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New North companies invited to build military-talent pipeline

Engagement with transitioning service members available through DOD, U.S. Chamber programs

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October 17, 2023

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – New North Inc. – a regional marketing and economic development nonprofit serving the 18 counties of Northeast Wisconsin – is trying to do its part to help transitioning service members ease their way back into the civilian workforce.

Multiple programs are available for companies to be engaged in building a military-talent pipeline – and Rebecca Deschane, vice president of talent development, said New North stands ready to help in making those connections.

Deschane said a program offered through the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) called SkillBridge offers service members the opportunity to gain valuable civilian work experiences with specific industry training.

“For folks who don’t know much about it, I describe SkillBridge as an internship for a service member during their last 180 days of active-duty status,” she said. “They can come into companies that have gone through the process through the DOD. Companies have to put together a training plan and submit it.”

Deschane said because the military personnel are still on active duty during that time, the wages are paid by the military.

“There’s no cost to a company – the DOD is paying the wage,” she said. “It creates more opportunity for a company to be engaged in this talent pipeline. By sharing this information and making more of our regional businesses aware of it, we’re able to point to these training opportunities and get them connected before they leave the service.”

From left, Steve Janke (Mission Wisconsin), Rebecca Deschane (New North), Kris Thoreson, Chris Kuptz, Andy Opperman (all from the Green Bay Police Department), Dallas Fahey and Mallory Lepkowski (both from Associated Bank) at a Hiring Our Heroes career event in Colorado. Submitted Photo

Deschane said Northeast Wisconsin currently has a limited number of companies that participate in the SkillBridge program – but encourages others to participate.

“I think we’re missing out on opportunities to be connected,” she said. “Whether you get someone to come into it is one thing, but if you’re not having that as a resource point, you’re missing everybody.”

Deschane said the DOD is now accepting applications for new SkillBridge partners, or companies can also partner with existing SkillBridge-authorized organizations.

“SkillBridge is a great tool for service members to find training that fits their interests and goals,” she said. “We also see it as a tremendous opportunity for companies to build a military-talent pipeline.”

Companies can partner with an existing authorized SkillBridge program, such as the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses interested in hosting a Hiring Our Heroes fellow – from the next cohort, beginning Jan. 8, 2024, or a future cohort – can complete an application at

Deschane said New North also partners with Mission Wisconsin – an organization dedicated to helping Wisconsin employers connect with transitioning service members, spouses and veterans to create a region that is veteran-ready for military families to thrive.

“Hiring Our Heroes is (coordinated) through New North and Mission Wisconsin is through Steve Janke,” she said. “Our goal is to go alongside those organizations – specifically Mission Wisconsin – to promote the region as a great place for a military family to land once they leave active duty service. They’re not just looking for careers, they’re looking for communities. It’s about the messaging and promotion of our area.”

Deschane said the U.S. chamber also has a Military Spouse Fellowship program, which provides military spouses with professional training, networking and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce.

Steve Janke of Mission Wisconsin chats with a transitioning service member at a Hiring Our Heroes career event in Colorado. Submitted Photo

“It’s not just the service members who are affected,” she said. “There’s often a full family involved, so how are we helping military spouses connect to opportunities? The program is slightly different because the DOD does not pay the spouse – their dollars come from the Department of Labor, but it’s still a government-funded, paid program.”

Deschane said 250,000 service members leave active duty every year.

“It’s an untapped area, and it’s not just service members from down the road – it’s about bringing highly skilled people to this region,” she said. “When it’s done right, it can be very successful.”

The appeal of veterans
What’s the appeal of hiring veterans?

Darlene Sao, talent acquisition partner and military program lead for Oshkosh Corporation, said there are several reasons why veterans make good employees.

“I think veterans have a lot of transferable skills,” she said. “Many of them are dedicated, have a great work ethic, are adaptable to change, are good teammates and bring a different and unique perspective to a business – I feel it’s refreshing and can help teams. All of these things are transferable to any business.”

Sao said the fellowship program has a “pretty straightforward process.”

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sends out a set of resumes, and then companies that are interested choose a specific person they might see as a good fit,” she said. “We’ve had up to four fellows in a cohort. Sometimes it’s none, sometimes it’s one.”

Sao said the fellowship is a good way for veterans to gauge what their future might look like.

Rebecca Deschane
“Sometimes it’s not a good fit and the fellows move on to be a teacher or a policeman,” she said. “I think the statistics show more than half of veterans who transition out of the service end up leaving their first job within the first year. It might be hard for a veteran to understand where they best fit into the corporate world.”

Growing up in Southern Illinois before relocating to Northeast Wisconsin, Sao served in the United States Coast Guard.

“I got out of the Coast Guard in fall 2020,” she said. “I was a ship driver with the Coast Guard, so nothing to do with HR (human resources), recruiting, talent acquisition – none of that. My degree from the Coast Guard Academy is in marine and environmental science – again, nothing to do with HR.”

Sao said she went through the fellowship program with Oshkosh Corp. and is one of three female fellows who still work for the company.

“As I was getting out of the Coast Guard, I heard junior military officers transition well into supply chain operations,” she said. “Oshkosh Corp. reached out and asked, ‘how would you like to work in recruitment and talent acquisition? It fits my personality well – I love talking to people and helping them. I ended up taking the fellowship – I had never been to Wisconsin and was a little hesitant to move this far north, but I love the area.”

Sao said she started working at Oshkosh Corp. the day after her fellowship ended.

“Because I went through the fellowship program, I can empathize with other veterans also going through the program,” she said. “My advice to veterans is, you don’t have to do what you did in the military when you get out. It’s a chance to start fresh in a different area if you’d like.” 

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