Supporting Veterans in the Workforce: Our Journey with ACP

Almost a year ago, American Water announced a partnership with American Corporate Partners (ACP), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to easing the transition from the military to the civilian workforce through a nationwide network of corporate career counseling for veterans and active-duty military spouses. ACP’s Mentoring Program connects veterans with industry professionals for year-long mentorships on topics ranging from resume building and interviewing to leadership and networking. As a retired U.S. Army Colonel, I have experienced firsthand the difficulties of transitioning from active duty to the reserves and then to civilian life, so this initiative has been close to my heart. That said, I could not have anticipated just how meaningful this program would become to everyone involved.

In the wake of the pandemic, unemployment rates skyrocketed and veterans were not immune. In fact, by the end of 2020, the veteran unemployment rate had nearly doubled compared to the previous year. It’s clear that ACP’s work is more critical than ever to improving the situations of those who have dedicated years of their lives to protecting our country. To address this need, the team at American Water worked with ACP to build strong mentor/mentee relationships, help progress careers and, in some cases, found lasting friendships.

As I became acquainted with my mentee, a young military officer whose story mirrors my own, I am reminded of all that our employee volunteers have to offer to veterans and military spouses. The success of this program can be traced back to the determination of these employee volunteers and a few strategies they have employed to help progress the professional careers of their mentees.

Read on to learn more about what our mentees have taken from the American Water/ACP program.

Developing personal selling skills.

There is a bit of a culture shock for many transitioning military veterans when it comes to the hiring process. In the military, you enlist and then career progression comes with meeting the expectations of that role. In the civilian world, this mentality can be helpful as it promotes a strong work ethic and dedication, but it lacks the social aspects often necessary for being hired or promoted. As mentors, we help our protégés develop personal selling skills – such as networking, self-promoting (think elevator pitch) and interview performance – that often do not come as naturally for transitioning military leaders.

Establishing a translation between military responsibilities and civilian assets.

On paper, a successful career in the military does not always translate directly to the descriptions or requirements of civilian job posts. One of our mentors, Senior Project Manager of Environment and Water Quality, Jennifer Heymann, noted the importance of working with her mentee to translate his responsibilities from his 20-year career in the Air Force to civilian terms to further his career pursuits. To do so, Jennifer utilized her professional experience in the industry and her personal knowledge as a military spouse of 18 years. Since her protégé aspired to be a project manager as well, they were able to connect the dots between descriptions of his work experience in the service and her knowledge of what is required of someone in such a position.

Honing in on a career path. 

Mike Malloy, Army Reservist and Senior Superintendent, Operations, is a former protégé and current mentor in the ACP program. Based on all of his experience on both ends of the operation, he offers this: When it comes down to it, veterans are looking for a calling, rather than a job. One of the most important forms of guidance a mentor can provide is helping their mentees focus on an industry or a long-term path from which the veteran can derive motivation. From there, the military mentality of dedication and incomparable work ethic will push them forward in the selected path.

Making the impossible, possible.

At times, our employees’ dedication to their mentees has allowed them to assist mentees with their more tangible needs when it comes to the career building process. Kathleen Udasco, Manager, Business Development, was paired with a U.S. Air Force veteran as her protégé who, while trying to find a job, was also working to earn a certificate in project management. Without a working computer, the mentee was left to complete assignments and submit applications on her phone – a situation that was less than ideal. So, Kathleen reached out to some of us with a request that American Water help her protégé find a computer, and we bought her a brand-new laptop. The protégé was able to earn her certification, a feat she says would not have happened without this program.

Our partnership with ACP provides an invaluable opportunity to connect, reflect and pay it forward. And, in the end, we as mentors often feel we gain more from the program than we can possibly give in return. We can only work toward making the next year as impactful as the last.

For more information on ACP, click here.