Veterans seeking a second career may not get a fair shake in the civilian employment world. After years of responsibility, training, and leadership, many civilian employers can’t see past a youthful face with little to no outside work experience on their resume.

The Houston-based nonprofit NextOp hopes to change that. The goal is to see mid-level, E3-E7 transitioning service members and veterans with corresponding ranks, appropriately employed with time-in-service skills fully appreciated.

“Since 2015, we placed 2,930 candidates into new careers at more than 330 companies with average starting salaries above $55,300 within 37 days of starting our program,” said NextOp’s Executive Director Steph Drake, a retired Marine Corps captain and lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. “The 2021 average salary is $59,000.”

Armed with only a high school diploma, some veterans find it almost impossible to secure employment and salary commensurate with their military skill levels. But, by offering job counseling, resume services, interview skills, pre-separation internships, and job placement, NextOp acts as a bridge to convey valuable skills and time in service to find veterans the next “op.”

NextOp and SkillBridge

NextOp works closely with the Department of Defense SkillBridge internship program. SkillBridge is a program that places talented mid-level enlisted candidates into civilian internships across a broad spectrum of jobs and industries. Besides gaining civilian experience and broadening your employment outlook, the goal of NextOp working through SkillBridge is not only a job, but a career — a career that pays veterans what they are worth.

These career-minded internships are on the DoD’s dime and occur in the last six weeks to three months of a service contract. Both the program and internships are command approved.

“The DoD SkillBridge program is truly a phenomenal opportunity for both transitioning service members and companies to test each other out, much like a college internship,” said Drake.

But how does a twenty-something know how to locate a company seeking their skills or even more challenging, know of SkillBridge or how it works? That’s where NextOp comes in.

Job Placement

Drake says SkillBridge internships can be challenging to coordinate and arrange between an employer, a service member and a command, and NextOp smooths the way. The veteran-run nonprofit works with industry and corporate human resources departments, actively explaining and selling niche military skills and experience.

Composed of veterans who have successfully transitioned into the workforce, NextOp’s staff not only understands a service member’s military occupational specialty, or MOS, but translates military jargon, acronyms, and obscure training to civilian employers. The employer understands a veteran’s expertise and accomplishments before they arrive.

Current industries include oil and gas, energy, renewables, finance, health care, construction, logistics, and even hospital facilities maintenance. Making the match to the right person at the right company, and for the company — the right service member — can be daunting and time consuming, says Drake.

Paid internships and job placement

NextOp is nationwide, with offices in Houston, New Orleans, and Fayetteville, N.C. The North Carolina employment coordinator is strategically located to reach service members preparing to leave service from bases in and around eastern North Carolina. However, NextOp’s services are available no matter the service member’s location.

“We are always available to work with SkillBridge candidates throughout the year,” said Drake. “We work within their service timelines and within command approval.”

Similarly, she says that NextOp is always scouting for more companies to educate and coach regarding DoD SkillBridge opportunities and processes.

The NextOp Team

“We value coaching and mentorship and engage 1:1 with our candidates to enable the process from ‘what do I want to do when I get out’ to navigating corporate job offers, total compensation, and the first few months and years at their new company,” said Drake.

Candidates are each assigned a NextOp employment coordinator who assists candidates in finding industries and roles that fit. Career development and coaching occurs throughout each segment of the employment search process — even resume building. The thought is that candidates will be most successful now and in the future with a resume they’ve written themselves.

They do walk service members through step by step and line by line but don’t write candidates’ resumes. The plan is a candidate familiar and comfortable with their own resume throughout their career.

Coordinators make recommendations for roles that best fit the service member. They then instruct the service member on how to approach and succeed within the company’s needs and culture.

What’s most unique about NextOp is its laser focus on the talented, diverse E3-E7 candidate pool, says Drake.

Middle enlisted comprise about 80% of military and are an even more significant portion of transitioning personnel. Yet, in many cases, they don’t have college degrees, alumni connections, professional networks, or for-profit headhunting agencies designed to seek their demographic as officers and senior enlisted do.

Employment assistance is the lowest funded federal veteran service program — $300 million, equating to $17 per veteran annually. This leads to the current one-size-fits-all approach where a 22-year-old with a graduate equivalency degree will undergo the same transition training as a doctor, pilot, or astronaut.

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