Author: Terry Jenkins | Founder | ETAC Inc – usveteranjobs.com | USAF JTAC/TACP Vet
Making a difference in someone’s life can be a practical and fairly easy thing to do.
How It Began…
A little over a year ago my life changed in a drastic way. I left the USAF as a JTAC/TACP in 1999. I entered the ‘real world’ with little idea how to start a new life. Through hard work and trial and error I built a career that has spanned almost 20 years now in IT. I fought and rose to the highest levels and have enjoyed considerable success. A year ago, as I was running a training company specializing in high-end network engineering training, a fellow JTAC/TACP guy rose to the world stage due to a remarkable recovery from an IED and ambush. Israel Del Toro or ‘DT’ as we called him became the first USAF person to return to active duty with 100% disability after an incredible recovery. His motto quickly went viral, “Never F’in Give Up”. This inspired me to create a scholarship for Veterans to do a free class. The seed was planted.
A few months later I began to find out how badly universities, vendors and training companies were ripping off our Vets for their education benefits. So I set out to create a better deal. By November 2017 I had begun to hear stories directly from Vets every day. It was then I decided I couldn’t go any longer without doing something big to change this. I restructured my company, ETAC Inc., and began the process of creating the most comprehensive Veteran Mentoring Program for IT to ever hit the market.
Today we have over 240 Vets enrolled and are adding more every day. My days and nights are spent talking to Vets. At this point, I have personally talked to over 500 men and women from across almost every state in the US. Many days I end my calls and sit at my desk and weep. There are men and women out there that have served for 20+ years and within 3 years of leaving the service they are working jobs as janitors, security guards, delivery guys… many at less than $11 per hour. Many have gone from success in the military to unemployment, bankruptcy and to the brink of absolute destruction. I meet people every day that are shallow shells of the people they were a few years earlier.
I wish I could say I haven’t heard stories or received emails and texts saying “Terry you have saved my life I had nothing left and I saw your company name and visited the website and thought maybe I have one more chance” or “this is my last hope, my plan was to kill myself by my next birthday if I hadn’t found anything” or “Terry I have nothing left, I have lost it all, I just want the chance to show people I can do more”. These men and women are not prepared to do resumes, interviews, or even job searches. The military basic training programs are the best behavior training in the world and there is a reason those programs have not changed in 100’s of years… they work. The goal is to minimize individuality and personality and achieve uniformity, which is necessary in combat. However, in the corporate world we would call this invisibility. Their honesty and integrity prevents them from even applying for jobs, they tell people I have never done that but I can learn and the result is they simply don’t out sell the competition.
How We Are Changing Things…
So we mentor them, most average 4-6 months before they begin to get good enough to get employers to take notice. They push to learn advanced network engineering skills and they excel at it. We don’t waste their time with the same old packages sold by the other education organizations which burn through most of their education benefits and leave them with skills most employers find irrelevant. We don’t need them to use their benefits, instead we ask the employers to invest a small annual amount to cover the mentoring and coaching we do to build their skills. The technical training approach in the market is broken so we tutor and mentor instead.
We tell them “shoot higher, go for the skills companies need” and they do. We don’t train them and then wish them luck, we help them learn and pass the exams so they can get valuable credentials. I know this works because I have had these training companies, universities and vendors approach me to try to take me out of the market. I’ve been accused of not selling “authorized training”, I even had one vendor program manager reach out to me and lie by portraying himself as a Veteran to try to trap me into saying I was doing unauthorized training. This is despicable but it shows you how little they care about the Vets they are “advising” as they sign them up to get their benefits.
It shows me I am threatening the norm which means I am in the right place to fix the root problem. Selling them low end skills at top end prices and making 80% margins off of their services and courses is wrong. This is not the break or thank you our Vets have earned for protecting them. Most of these companies do not employ Vets and some are not even run by American born citizens.
So how did I solve it? I put everything I have; my life, my finances, my house and 18 hours a day 7 days a week into this. I told my wife it has to be set up without an exit plan. It must be a no fail venture, not an investment. The stakes are too high. I have been told by a Vet, “Terry I trust you more than I have ever trusted any other person, this is my last chance”. If it fails, I don’t just lose stuff, I may lose a life. The goal is not profit, it is hope and purpose restored.
