The City is Ripe with Opportunities for Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life
The City is Ripe with Opportunities for Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life
June 28, 2023
by Sarah McMahon
Every month, roughly 500 active-duty military members transition from service into civilian life here in Colorado Springs. For those service members, finding employment is a critical step in the process — and not always an easy one. With a growing number of training programs, internships, college credits and resources, veterans now have clearer paths toward civilian careers.
Local institutions like Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center and Pikes Peak State College provide a variety of services and educational pathways as well as assistance in job training and placement for vets. But, a number of locally owned businesses and organizations do the same.
With the vast need for employees in all fields, now is a good time for veterans to pursue new career goals. Employers recognize the qualities that come with military service — character, community and discipline — and report wanting more veteran employees.
“Veterans make good employees. They just have that grit that people who haven’t served that are young, often don’t have — that comes with some life experience,” says Dr. Cristi Bundukamara, psychiatric nurse practitioner and founder of Mentally STRONG, a mental health center.
There are many potential avenues in the community for veterans, but here is a focused look at a few growing career tracks.
Bundukamara knows firsthand the challenges that come with military life and living with grief. A veteran herself, and someone who has suffered multiple family traumas, Bundukamara has transformed her healing process into a breakthrough practice — the Mentally STRONG method — in her mental health center of the same name.
She was a United States Army medic before completing nursing school and becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner in 2000. She encourages vets who gravitate toward the mental health field to pursue their interest because veterans make good mental health practitioners.
“Veterans are very resilient by nature, and they could potentially learn how to take care of themselves,” Bundukamara says. “I am passionate about teaching people how to take care of themselves.”
While some avenues in behavioral and mental health may require advanced degrees, not all do. The field is vast, and there are positions available with short training programs, certifications or licensing.
“One area you could probably go straight into without a degree is ABA, which is applied behavioral analysis,” Bundukamara says. “It’s a 40-hour training. I know that there’s plenty of places in town that are looking for behavioral technicians.”
Other possibilities include psychoeducational counselors, nursing assistants, psych techs and medical assistants. For those pursuing the higher-education track, Bundukamara’s center hires students who are working toward their advanced degrees. Mentally STRONG will also hire medical assistants they train to be nursing assistants.
“I think that I think the biggest thing is to not give up. Oftentimes, we you know, we get all of these resources from us and we try one or two and it maybe doesn’t necessarily work for us,” Bundukamara says. “But don’t give up on your personal journey of joy and happiness. It’s a huge transition out of the military.”
Cybersecurity & Computer Science
Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center specializes in behavioral health and wellness, supportive services, connection to community resources, and hosting safe events. It also provides job training and employment assistance for transitioning service members.
Cybersecurity is a burgeoning field that hasn’t found its limit yet, and Mt. Carmel works with local entities and hosts educational programs that can help vets get into the industry.
“We’re partnered with a lot of organizations that do cyber,” says Bob McLaughlin, executive director of Mt. Carmel. “And as you can imagine, people think about the word cyber, they don’t understand that the vastness that encompasses with computers, software and making sure systems are working and making sure they’re protected, especially in the defense industry. It’s pretty significant.”
Don’t give up on your personal journey of joy and happiness.
— Dr. Cristi Bundukamara
For veterans interested in computer sciences, Mt. Carmel offers a list of licensing programs: technical support specialists, computer user support specialist, network support specialist, information security analyst, senior technical project manager, and computer hacking forensic
“Many of our partners are looking for military,” McLaughlin says. “They don’t have to be experts, but they can train them. There’s all kinds of levels of training and programs that we do here to help vets get trained in that specific arena.”
For McLaughlin, one of the biggest attributes of military service is the creation of character. “Anyone who has served adopts the values of duty, honor, respect for others, personal courage, selfless service — those are ingrained in military members. And I would say that’s different than then your normal citizen,” he says.
“You can take the character of a military member and train them to be competent in whatever skill you need them to do. So, to me, that’s a good thing. And people should be encouraged by that.”
One way veterans can enter the marketing landscape is through Mt. Carmel’s service-to-communications program. Partnered with marketing firm, AdPro, Mt. Carmel provides the internship opportunity for vets to work for AdPro with the possibility of gaining full-time employment.
