The way the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) executed by Department of Labor which is responsible for training those leaving the military is not without it’s criticisms. I found my experience to be extraordinary oriented towards the sort of job hunting that is generally proven to be the most difficult i.e. blindly submit your resume to companies and hope they call you back. It did very little to help you understand the language of corporate America or teach you about leveraging networking opportunities.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the class didn’t consistently try to sell itself as being more than it actually is. It’s a one week course (with some additional follow-on training) in how to make sure you apply for your government benefits and practice the blindly applying job hunting formula. During my experience the instructor repeatedly stated (at least 7 times an hour) that this “was a congressionally mandated training that you must participate in in order to separate from the service.” As one of my buddies put it, “I don’t know any congressman who’s going to care if I miss a few hours.” Reminding me that I being forced to be there didn’t exactly make me want to be there.
I was also a bit unique in the audience. Most of them were separating after 4-6 years. I was finishing out 20. In general a job for them would be a fine place to land after service. I needed to start my next career. I wasn’t a good fit for the class, and it wasn’t a good fit for my needs. It has a lot of potential, but the top-down nature of the program limits the instructor’s ability to make the program better from the ground up.
There is no measurement to track its effectiveness that I’m aware of. Like many things in the government, it just merely exists.
And I don’t bring this up as a rant, but without understanding the environment by some brief description it will be difficult to understand how grateful I am for the American Corporate Partners (ACP) program.
ACP is this wonderful partnering and mentoring program that allows qualified transitioning service members to be able to pair up with a mentor usually from a Fortune 500 company. It requires a brief application that can be done in a couple of hours (if you’re starting from zero–much faster if you’ve got a resume ready) and it gives you access to someone who is already working in the career field you want to be working in.
In my case I wanted to do IT Project Management and I was partnered with a work-from-home IT Project Manager from Wells Fargo. His name was Gore and he and I would talk about every two weeks from the time I started the program until I transistioned.
During our conversations we’d discuss what his work day looked like. We’d talk about projects we were proud of. He and I spent several sessions having me be a ‘junior PM’ on a fictitious project at Wells so I could get the feel for how to work a project through that organization. Gore was such a good representative of his company that I applied for several positions at Wells Fargo.
I learned a lot of the little things you can’t learn any other way. During our chats Gore would say something that would open a window to how projects work in his environment, at that scale, and with those types of stakeholders that I didn’t even think to consider. We discussed things like balancing between policy requirements and stakeholder demands, necessary skills for success, and approaches for difficult circumstances.
When the mentorship window officially ended I was in the midst of applying for jobs. I didn’t have anything I could concretely say at the time about how much the program helped me transition–because I hadn’t found where I was transitioning to yet. A few weeks later I landed the best job I could have asked for. I wanted to write and tell ACP and Gore how much it meant, but I jumped into long days and didn’t have the perspective to know if I was going to be successful long-term. Now I do.
We’re just about to wrap up Wave 1 of a very large project. I was put on the most difficult track and managed it and the stakeholders well enough that I’ve been asked to conduct training on my techniques and best practices. I also got personally invited to help manage Wave 2 and I’ve had a few supervisors send my boss extremely positive feedback about my performance.
Now that I have the perspective to know how valuable this program is, I want to take the time to say thank you. Thank you Bernard for matching me with Gore. Thank you Gore for helping me how things work, and to the unnamed people who created this program in the first place. Thank you for filling the gap to help veterans. Thank you for making your program nimble to our needs.
Lastly, if you’re transitioning TAP class will tell you it’s mandatory to do various things (they have a checklist). Talking ACP isn’t mandatory, but it’s one of the smartest things you could do as you’re preparing to leave the service.