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career transition

Imagine a scenario where a highly valued employee chooses to leave the traditional work force for several years. In that time, he or she works exceptionally hard and is successful in their chosen field. But then, years later, he or she finds it a struggle to re-enter the traditional labour market.

If you think I'm talking about working moms, think again. Members of the Canadian Forces, despite being highly trained, find the transition into civilian business life surprisingly challenging. While support groups exist, these veterans often fight a professional battle to penetrate business networks that may be sympathetic but can't relate or understand the true value they offer.

The veterans I spoke with uniformly agreed that translating military experience into a language the business community can understand remains a constant challenge.

Chad Hauser experienced that obstacle first-hand. The Edmonton native worked in supply chain management when, in 2006, he felt something missing from his life and joined the military.

"The war in Afghanistan was heating up and Canada was taking casualties. I wanted to join the fight, serve my country and lead men into combat," recalled Mr. Hauser, who served in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, before being deployed to the front lines in Afghanistan.

After safely returning home Mr. Hauser went on a handful of interviews but found he couldn't "sell" his experiences to employers effectively.

He drew support from Treble Victor Group, a non-profit organization based in Toronto whose mission is to enable former military personnel to achieve their full potential in the marketplace. A mentor encouraged Mr. Hauser to get his MBA, which he is a few weeks away from completing in London, Ont. He will then start a new role at Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto.

"When you serve in the military, it is not just a job; it is a lifestyle that you give everything to. If required, you are even prepared to give your life. I really owe Treble Victor and its members a debt of gratitude because I needed support from like-minded individuals when I was planning and executing my transition. They were, and still are, like a family to me," Mr. Hauser said.

Montreal-born Francis Laparé, who served in Afghanistan in 2004, also received support from Treble Victor.

"Serving in the Canadian Forces was an incredible opportunity, particularly when you consider that on my first deployment, at 23 years old, I was given the responsibility for executing missions and for the safety of a group of 36 men. What corporation would do that with an individual with only one year of experience after graduation?" Mr. Laparé asked.

"In Canada, for some reason, our forces are pretty much kept in the closet. People know we exist, saw and supported us when we took casualties, understand the general concept of what we did in Afghanistan. But otherwise, the vast majority of society has no knowledge of how the military works or the kind of very sophisticated planning, organizational and leadership skills required to do what we do," he added.

One might say that understanding the military's way of doing things is like learning another language and Mr. Laparé, who now works as a construction project manager for McDonald's Canada, has become an adept translator.

He often likens the military to construction, in that an organized group of people carry out tasks that are tied to equipment, technical knowledge and understanding of the terrain.

"The site might be really hard to reach to resupply and people actively try to stop you from building by every means possible, including killing you," he explained, adding that "very few jobs come with such levels of responsibility and challenges, both physical and intellectual."

To make the transition to the civilian work force smoother for veterans, Mr. Laparé says employers and corporations need to be better educated on veterans' skill sets and experience. He credits groups such as the charitable organizations Canada Company and True Patriot Love for raising the profile of veterans but believes more can be done. Another organization doing work for veterans is the non-profit group Wounded Warriors.

"In the U.S., the visibility and profile of veterans is light years ahead. I believe the Canadian Forces could do a much better job of promoting to the general public the training they offer," he said.

Ultimately, ensuring that former military personnel find appropriate employment remains a talent and productivity issue for Canada – in the same way that studies show the full utilization of women's abilities is critical to the country's economic health. But it's also the right thing to do, said Martin Birt, a veteran and Toronto-based HR manager and consultant.

"Canada has an opportunity to publicly pay a debt and acknowledge the values that veterans represent. Whatever is being done, we can and should do more," he said.

Leah Eichler is founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. E-mail:

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