January 28, 2020
More than 5,000 men and women leave military service and return or relocate to Houston each year. Eighty-five percent of military personnel are considered “middle-enlisted.” Many of these don’t have a four-year college degree.
What they do have are skills and experience valuable to employers. NextOp helps marry employers’ need for work-ready individuals with service members’ ability to succeed at a different mission, with different resources. The key is for both sides to understand and communicate the transferable skill sets, says NextOp Executive Director Stephanie Drake
“Service members have operated in a dynamic environment,” Drake says. “They know how to follow or write a process. They also know when to step outside of a process for the greater good. Those are valuable skills in the civilian world. Our military men and women don’t always realize this.”
The non-profit NextOp was founded in 2014 to help bridge the gap between employers and middle-enlisted veterans. Its team of employment coordinators work one-on-one with job candidates to help them identify and convey their accomplishments and skills in terms employers can recognize and value. The team also helps “civilianize” resumes, prepare candidates for job interviews, and research companies and opportunities that would be a good fit for a candidate.
For example, Drake says, someone who served on the front line might immediately think of becoming a security guard in civilian life. However, with experience managing a mission, schedule, and resource allocation, the veteran could consider a position in an operator environment.
NextOp also helps employers understand how to recognize veterans’ talents and not accidentally exclude veterans from a candidate pool. Drake says veterans feel the need to meet every educational, skill, or experience requirement listed on a job posting – and will not apply if they are missing one – regardless of whether the list represents true employment requirements. Hiring a veteran who has leadership experience in a dynamic environment but lacks a specific skill can pay off, she says.
“Sometimes employers need a particular skill set or technical aptitude,” she says. “But a lot of what we see in job descriptions are requirements that can be learned very quickly versus a skill like leadership, which often takes much longer to learn. The military is known for its high-quality training. As a result, returning service members are very good at learning a new skill or a new system quickly."
NextOp has helped place about 2,100 veterans in meaningful careers – mostly in the energy, construction, and public sectors. Last fall, NextOp launched its Step Into Energy initiative in partnership with the United Kingdom-based Walking With The Wounded organization and sponsored by the Houston Texans. The goal of the initiative is to place 300 veterans in energy careers this year.
In 2020, NextOp also will pilot a more robust mentorship model that continues after a veteran is placed in a position. Drake says these mentors could work for the same company or industry as the veteran or have another type of community involvement.
“It can be a different way for companies and individuals to support our programs,” she says.
Drake was named NextOp’s executive director in August 2019. She joined UpSkill Houston’s executive committee in December 2019. She is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Drake came to NextOp following seven years working for Shell Oil Co., most recently in logistics operations and supply chain leadership roles. She discovered NextOp through her work with the Marine For Life Network, a U.S. Marine Corps organization that connects Marines and their family members with veteran-friendly resources in their local area. Drake appreciates UpSkill Houston’s focus on hiring based on a candidate’s capacities and skills, rather than on a candidate’s specific experience, certifications, and degrees.
She says UpSkill Houston’s collaborative table provides a unique opportunity for NextOp to gain insights from shared dialogue among multiple companies and organizations.
“We appreciate the seat at the table, and we love that we see both companies that we’re already engaged with and companies that we could be engaged with as well as organizations that we could learn from or connect with. That value is tremendous,” she says.