Veterans Back-to-Work Boot Camp

When new recruits join the armed forces, they go to boot camp to learn how to do their job. But when they return to the civilian world years later, they are expected to just blend back into civilian employment without being taught what to expect.

The Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry is changing that. This May they launched the third consecutive year of their “Career Mentorship Boot Camp and Military Career Fair” for area veterans, aimed at supporting them with the tools they need to successfully transition back into the civilian workforce and find the job of their dreams.

“We are so grateful for the men and women of the armed forces,” Andrea Biwer, executive director of the Des Plaines Chamber, said at the project’s inception. “We know that these veterans acquired many skills during their service, but for too many, connecting the right opportunity FOR their skill sets is very difficult. Our hope is that the Veterans Boot Camp helps to support their transition into civilian jobs.”

The 10-week Boot Camp program is aimed at providing honorably-discharged military veterans with the tools they need to help them seamlessly transition into the job force and succeed, using the skills they acquired during their service. The program focuses on interactive group discussions centered on “Who Am I? and What Do I Want?” career exploration, individual help on resumes and cover letters, interviewing, body language tips, networking and volunteering in the community.  Over the past two years, this program Has resulted in successfully matching many veterans with meaningful employment in the region.

Evan Franck of Arlington Heights is a perfect example. He went through the Des Plaines Chamber’s first back to work boot camp for veterans in 2017 and soon thereafter, applied to become a police officer with the Des Plaines Police Department. He earned the position and is enthusiastic about his new career.

“When I transitioned out of the military, I was lost and not sure what I wanted to do. I began to study finance in college, but wasn’t really happy. The Chamber’s boot camp gave me the confidence to explore other options and it opened doors for me by helping me with my resume-writing and interviewing skills,” Franck said.

“They also opened my eyes to the fact that many police departments are looking for people with the leadership and crisis intervention skills you learn in the military, so I decided to apply,” he added.

And now that he has earned his dream position, Franck is extremely happy, saying that he “absolutely loves” his new job and looks forward to going to work because it is unique and exciting.

To get the most out of Boot Camp, Franck advises fellow veterans to “Leave your veteran attitude at the door and don’t be trapped in a military mindset. Instead, go into any interview or job as a civilian, but be prepared to use the skills you learned in the military.”

2018 Boot Camp participant Mudassir “Moon” Syed Hussaini of Palatine also expressed his enthusiasm. He had served five years as an aircraft mechanic in the Marine Corps before an injury forced him back into civilian life. The transition was difficult because he lacked focus in searching for a job, let alone a new career.

But his life changed when he found the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry Veterans Back to Work Boot Camp. Being accepted into the program changed his life.

“It centered me,” he said at the graduation ceremony. “I learned how to get through an interview and how to transfer my skills. I became work-centered and focused.”

The 2017 and 2018 Boot Camps featured veteran mentors like Marne Deithorn, Marine veteran and currently human resources director at Rivers Casino, and Juan Hernandez, an Air Force veteran who is currently a senior human resources generalist at Honeywell – UOP who have both volunteered their time to share their personal pathways to success.

The Veterans Boot Camp would also not be possible without the generous support of sponsors. Rivers Casino has been the presenting sponsor since the program began in 2017 and have committed to the program once again this year. Generous financial support in 2019 has also been extended by Wintrust, The Home Depot, AMITA Health Holy Family Medical Center, VFW Post 2992 and American Legion Post 36. In-kind donors include Daily Herald Media Group, Home Helpers of Northeastern Illinois, Office Solutions, Inc., Pontarelli Companies, R.C. Wahl Jewelers, MBD Martial Arts, Inc., Sam Jidd Luxury, Harper and Oakton Community Colleges, and the Des Plaines Public Library.

“Community support for our veterans and the Back-to-Work Boot Camp has been outstanding and a true example of the gratitude felt for the service and sacrifice of so many dedicated men and women,” Biwer said.