SkillBridge Paves the Way for Service Members

by Brianne Hughes, on Jul 8, 2020 5:00:00 AM

Driving out of the base on your last day of military service can feel like falling off a cliff. For years, you’ve been able to set your clock by your life in the service. You’ve been training and serving side by side in stressful and engaging roles with people who deeply understand your focus, capabilities, struggles, and triumphs. Now it’s all in the rear-view mirror. What’s next?

Ideally, you’d have a job lined up, but if there’s a gap before that begins, the waiting is stressful. Even if you have a gig to look forward to, it may be your first job outside of the military. Everyone feels unsure at a new job, but gracefully crossing that threshold as an adult right as your previous world stops spinning is a lot to handle. Without government funding or your support network of buddies, learning to navigate a corporate culture and a maze of healthcare paperwork can bring out a real sense of dread. Making that leap less daunting is where a program like SkillBridge comes in.

WHAT IS SKILLBRIDGE?

Fortunately, the military knows what their members are up against as the last day of service approaches, and now provides career transition training and work education programs during the last year of service. Those classes are conversation starters about the future and can make the transition easier for service members by teaching them how to put together resumes, what to look for in jobs, and how to prepare for interviews. But even with practice, it’s hard for veterans to walk into their new lives with confidence if they’ve never done it for real.

And so the DoD created the SkillBridge program: to shrink that gap that service members have to jump across to create a successful civilian life. During their last 180 days of military service, service members can receive hands-on experience in whatever role they intend to pursue after they leave. Since the program’s inception, two people have come to Bishop Fox through the SkillBridge program, but service members aren’t limited to choosing from military or security-adjacent roles. Some choose to learn industry-specific training in a skill they want to foster (like aerospace engineering), and others apprentice or intern with businesses they hope to establish some day (like at a restaurant or yoga studio).

This program encourages service members to consider their options and mindfully plan their transition into a career path that interests them. Once there, they can get a feel for that industry’s rhythm, learn applicable skills for their resumé, and, if they like the job, they’ll have a foot in the door for that new, fulfilling career. All of this training takes place while they retain their role in the military, and with that safety net of income and benefits, they can focus on learning without the fear of failure.

HOW CHRIS AND LESTER GOT EACH OTHER TO BISHOP FOX

As his final year with the United States Air Force service was approaching, Master Sergeant Chris Flanagan started looking for a good security consultancy based in Arizona. His friend, Technical Sergeant Lester Josol, would be leaving the Air Force even sooner, so Chris asked Lester to check out this company he’d looked into called Bishop Fox. At the time, Bishop Fox was not on the list of companies set up with SkillBridge, but since it looked like a good fit, Lester called our HR department to start the process. From his first call with Ashly in HR, to conversations with our VP of Consulting Andrew Wilson, Lester had a good feeling about this place and the people who worked here. Other potential companies felt cold and mechanical in comparison, so Lester chose the warmth and humanity he felt here, feeling like it was the best opportunity even though it meant being away from his wife for six months. From those first interactions to his first day in the Tempe office, Lester was looking forward to working with us as we became a SkillBridge-associated workplace.

And things only got better when the internship really started. For the first few weeks, Lester felt like he had a “perma-grin” working here – from the projects he was working on to the colleagues he was learning from and hanging out with, it felt for the first time like there was a chance that leaving the military didn’t have to mean leaving behind engaging work or his support system. Coworkers really felt like family, people he could rely on. Through sharing technical knowledge and working closely in cohesive units, he realized that even after his service ended, he could still be connected to a strong support network while working on heart-racing projects. And the camaraderie he felt during projects extended past 5 p.m. -- from impromptu hang outs during the week to poolside BBQs on the weekend.

Three months after Lester’s time in the SkillBridge program ended, Chris’ began, and the story went a very similar way. Chris felt immediately welcomed, impressed by his coworkers, and eager to dive into projects. Working with cool, smart people on cool, smart projects while still knowing he had the safety net of his military funding meant that Chris also felt free to try new things and make mistakes without the fear of unemployment or crisis for himself and his young family.

During his SkillBridge internship, Chris got his first taste of web app pen testing. He took to it quickly and found critical-risk findings in each project: twisting and turning through a client’s internal network from foothold to foothold to find exposed data and lax permissions that a real attacker could take advantage of. For Lester, one particularly memorable project involved a social engineering element where he and a teammate “returned a lost USB drive” to a business in the hopes that someone would plug it in inside – which amazingly happened just like they planned, giving them access to a client’s internal network.  

After a SkillBridge program ends, there’s no obligation for participants to continue working with the company they partnered with. But for Lester and Chris, staying at Bishop Fox was the goal. Lester’s now been with us for a year, and Chris just started full time in early June.

After years of living within the structure of the military, leaving base can feel like the floor dropping out. But with months of real experience in the career you plan to pursue under your belt, the time after your service ends can be a little less daunting, a little more predictable, and a little more like home.

HOW SKILLBRIDGE OPENS UP A FRESH AVENUE FOR RECRUITING

From our recruiting team’s perspective, working with candidates from the military gives us the opportunity to open doors for enthusiastic and qualified people looking to start their careers in earnest. Like college students freshly entering the workforce, service members are excited to test their skills in the field for the first time after receiving extensive training for it. That infusion of enthusiasm and thoughtfulness toward their goals means that these new foxes will grow leaps and bounds in their time here, but also bring out a fresh perspective that invigorates our long-standing employees. Each new background brings a wealth of experience and ideas for solving problems and providing solutions for clients. It’s gratifying for recruiting too: matching quality candidates together with environments that will bring out the best in them.

The story of Lester and Chris also resonates with something recruiting has known for a long time – that our best candidates come from word-of-mouth recommendations from friends. Personal connections mean that it’s even more likely that the candidate will be a happy fit while also maintaining and strengthening that feeling that foxes here have of working alongside their friends. In their case, Chris recommended that Lester check out Bishop Fox, who then experienced it for himself through SkillBridge and recommended it right back to Chris.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH SKILLBRIDGE

Before Lester reached out, we’d heard about the new SkillBridge program through the AZ Coalition for Military Families, but hadn’t yet been added to their list. It’s a reminder that even if the company you’re interested is not on the list of associated locations, you can reach out to recruiting directly. They may join the program on your recommendation, especially if it’s a new avenue like SkillBridge. The main thing to remember is to plan ahead – the internship itself happens in the last 180 days of service, but planning should start out six months to a year before your time with an organization would start to get everything coordinated and set up on both sides.

If you’re interested in joining Bishop Fox through SkillBridge, please contact our Technical Recruiter Kaitlin O’Neil.

Topics:Category - My Path to SecurityAuthor - Brianne Hughes

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