VetsWork

2019 VetsWork Pacific Northwest cohort during a service project with Yakama Nation Fisheries. (Submitted photo)

This Veterans Day we honored the service of our military veterans and also recognized the support many of our Veterans need as they make the sometimes difficult transition from their military career to the civilian workforce.

One local non-profit, the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI), has a unique program that facilitates the military-to-civilian career transition while helping federal, state and local natural resource/public lands agencies achieve their unmet goals.

VetsWork Environment is a career development program for military Veterans ages 21 and older, interested in a career with natural resources/public lands management. Participants engage in a 45-week internship at a federal, state, or local natural resource organization that blends hands-on field experience with specific career development trainings.

This program is funded through AmeriCorps as well as the partnering agency such as the Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, State Parks, or other local nonprofit organizations. VetsWork operates across the country in 13 states, offering a wide range of positions from recreation to archaeology.

“The VetsWork program is intended to support military veterans as they transition back into civilian life by providing them with this opportunity to explore a potential career in service to public lands and the natural resources that abound across the country”, states Brendan Norman, Executive Director of the Mt. Adams Institute.

The benefits to both the members and the sponsoring agencies are clear. Members get direct on-the-job training, insider knowledge of the agency, and invaluable networking opportunities, as well as potential non-competitive hiring authorities upon completion on the program.

“Joining this AmeriCorps program was the perfect fit to use my love of the outdoors and my military experience to get a foot in the door with a federal agency that protects and supports our environment,” said current VetsWork member Bobbie Collier who is serving on the Siuslaw National Forest along the Oregon Coast. “This program has given me excellent work experience and allowed me to network with many different agencies to ensure I have a great career opportunity in my future.”

Since the program’s inception in 2014, 81% of VetsWork participants who completed the program have been offered employment within the field. VetsWork alum Justin Spedding, who served on the Deschutes National Forest, now is a full-time permanent employee with the Forest Service. “If you take the internship seriously and work hard your resume will be bolstered, you will be a part of the AmeriCorps family and that looks great to prospective employers. Along with professional gains that this program gives you, I felt good about the work I was doing on a daily basis. Something about serving “the greater good” stuck with me and I found myself really enjoying the realm of public service.”

In 2018, the VetsWork program officially became a certified apprenticeship by the Department of Labor. This certification allows participants to access their GI Bill funds to supplement their AmeriCorps living stipend while in the program.

“The VetsWork program being an apprenticeship allowed me to use my GI Bill funds in conjunction with the AmeriCorps living stipend, creating a standard of living that I was comfortable with, thus allowing me to excel in my position,” said VetsWork alum Chris Carl. “This is a great opportunity for veterans to explore a field they are passionate about without having financial stress.”

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