A sample of the success…
Patrick came to us in early December. When we met him he was stuck in a dead-end factory job and just squeaking out a living. He was miserable but not the worst case we have seen. I would say he is the typical Veteran we run into. His finances were at a place where he could not pay the $500 entry fee we charge Vets for the 4-6 months and 100+ hours of time we spend on them as they prepare for the job market.
Some people think it is wrong that I charge them $500 so let me explain why I do this. First, we include almost the identical package of technology that the other companies charge 2+ years of education benefits ($40,000) for. We also add to this resume, behavior coaching, interviewing, technical seminars, project management and business seminars…all for the $500. The other reason is we want them to pay, out of their pockets. Why? It’s skin in the game, it stings when they get frustrated and want to quit. Finding a job is the most humiliating process you can go through outside of a divorce, it takes a lot of rejection before finding the right opportunity. It helps them to know that if they quit we will not give them a refund. This eliminates the welfare mentality that is so destructive with Veteran education benefits.
A few weeks earlier, as I was restructuring the company there were many family dinner table conversations happening. My 11-year-old son had just had his birthday on November 4th and came in my office one night and said; “Dad, I want to give all of my birthday money to put a Vet in the program. I want to help one of them get better”. I told him how proud of him I was but he didn’t need to give it all, I would let him give $25. He left my office aggravated at me but I thought that was the end of it. Little did I know, he FaceTimed his best friend Benjamin and they hatched a plan. First, they talked to Benjamin’s mom and got her on board. Being my wife’s friend, they then pulled her in. For two weeks they made cookies, cakes, candy and wrapped them. Then the two boys walked multiple neighborhoods until they had sold it all and had enough. They walked in my office with a wad of one dollar bills and said we want to put a Vet in the program. It was one of the many times I have been on the front lines of seeing how good people can be when you give them the opportunity to do the incredible. And it was my son!
Patrick was the person we put in with the money. He worked hard, I think he must have talked to 100 recruiters and companies. He took my advice about interviewing for anything, practice and get good at it. He was confident it wouldn’t take long at all but soon ran into the same wall everyone does, a month turned into three. He managed to get invited to a local CIO forum and dressed and impressed. He worked the room and was invited to an interview with a local Atlanta based company. He quickly went through several stages and even talked to the CFO directly. I remember him calling excited and saying, “it’s a done deal, I got it”. I told him just take a breath because I knew the hardest part was yet to come. The dead silence. A few days later he was going into the dark hole that they always go in as they feel the humiliation from all that hard work and yet they are still falling short. When in reality, it was Easter weekend and we later found out the key person had left for a vacation.
I encouraged him to keep interviewing so he did, two other companies in final stages. The next week came and he learned a whole new level of stress. He ended up being in a spot where he had 3 offers. I remember smiling and thinking God’s timing is odd but good. So we began talking through each opportunity and pro and con’ing each. One happened to be in Boston with a great company, Technium. As we discussed it I asked him, have you ever been to Boston? He replied no, I said why not go, it could be fun, an adventure. So ultimately this is where he decided.
Patrick went from a guy stuck in a dead end job to a new salary at $60K in an exciting new city, a fresh start. This is what we are trying to do. I do not believe any Vet is entitled or owed anything for their service. They volunteered the same as I did. But I do think they have more than earned the right to get a break, a chance to prove themselves. If employers would realize they may be short on some skills but they are incredible people coming to the table. These men and women have learned skills and many have performed them under gun fire. Some of these skills are so technical many of the engineers I know would struggle to learn them. All they need is a chance to prove that to you and they will. With the right mentoring and coaching, they excel and do so quickly.
A Call To Action…
I hope I can inspire many executives, managers and employers across this nation to simple stand up and give them that chance. I have created a company to mentor and incubate them while they work with you, I will walk beside both the employers and the Vets to make sure it works. I just need those that can to extend the opportunities to help me restore hope and purpose to an incredible group of people.
The alternative is to continue to “thank them for their service” through lip service as they walk around and try to survive in a way similar to how most convicts released from prison do. This is broken and should be every American’s problem… they didn’t do anything wrong, they did everything right.