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SBA program links veterans to jobs

A new method of getting Camp Pendleton veterans hired in the civilian world could be used as a model across the United States.

Orange County's new program, called Ready, Vet, Hire, creates an efficient system to get veterans jobs once their 30- to 90-day leave is up. The Small Business Administration's Santa Ana district office has created a database for small businesses to plug in positions, and as of May 10, there were 15 job openings listed.

Hiring companies include New Horizons Computer Learning Center, A-1 Watkins Pest & Termite Control and Aura Systems Inc. Job descriptions range from customer service to mechanical engineering.

"There’s a large pool of vets looking for work. Some match what we have, some don’t," said Mike Sabellico, president of Encinitas-based Vanguard Global Solutions, who's helping with Ready, Vet, Hire.

He's found that physically tracking down vets — particularly young Marines — is a surprising problem.

“When I retired and I had 90 days leave … my plan for the first 45 days was to watch football and drink beer. You aren’t thinking about that transition,” Sabellico said in January.

There's no requirement to keep in touch with the corps or provide email addresses or cellphone numbers.

“At the end of the leave they go, ‘Oh crap, I need to get a job.’ At that point we’ve lost track of them and the ability to touch them," Sabellico said.

Ready, Vet, Hire tries to solve that problem by targeting veterans who opt to take the SBA's new Boots to Business program, a track within the transition readiness seminar that Marines have to take before exiting the service.

The Boots to Business program, which recently debuted in California at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, teaches attendees how to run a business and conduct market research. An online course helps participants formulate a business plan.

SBA gets direct access to those potential entrepreneurs looking to stay in Southern California and can gather their names and contact information.

"Once they leave the service, there is a way to reach out," said Sabellico, an instructor in the Boots to Business program.

When veterans are ready to start working in the real world, they can be tracked down and informed about a job opening.

“I’d think if we can prove success here, it would naturally be replicated across the country,” he said. “Our goal is to get it up and running to show real success, then move to other areas.”

Ready, Vet, Hire, run by the SBA’s Santa Ana office, relies on a web of supporting organizations and people. They include the Orange County Small Business Development Center; Andrew Munoz, executive director of the Orange County Workforce Investment Board; and Greg Call, a former veteran and CEO of PatriotMove Inc.

“Santa Ana will have mechanisms to work with the WIBs to gather veterans they have that are ready to go, as well as tap into the [veterans] coming out of Pendleton," Sabellico said. “WIBs have the money to track vets and help them get jobs."

The ideal solution would be expand the effort to different bases by roping in the nearby SBA districts and WIBs.

"The patchwork solution — hitting as many people as we can with transition seminars and capitalizing on people already in the system with the WIB is working," he said.

SBA's main office is also taking notice of Ready, Vet, Hire.

“They had some strong support from lead SBA folks in Washington,” he said, adding that First Lady Michelle Obama has even participated in a conference call.

Helping veterans find work is the "mission du jour," he said.

“It’s the word of the day for political people. If you aren’t supporting vets, you are missing opportunities. There are a lot of programs out there,” he said.

Placing veterans into small businesses is a smart move.

“Small business is the heart of the economy," he said. "If they can hire vets, it will make a real dent."

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