Civilian employment mentoring leads to understanding

  • Published
  • By Barry L. Wilkinson
  • Airman & Family Readiness Center

Something exceptional happened when two retired first sergeants -- one a team leader from the Airman & Family Readiness Center here, and the other a local human resources professional with Mutual of Omaha – joined forces to assist personnel leaving active duty. 

The result is the Excel with a Mentor program, or EWAM, that pairs a civilian from the local community with a military member separating or retiring from active duty. 

Having experienced the transition from active duty to the civilian world, we both felt the Transition Assistance Program provided great information, but it lacked in the practical application of the knowledge attendees gain.   

In 2011, a mentorship program was developed and tested.  Mutual of Omaha leaders agreed to find 20 volunteer mentors from various levels of corporate employment, while the A&FRC staff would provide 20 volunteer mentees of different grades who had six to 18 months left in service.  We established some basic guidelines for the test such as:

 -- Each volunteer must be willing to commit to meeting at a minimum of once a month for six months (the meeting method determined by participants);

 -- We emphasized that mentoring was not about finding the mentee employment, but breaking down barriers and assisting Airmen with understanding the civilian world and how their skills may be used, networking, resume writing, interview techniques, negotiating salaries, etc.;

 -- Either party could terminate the agreement and ask for a new mentor/mentee if he or she felt the relationship didn’t work or was uncomfortable for any reason.

Interesting feedback began arising out of the participants.  Military members discovered that not only did they have a misconception of the corporate world, but the corporate world had a slanted view of military life as well.   

Mentees began visiting company workplaces and the mentors, in most cases, were getting their first tour of Offutt AFB. The “test” was so successful after the first year that we found the need to broaden our base of employers by partnering with the Human Resource Association of the Midlands, a local chapter of the national Society of Human Resources Management.   

Staff from the A&FRC met with association employees and began working on a formal application process for mentors and mentees.  The association assigned two of its board members to serve as the conduit for the A&FRC staff to funnel applications through when requesting a mentor for a military member.  Guidelines were established and specific duties were assigned to catalog applicants, assign appropriate mentors, monitor progress, and market program to Offutt personnel and corporate partners.  A LinkedIn page was developed and experts in social media volunteered their time to teach both sides how to effectively use the resources. 

Quarterly socials were designed and scheduled at various locations allowing all program participants an opportunity to network in a relaxed, non-threatening environment. While nearly 300 have participated and rotated through the program, there are normally about 50 people actively being mentored at any given time. 

EWAM has enjoyed such success that the governor of Nebraska formed a working group to examine implementing the program statewide for the National Guard. The Society of Human Resources Management recognized the local chapter by awarding it the national Pinnacle Award for “exceptional leadership in the community.”  Offutt’s A&FRC staff has “benchmarked” this program twice with both the Air Combat Command and Air Force Inspector Generals. 

The Excel with a Mentor program has taken on a life of its own, and it is commonplace for Offutt’s transitioning personnel of all ranks and services to request a mentor.  It could be the first-term senior airman looking to start with an entry-level position that has room to grow, or the 30-year colonel that may want to use his or her executive skills to take on a new challenge.   

Either way with corporate partners providing volunteers -- from CEO’s on down -- the program is destined for continued success while assisting the military personnel at Offutt with their transition to a new career path.