In The News

A Sweet Side of Work-and-Learn: Connecting Veterans to Careers

Photo cred: April Greer for The War Horse

Photo cred: April Greer for The War Horse

As employers in every sector struggle to find candidates for hard-to-fill jobs, they are looking to fresh ideas for managing their talent pipeline. Two promosing appraoaches are recruiting veterans, whose military experience and acquired employability skills poise them for success in a civilian career, and implementing work and learn models that give candidates key work experience and skills. When these two approaches are combined, positive results abound.

As part of its efforts to identify and promote successful talent development strategies for employers, The National Network sat down with a new nonprofit, Dog Tag Inc., that is combining these two approaches seemlessly. Dog Tag Inc. is both a bakery and a work-and-learn fellowship program for disabled veterans and caregivers. National Network members met with the executive leadership as well as veterans participating in the program to learn, take notes and bring best practices to their own organizations and employer partners.

So how does it work? Dog Tag Inc.’s CEO, Meghan Ogivlie, takes us inside…

Rachael Harris felt lost after her military service ended. Her tenure as a culinary specialist in the Navy was followed by difficulty focusing on what mattered most to her. She had the skills to pursue her vision of becoming a professional chef, but the path to accomplishing her dreams wasn’t leading anywhere yet. When she began to lose touch with cooking, she knew something needed to change.

That’s when she found Dog Tag Inc. (DTI), a nonprofit that helped her get back on her feet and working towards accomplishing her dreams. DTI’s goal is to build a bridge to business employment and productive civilian life for returning veterans with disabilities and caregivers that have served our country so well. For Rachael, DTI was the push they needed to begin building their own path to success.

The key to succeeding in the workforce isn’t necessarily a degree or experience; it’s the essential skills and competencies a person has which allow them to succeed. For veterans with service-connected disabilities, caregivers, or military spouses like Rachael, this means the years of experience they have from their military service give them the tools to excel in their post-military professional life. However, because they often lack the more “traditional” experiences gained from years of working in the civilian workforce, it can sometimes be difficult for them to make a smooth transition to the civilian professional world.

That’s where Dog Tag Inc. (DTI) comes in. DTI utilizes a work-and-learn model to foster the professional growth of Post-9/11 service-disabled veterans, military spouses, and caregivers. For those with entrepreneurial aspirations, Dog Tag Inc. provides invaluable assistance in helping them get their businesses up and running. Fellows learn the ins and outs of managing a small business, and have the opportunity to learn from and network with a wide-variety of veteran entrepreneurs. At the end of their five-month fellowship, graduates have earned a certificate in Business Administration from Georgetown University, gained experiential learning in DTI’s small business venture Dog Tag Bakery, and built the confidence to be competitive and employable in their chosen fields.

Workers gain a lot from work-and-learn programs like DTI’s. The idea is pretty straightforward: experiential on-the-job learning in a professional setting builds their employability and technical skills. At DTI, Fellows “learn by working” in several different ways. They help manage Dog Tag Bakery, learning how “front end” customer service and marketing work, as well as how “back end” operations, staff management, and product creation functions in a small business. The fellowship offers a demanding structural workload, as Fellows alternate between shadowing and managing projects. However, Fellows are given a level of independence to complete tasks and communicate with program administrators, allowing them the space to develop their self-management.

Fellows also gain valuable skills from Dog Tag Inc.’s “Learning Lab.” This supplemental series of speakers and workshops includes interview and networking skills preparation, resume writing assistance, networking events, and mock interview days with partner organizations. Through Learning Labs, Fellows have the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship directly from business owners through a series of presentations and workshops. They get to hear business owners’ stories, ask their own questions, and even network with professionals to build their skills and competencies.

Fellows gain key skills from these sessions, and they can leave quite an impression; Rachael was inspired by Marine veterans Harrison Suarez and Michael Haft of Compass Coffee, a DC-based coffee company. After hearing their story of leaving the Marines and starting a coffee shop dedicated to providing customers with great coffee, Rachael felt a burst of confidence to start her own culinary venture. Required by the program to complete a capstone project, Rachael decided to launch a baked goods pop-up in the DC/MD/VA area for her capstone project.

Graduation

After graduating from DTI’s program in June 2017, Rachael launched Vic’s Eats, a bakery/catering service that hosts pop-ups every week. You can find her at 3 Stars Brewing Company every Sunday and at Rose Park Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. Rachael prepares all of Vic’s Eats goods from scratch, from their Ramp and Cheddar biscuit grilled cheeses, to Focaccia BLTs, to BBQ Meatloaf biscuits. She is constantly experimenting with recipes new and old, and rolling out different delicious concoctions. In the future, she hopes to open her own brick-and-mortar restaurant. Thanks to Dog Tag Inc., she’s prepared to make her dreams a reality.

All in all, Dog Tag Inc.’s Fellowship Program enables to explore a variety of career paths, gain invaluable hands-on experience in a small business, learn how to utilize available resources and establish vast networks as they develop strategic roadmaps for achieving personal and professional fulfillment post-service.