PacMtn gets $5.5M Grant to Aid Transitioning

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In the midst of cuts by the Department of Defense that will cause an estimated 8,000 troops to leave Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2014 to transition into civilian life, the Department of Labor awarded local nonprofit Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council (PacMtn) a $5.5 million National Emergency Grant in December.

Awarded to PacMtn for Thurston and Pierce counties because of their proximity to JBLM, the grant will strictly focus on assisting more than over half of the estimated 1,600 service members projected to remain in Washington during and after transitioning out of the military that will need or want PacMtn’s services.

“These folks do have very high skills and capability but they’ve been used in a military environment, so how do we translate that into civilian success?” said Cheryl Fambles, CEO of PacMtn. “That’s what Sen. (Patty) Murray’s legislation was all about with the VOW to Hire Heroes Act — recognizing that the soldiers gave a lot and still have a lot to give.

“I think what we’re all recognizing is that we have to find resources from a lot of different areas to leverage the success of these soldiers, these airmen, these reservists, so that we’re not just relying on one source to help them get success. When we’re on the base ACAP has a program that provides classes and does résumé workshops, and then we’re able to augment that with these resources now. With this grant we can now spend even more time with these 900.”

In a survey, about 40 percent (3,200) of the 8,000 transitioning troops said they intended to stay in Washington, but Fambles said not all of those will want or need PacMtn’s services.

“Not all of them are going to want our services, or some of them already have jobs or are not ready to be served. In an ongoing basis, we have to be working with people who are ready to be worked with, and wanting and able to go to work,” Fambles said. “Some will want to take off a year or go to school. So then we took 50 percent of those, which is 1,600. So we’re saying we’ll be able to find 900 of those people over the next two years and be able to work with them. We’re just trying to mitigate what the impact on our local economy is.”

The grant will stretch over the course of two and a half years to help 900 service members apply and fine-tune skills learned while in the military for civilian jobs through case management, supportive services and training. All of these services will flow through and under the Camo2Commerce program, a federally funded PacMtn program that assists transitioning service members at JBLM find careers after the military.

Camo2Commerce works closely with the Transition Services at JBLM, as the two play significant parts in helping service members get back into civilian life but in different avenues.  

“It’s a great partnership, so we do all the training and help service members with the résumé and practicing interviews, but none of that really matters if there’s not a job on the other side,” said Robin Baker, Transition Services manager at JBLM. “Pacific Mountain has space on post, they came to our career fairs, brought employers to do interviews, we plan events together and refer people to them who might need that extra assistance finding that extra opportunity.

“We’re federal and we’ve got all these federal mandates to prepare people, but we rely heavily on the community to do that outreach piece and connecting with businesses,” Baker continued. “This is going to be great because they can offer that on-the-job training and incentive for businesses.”

PacMtn has won and overseen millions of dollars in grants for workforce-related developments. But this type of National Emergency Grant is the first of its kind, Fambles said.

“There is no other grant like this in the nation; it has never been done before,” Fambles said. “A NEG for the military displaced workers began somewhat through the base realignment program. This grant is to help us connect to people before they get out of the military and help them find jobs in the local economy. It’s why there’s a tremendous amount of scrutiny and opportunity here because it’s a new way to think about dislocated workers.

“They’re not veterans yet; they don’t yet have their DD 214. They’re getting themselves ready to get out. The cuts that are made by the Department of Defense are the reason we have this grant. The Department of Labor understands that anytime there’s a contraction in employment, the local economy will be dramatically affected.”

The Camo2Commerce program started July 1, 2013, thanks to a Rapid Response grant from the state, and now this NEG will allow it to not only continue but to expand. It serves those who are within six months or less of transitioning out or veterans who have already transitioned out up to six months prior.

The program is currently maxed out at assisting 150 service members, and once the first round of grant money comes in the current counselors will gain reinforcements of sorts in the form of more workforce development specialists, along with more resources and partnerships with other agencies around the area.

“If we’re successful a lot of other communities that are similarly affected are going to want to follow suit, Baker said.”

It’s likely that Thurston and Pierce counties will not be alone in how they’re affected by thousands of servicemembers being released back into the ranks of civilian employment opportunities.

“Washington state is leading the charge on a lot of these initiatives and I think we’re extremely lucky to have such a supportive community,” Baker said. “There are a lot of businesses who might be hesitant to hire a veteran, but with this initiative they take that chance and realize they’re some of their best employees. It’s going to be a great boost to service members but also to small businesses.”

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