Economic Development and Human Resources

Initiative helps vets find jobs

Heather Merrick, a former military member, hopes to aid those struggling to find work after serving.

October 21, 2016
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After Heather Merrick left the Army in 2008, she couldn’t understand why she was having so much trouble finding a job.

Merrick was skilled and had leadership qualities employers look for, but for some reason, her résumé wasn’t garnering much traction.

Now a technical recruiter for Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids, Merrick looks back at her résumé from then and knows exactly why it was so hard for her to find work. She had no idea how to market her skillset or herself. And armed with just one sheet of paper, it was difficult to explain her military experience and training to a civilian hiring manager.

“There’s a lot of terminology and acronyms or jargon that doesn’t make sense to someone outside of the military,” Merrick said. “It wouldn’t make sense to them, but in my mind, it all made perfect sense.”

And Merrick knows she isn’t the only former military member who’s experienced the same issues — she cited a 16 percent unemployment rate in Michigan for post-9/11 veterans under the age of 24. So, when Merrick was hired at Express Employment Professionals last year, she came in with a desire to help those similarly lost.

The fruits of her labor were realized last month, when Express launched its Operation Employment initiative, with Merrick taking the lead. Including Merrick and Grand Rapids franchisee Janis Petrini, the Operation Employment team comprises of four members and is targeted at helping veterans find gainful employment following their departure from military service.

Merrick said there are three prongs to the initiative. The first is through outreach programs to let veterans know Express is there to help them through their job search. The second phase is internal team training to ensure Express recruiters are equipped with the knowledge and resources to best assist veterans searching for employment. Finally, those newly trained recruiters will be able to educate employers on the value of hiring service veterans.

To accomplish this, Express will host a series of educational events at the local training center, with the first scheduled in December.

“One thing with veterans is that you always have a sense of personal responsibility and accountability, and you’re extremely loyal to an employer,” Merrick said. “It’s a sense of higher purpose in the greater good, and those are values that carry over into the civilian workforce.”

She added the leadership training every military member undergoes also is useful to employers.

Merrick is hopeful Operation Employment proves successful enough that it will spread to Express Employment Professionals’ other locations nationwide. Conversations about sharing the best practices with other offices have begun internally, Merrick said.

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