For veterans returning from military service and attempting to readjust to civilian life and the classroom, the transition can be a culture shock.
To help give veterans on-the-job experience while they continue their education in engineering, math and physics -- in addition to solving a need for engineers in the coming years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- the Lab, Las Positas College, the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and Growth Sector collaborated to create the Engineering Technology Program for Veterans (Vets to Tech), a workforce pipeline for veteran students that gives them skills training, paid internships and a gateway to future employment.
On March 9, the East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA) recognized the outstanding success of the program by honoring it with its Education award at the East Bay Innovation Awards event in Oakland. The occasion marked the first time LLNL has been recognized by the East Bay EDA, a regional network of business leaders, educators and elected officials who work to strengthen the East Bay’s economy.
Beth McCormick, LLNL’s Engineering Recruitment and Diversity manager, helped create the program and accepted the award on the Lab’s behalf. “Every company in the Bay Area needs workforce to grow (and) California has barriers when it comes to housing and transportation,” McCormick said. “It was the perfect storm. We were recruiting techs from around the country but decided we wanted to grow our own workforce. [Las Positas] had over 300 vets and was willing to create a program to meet our needs.”
Las Positas College’s Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Public Safety Lisa Everett, spoke of the honor of collaborating with the Lab and the need to leverage the lessons learned through the Vets to Tech program across the region to spur education and innovation.
“As a community college, one of our primary missions is to provide career technical education,” Everett said. “When we can provide education and training that is co-developed with industry leaders and connected to internships and work experience, we can build a highly skilled workforce. I would like to encourage all the business leaders in the room to reach out to their local community college. Through these types of partnerships, we can develop the skilled workforce that will continue to drive the East Bay economy.”
The Alameda County WIB and Growth Sector were involved in the program from the start, supporting the cohort model by providing paid internships and bringing the necessary parties to the table. Through the program, established in 2014, veterans at Las Positas can earn a two-year degree in mechanical engineering as they get real-world experience during a 10-week internship at LLNL, which is often extended into part-time and later full-time work. LLNL hired six of the first eight graduates, with the jobs paying a starting annual salary of $65,000.
“LLNL was recognized for their innovation in ‘thinking out of the box,’ in creating a training program targeted for vets that employs current-needs curriculum, provides a hands-on paid internship component, and gives employers a first-hand opportunity to evaluate potential employees,” said East Bay EDA Executive Director Darien Louie. “The result is Vets to Tech – an efficient workforce program that prepares vets for sustainable employment.”
LLNL’s Engineering Directorate senior superintendent Randy Pico, who played an integral role in the creation and execution of the program, said the honor was reflective of all the time and effort that went into getting Vets to Tech running.
"It’s an incredible recognition for all the people at the Lab who have worked on this,” Pico said. “Las Positas, Growth Sector and WIB all participated in it because everyone was just passionate about helping veterans. What this award really shows is a great partnership with academia for development of a technical program and the strength of a community partnership. The veterans need it.”
Las Positas College’s Veterans First coordinator Todd Steffan, who helped develop the program, said he hopes Vets to Tech becomes a model for other industries and colleges.
“It’s really exciting to see some recognition for our partnership between the college, Veterans First and the Lab,” Steffan said. “It’s even more exciting to see our veterans go through the Engineering Tech program and get placed in really good jobs at the Lab.”
Destiny Goddu, a Marine Corps veteran and member of the second Vets to Tech cohort who will be graduating this spring, came to LLNL for an internship last summer and has stayed on as a part-time employee, working on laser diagnostics systems for the National Ignition Facility.
“I think the program gives veterans a huge advantage,” Goddu said. “It builds a camaraderie. You have this shared experience we’ve all gone through and we understand each other’s struggles. We’re a special demographic and the transition is challenging. When you have opportunities to outreach. It’s a good start to getting back into civilian life.”