Ex colonel helps military transition into civilian job market
by Nick Stubbs
"I'm here to scare you," Jerry Crews tells the audience right up front. But the retired army colonel doesn't let the attendees of his civilian job market seminars suffer in apprehension long, and quickly lets them know: "You are going to be challenged, but you can do it."
Mr. Crews, a popular lecturer with the Military Officers Association of America, addressed some 90 Servicemembers at MacDill Friday, offering up equal portions of brutal honesty, humor and encouragement. And these days, he's happy to say, he can afford to be a little long on encouragement.
Despite the obstacles those making the transition from military to the civilian workforce face, the drawbacks are more than offset by more opportunity than he's seen in the 10 years he's been on the speaking tour.
"Without a doubt it's the best I've ever seen it," said Mr. Crews. "There simply isn't a better time for military people to enter the civilian job market."
There are several reasons, chief among them an increasing outsourcing strategy by all branches and a new romance among private companies for disciplined and dedicated military men and women. In addition to coming fully equipped with desirable job skills, many of those leaving the military hold coveted security clearances, said Mr. Crews, making them doubly marketable.
"That's a golden pass," he said, adding that a current security clearance means the hiring company does not have to go through the arduous and expensive (up to one year and $28,000) process of getting employees cleared for sensitive jobs.
Mr. Crews said this kind of news gets some of his listeners tingly with anticipation, but while he is kind enough to allow them their moment, his style of balancing the good with the bad means servicemembers with dollar signs and benefits packages dancing in their minds are due for some of his patented brutal reality.
"My job isn't to hold anything back," said Mr. Crews. "After years in the service, making the adjustment can be more than some bargain for."
Mr. Crews said a structured, disciplined existence in a military environment might seem to prepare a person for anything, but it can be just the opposite for some.
"I tell them they could wind up working next to Michael Moore, because that's the way it is out there," he said. "I tell them they will have to change and to expect change in their routines and the way they work."
A former aviator himself, Mr. Crews says the transition can be the hardest on pilots.
"Navy captains and to some extent Air Force colonels who are fliers land, get rubbed down with baby oil, are diapered and put to bed until they have to fly again," he said. "That doesn't happen in the civilian world."
It isn't the rule, but many officers used to commanding -- and commanding a certain degree of respect -- often "pay a price" on the "outside."
"I spoke to a woman who told me the story of a Navy captain who blew it big," he recalled. "She said all he had to do in his new job was sit at his desk, read the paper and report."
But he wasn't long on the job when he tried to confiscate the story teller's corner office with its better view.
"She told him she'd been there 25 years and he wasn't about to get her office," Mr. Crews said. "He forced the issue and got her evicted but she didn't sit still and went up the ladder and he (the ex pilot) ended up getting fired."
The case is an extreme example and isn't indicative of how most former officers handle themselves in civilian jobs but it does illustrate that those used to having their way in the military can't count on it post military service.
"The biggest problem for some who were at a command level is they want to keep on commanding and leading," said Mr. Crews. "That may or may not be OK, depending on the job."
Another focus of every presentation Mr. Crews gives is a pitch to "stay in."
"I tell them right off, if they like the military and enjoy serving, to stay in, because I don't think there is a better job and career anywhere if you like what you are doing." "It's a great job and a great way of life."
He added that sooner or later nearly everyone is "passed over for a promotion" or otherwise gets slighted.
"At that point someone may decide it is time to get out but I tell them to have a good attitude about it and to tell themselves that they are better for having served and that the service is better for you having served."
Other advice Mr. Crews provides is to start looking for a civilian job a year before departing the service. Expect to try as many as two or three jobs your first year out and be sure to do the math. While negotiating salary may not be on the table, those used to housing, clothing and other allowances, along with comprehensive government insurance need to look at benefits carefully and not just the pay civilian employers offer. For more info on job transition call the Family Support Center at 828-2721.
Hot job fields now include health care and services for the elderly, as baby boomers prepare to retire. Teaching is another good option for former military and programs like Florida's Troops to Teachers are a worth investigating, particularly for those who desire to continue their leadership and mentoring roles. For those retiring with a pension, a teacher's salary can provide a great lifestyle, said Mr. Crews.
"It's all up to the individual," said Mr. Crews. "I get letters from people who attended my seminars and while some talk about problems they encountered, most work them out and go on to find very rewarding work and lives."