When Alex Archawski got home to Philadelphia in 1999, after serving as a Navy rescue swimmer stationed in Japan, he didn’t know many veterans. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do, either.
“It took longer than I had hoped to get a job,” he said, but he did eventually land a good job in sales. At the same time, he was still in the reserves. Then 9/11 happened, and Archawski’s unit was called up to active duty. He was let go from his job a month before deployment.
“It was very fast, and I knew I had to come back and really start my life all over again, look for employment and housing again,” he said. When he came back from the Middle East, he was dropped off at the airport, left to figure out the rest out from there.
“I was back to square one looking for a job and trying to rebuild my life,” he said. “I was trying to figure out if I could trust another employer based on what happened before.”
So he thought, “there’s got to be a better process to help our transitioning veterans to really understand what they can do to succeed, and what’s holding them back,” he said. At the time, he added, there really were no organizations that helped veterans determine their career objectives.
“There were a lot of organizations that helped veterans with placement, but nobody was educating veterans on the whole job search and the social structure of how it is to job search,” he said.
“I always say I’m unfortunately blessed to transition twice,” he added. “Going through the process twice, you realize what the biggest challenges are that veterans can face.”
So in 2010, Archawski decided to create an organization to help veterans himself. He created Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network, a network of veterans in different industries that mentor and empower veterans, train them in resume building, networking skills and job search efficiency, as well as provide them with a support group.
“We break them down before building them back up,” Archawski said, adding that “breaking them down” is not as debilitating as it sounds: It’s actually quite constructive and GPVN sends each veteran through a checklist before offering them services.
Archawski added that the kneejerk reaction for a lot of people when they interact with a veteran is “you need help,” but GPVN takes a different approach.
“We’re looking at it saying, ‘do you need help? And if you need help, what do you need?’” Archawski said.
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Archawski said veterans are the best demographic for their work ethic, but they just don’t know how to create and execute their new job search once they’re out of the military.
“They’re given orders in the military,” Archawski said. “Go to chow hall, go to the helo, go to the firing range — so when they get out of the military, who’s giving them orders?”
Archawski and GPVN have veterans fill out a questionnaire that hones in on what they need help with, whether it’s career objective, resume, networking, or skill building.
“When they’re able to do shadowing or mentoring, they’re really able to pick up what it is they enjoy doing and what fits their personality,” he said.
On top of that, GPVN has an accountability system, where veterans are obligated to participate in a self-reporting mechanism including how many people they’ve reached out to in a week, how many interviews they’ve had, and how many job fairs they’ve gone to.
“It helps them create their own structured environment,” Archawski said.
Donors help fund veterans’ participation in networking events, Chamber of Commerce events, and other industry-related events, which Archawski emphasized as really crucial to helping veterans find employment.
“The backbone of our economy is small-to-medium sized companies,” he said. “And what we’ve learned is that the majority of them — especially the small ones — never post jobs.”
GPVN also works with and helps train local employers on how to hire veterans.
“They post all their jobs and want veterans to respond,” he said, but they don’t do anything specific to try to attract veterans to the open positions. “We train companies in how to engage and hire veterans. We want them to succeed.”
So far, according to Archawski, GPVN has been a great success.
“Veteran leaders are really growing in these companies and showing some great leadership skills,” he said. “They’re being promoted fairly quickly.”
Image via GPVN