“We’ve had great experience with veteran employees and interns,” says Camille Blakely, president of AdPro. “Veterans and active military are a very significant part of our community. And therefore, you know, figuring out how to reach veterans and reach the military is an important part of any marketing plan here for any kind of client.”
Marketing is a wide and growing field, and there are many roles to fill. Programs in graphic design and communication are available at local colleges, but not all positions require degrees.
“The nice thing about marketing is really if you are a good communicator, and you can write and if you have other skills in the visual arts, whether it’s graphic design, or video, or audio work or social media, those are really excellent skills to have,” Blakely says.
For educational routes, Blakely recommends graphic design or digital marketing. “The graphic design department at Pikes Peak State College has a lot of people who are active in the marketing community in Colorado Springs, and so that’s a great place to get connections and get training,” she says.
Blakeley also recommends certificate programs in digital marketing, which can be done privately online. Google even has one.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here. As our community has grown, the advertising and marketing world has grown with it,” she says. “And because we have so much talent in this town, fewer clients are feeling the need to go to larger cities like Denver, and they’re finding all the talent they need here, which presents a lot of great opportunity for veterans here.”
The local population boom is creating many positions in the hospitality industry. Melissa Svenby, director of operations at Altitude Hospitality Group, says they have many open positions and are willing to provide on-the-job training to the right employees.
Altitude Hospitality Group owns a number of restaurants and event centers across the city, providing job and staging opportunities for those interested in culinary arts and service: Garden of the Gods Market and Cafe, Garden of the Gods Catering and Events, Till, Till Express, Trainwreck, Vine & Wheel, The Pinery at the Hill, and The Pinery North.
Military experience can translate nicely into the hospitality field. For example, many military cooks can find solid employment in catering, as it is a special skill to feed large crowds. Hotel, restaurant and event security are other areas where military experience can be invaluable.
And Svenby says she’d be happy to see more veterans in AHG’s various restaurants. “I feel that people coming out of the military have a great discipline,” she says.
“I can’t speak for all, but the majority of the veterans that I have known are selfless. And I would assume to be in the military, you have to be able to multitask, have empathy, be a problem-solver — all of those things,” Svenby says.
“So, I think those skill sets can easily transform into food and beverage because hospitality is truly caring and taking care of others. And they’ve done that in the highest form. So, this is just a different avenue,” she says.
Military Experience to College Credit
Pikes Peak State College offers a Prior Learning Assessment program that awards college credit for work experience published on service members’ and veterans’ Joint Service Transcripts.
The PLA policy is part of the larger Colorado Community College System effort to offer veterans college credit for previous experience and training. The program has been in practice since 2015.
Gary Walker, director of Prior Learning Assessment at PPSC, shares his personal experience. “I always tell my own story, how I got out of the Navy and had no clue I could ask for credit for anything in college, much less get it approved,” he says. “I ended up receiving one physical education credit for completing Navy basic training, and I had to fight for that. It’s a much different world now for military students, thankfully.”
During their first semester, veterans can provide their JSTs to be reviewed by faculty in any discipline to be awarded college credit for prior experience.
“Due to the nature of military occupations and training, the vast majority of credits that are awarded from Military PLA are in the Career and Technical fields,” says Gail Bicknell, Fort Carson program manager and assistant director of military and veterans programs at PPSC.
Selecting a degree program related to prior military occupation or training can fast-track students through programs. “Up to 75 percent of a degree course credit requirements can be fulfilled with PLA and/or transfer credits, with 25 percent of the credits required to be taken through PPSC,” Bicknell says.
“Our Military and Veterans Programs folks do an amazing job shepherding our military students through the process and helping them understand their options to get their requests to our registrar and eventually to our faculty,” Walker says.
MVP is currently working with the Colorado Springs Police Department to help veteran applicants earn PLA credits toward their Police Academy work. In addition, “the City of Colorado Springs Human Resources department has indicated they have a high number of veteran applicants,” Bicknell says, “and several have taken advantage of this opportunity to meet their career goals.”
Editor’s note: Starting next week, the Colorado Springs Business Journal will be partnering with Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center and Veterans Voice News Service to expand business coverage specifically for the local military community. Check back for more beginning July 5.
Disclosure: Sarah McMahon is employed by Pikes Peak State College.