By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 24, 2011) -- Hiring representatives from two dozen federal agencies gathered Feb. 23, at Fort Belvoir, Va., for a two-day event designed in part to help them meet new requirements to increase hiring of veterans and disabled Americans.
"We structured the event to educate our federal agencies about the wounded warrior programs, about how we're organized and what our missions are," said Col. Gregory D. Gadson, director of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, known as AW2. "We are starting out just from an education standpoint. It's important for federal agencies to understand the services' wounded warrior programs."
President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518 in November 2009, which focused on employment of veterans in the federal government. In July 2010, the president also signed Executive Order 13548, which focused on increasing federal employment of individuals with disabilities.
Gadson said he hopes federal employers represented at the event -- which was co-hosted by the wounded warrior programs from all services -- would come away with a better understanding of how to and why they should look to wounded servicemembers when fulfilling the requirements of President Obama's executive orders.
"At the end of the day, I hope that the federal agencies in attendance can develop their operational and tactical plans to try to meet these executive orders," Gadson said. "And that amongst themselves they will have created a network of contacts that they can share and communicate with each other so when they come across problems, they can call their sister federal agencies and see how they overcame it -- and to also continue to share best practices."
Sean Lenahan, a veteran's employment program manager with the Department of Commerce, and himself a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, was one of those who attended the event. He said he knows veterans, and wounded warriors, can be a valued addition to any team, and that he tries to convey that information to hiring managers within his department.
"They are one of the most undervalued and under-appreciated commodities that can be hired," he said. "One of the things I believe that is different is that as a veteran, on active duty, you may have had a specialty -- but everybody that has served knows that's just your primary duty. You may be doing six or seven other things as well. As a veteran and as a servicemember you are tasked to do a variety of collateral duties -- that's a diversified set of skills you bring to the table as a veteran."
Lenahan said that elaborating on those skills is something he thinks veterans should know how to do when building their federal resumes.
"On federal resumes, we want them to be lengthy and to explain as much as possible," Lenahan said. "Put as much information on your resume as you can. You may have been an assistant to an officer or senior enlisted on some kind of committee, or task force or something like that. Put everything you can think of on the resume. We want to show the diversity you have."
Kelly S. Woodall, a veteran employment program manager at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, also attended the event. She too is a veteran, and retired as a master sergeant from the Army after having served 27 years.
Woodall acts as a back end to requests for employment assistance made by disabled veterans through the Office of Personnel Management veteran employment website at www.fedshirevets.gov.
She said she notices that veterans often know they want a job, but they don't always know what they want to do, or what they can do. She said they don't know how to translate their skills from the Army, for instance, into something the federal workforce is looking for.
"They don't clearly articulate the vast amount of skills they bring, especially some of the soft skills, the leadership skills, and things of that nature," Woodall said. "I say take me through your typical day. When you wake up the morning and go to your job, what do you do? I have them write it all down. Then we take that information and we plug it into a resume format."
She said a truck driver in the Army, for instance, doesn't just drive a truck. They also are responsible for ensuring preventative maintenance on those vehicles, for planning routes, and for understanding and complying with Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Department of Transportation regulations.
"If you understand all that, when a job requirement says you need to demonstrate knowledge of federal regulation, well, you do," she said. "When you drive a truck you follow OSHA and DOT regulations."
Gadson said one thing federal agencies can do is be more flexible with job requirements, to allow themselves to bring in veterans at a lower grade to do a job -- with the expectation that they will develop and grow in the position.
"As a federal agency, you may have a position open for a GS-11, that requires X amount of skills," he said. "So it may be likely that, certainly not unusual that, a veteran may not have all those qualifications coming in as GS-11. What if we downgrade the position to GS-9 with certain skills -- with the ultimate aim of growing and training that individual to reach that GS-11 position? Don't focus so much on the resume, but understand the potential of that servicemember. These servicemembers show tremendous drive -- particularly ones that have overcome severe injuries, illnesses and wounds."
Gadson also said wounded veterans can develop themselves to be desirable to employers.
"I encourage them to get involved in intern programs, and to educate themselves," he said. "Not necessarily a formal education, but educate themselves so you can articulate what it is they want to do. Internships and other programs like that give you a chance to figure out what it is you want to do."
Woodall said wounded warriors who want federal jobs can get them, that there is help available for them through agency program managers and through OPM, and that they should not fear the federal hiring process.
"Proper preparation is the key," she said. "The federal government is committed to our wounded warriors and their success as they transition out of the service."