have to pay up to $90 for professional exams that grant certification in some areas. Vets also can enter a 15-month program that matches them with an employer for around $18,000.

Mr. Nichols said the program is not yet eligible to receive G.I. Bill funds, but the organization is working to attract state funds and is encouraging employers to pick up costs for potential hires.

If the best job isn't found within the network of more than 80 partner corporations, including PA CareerLink, Schroeder Industries and Consol Energy, vets can use Victory's Military Friendly Employers search site to see what's available from the top 100 military employers nationwide.

Powered by technology created by North Shore-based search company WebKite (formerly Pikimal), the site sorts military-friendly employers by location, the number of military members who make up new hires, insurance coverage, compensation policies and programs directed toward military spouses.

Mr. Nichols pointed out that communities at large can benefit from an influx of high-skilled laborers, but he said the greatest benefit will come from reminding veterans their work is as valuable at home as it is abroad.

"The big thing to take away from it is we believe you're better off for having served, not that you're broken or damaged," he said. "You've gained skills and you can take advantage of these new skills and abilities."

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Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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