You wouldn't think a retired army commander would get nervous about too many things. But after a 35-year career with the Canadian Armed Forces, Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin admits he found it a little daunting to figure out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Mr. Devlin joined the Canadian Forces in 1978, straight out of high school. As part of his training, he attended the University of Western Ontario, where he earned an HBA in economics and a masters in strategic studies. His military career included missions to Cyprus, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and he served as Commander of the Canadian Army from June, 2010, to July, 2013, when he retired at the age of 53.
"I had to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up," Mr. Devlin said. "I was still reasonably young and I was looking for fulfillment and looking to make a contribution."
Mr. Devlin found what he was looking for, becoming the president of Fanshawe College in London, Ont. He credits the Canada Company Military Employment Transition (MET) program with helping him get over those first hurdles.
Canada Company is a charitable organization that helps to build bridges between business leaders and the Canadian military. It created the MET program in 2012 to challenge corporate Canada to hire 10,000 veterans by 2023.
As of the end of September, its coalition members have hired 1,194 Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans.
The MET program assists Canadian Forces members, reservists and veterans seeking jobs in the civilian work force. Services include career assessments, transition workshops, assistance with résumé writing and interview skills, and connections to a network of military-friendly employers. The program also helps with finding training or educational opportunities or starting a business.
"The MET program was tremendously helpful in assisting me to translate my skills and experience into language that allowed corporate Canada and the business community to understand the contributions I could make," Mr. Devlin said.
"There is an image of military folks, to an extent built by Hollywood, of being hard-nosed, not flexible – 'My way or the highway.' Modern militaries are not that way. They are filled with folks who inspire, have rich leadership skills, are collaborative and results-oriented with great communication skills. MET provides the bridge to help corporate Canada understand what a tremendous resource military members can be."
Dwayne Cormier, director of transition services at Canada Company, says that while Canadian veterans' unemployment rate of 8 per cent is comparable with the rest of the Canadian population, there is a gap in services to assist veterans in finding employment. They must not only compete for job opportunities, they must also adapt to a different culture. For many, their only experience has been serving in the Forces, where your career is managed for you.
In addition, it is not easy for human resources departments to recognize how military members' qualifications may be equivalent to a university degree or college diploma. Because of this, Canada Company is working with Colleges and Institutes Canada to have military qualifications translated and recognized so they can match the learning requirements of postsecondary institutions.
"For example, some higher-ranking officers take courses, and if you look at the courses, they are comparable to a BA or MBA, but they are not recognized as an MBA," Mr. Cormier said.
Another part of Mr. Cormier's job is to demystify the military for employers.
"We teach them about military culture. For example, it is not a top-down organization; it is very much a team," Mr. Cormier said. "Employers may say 'They don't have experience in a profit-driven environment.' Of course they don't. But they've thrived in an environment where they've learned to do more with less. They have leadership skills, loyalty and are able to work under pressure. All things that would make a company profitable."
Valerie Khan agrees. She is head of talent recruitment for General Electric Canada. "When Canada Company kicked off, it really fit with what we wanted to do," she said. "We set a strategy to build our relations [with the military] and grow our diversity base."
Ms. Khan said this included educating hiring managers to understand the value veterans could bring to GE and making a concerted effort to attract job seekers from the military.
"Once you get those one or two hires, and people see the value and fit from former military members, it has a snowball effect," Ms. Khan said, adding that since 2013, GE Canada has increased the number of veterans in its work force by 85 per cent.
In 2013, GE hired two military veterans and added 12 more in 2014. In 2015, the company hired 18 veterans, a spokesman said, bringing the total number of veterans at the company to about 88 of its 6,148 salaried employees.
Master Corporal Ovais Ahmed is hoping to find a similar fit. MCpl. Ahmed, who joined the military in 2004 and did two tours in Afghanistan, will be honourably discharged from the Forces in February. He is finishing his bachelor of commerce degree at Ryerson University and is interested in working in supply chain management.
He contacted Canada Company 18 months ago.
"It's not just a transaction. It's more of a relationship. Dwayne introduced me to two Bay Street business people who I am able to call or e-mail for advice," said MCpl. Ahmed, 30. "The networking events are key for veterans like me, allowing us to get our feet wet in a world we're not used to being in.
"It can be very scary to leave the military and everything you were taught and join a private company. I am more determined than ever to be successful. But even with all of that drive, I needed to be guided. Canada Company has been that coach. They have put me on a successful path."