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FRCE adds first SkillBridge graduates to workforce

20 October 2023

From Kimberly Koonce, Fleet Readiness Center East Public Affairs

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) has hired its first permanent employees from the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge Program. SkillBridge matches military members with industry partners to gain valuable training and work experience during their last 180 days of active duty service, to ease their transition into the civilian workforce.

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) has hired its first permanent employees from the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge Program. SkillBridge matches military members with industry partners to gain valuable training and work experience during their last 180 days of active duty service, to ease their transition into the civilian workforce.

FRCE recently became a SkillBridge industry partner, with its first three-person class beginning training in March. Joseph Cooper, a former petty officer second class with the U.S. Coast Guard, was the first to begin work when he was hired as an aircraft worker on FRCE’s C-130 program. The other two members of that first cohort, human resources assistant Melanie Cooper, and logistics management specialist Mike Carmer, started work at the end of September.

SkillBridge provides service members the chance to gain civilian training and work experience while they are still in the military. Meanwhile, the industry partners benefit from the chance to evaluate the service member’s work performance and employment potential while they are still receiving their military pay and benefits.

“SkillBridge gives employers the opportunity to work with military veterans who bring a higher level of maturity and character to the workplace, as well as the service member’s real-world experience,” said Chris Clower, FRCE SkillBridge program coordinator. “For an employer like FRC East, where about 60 percent of the workforce have served in the military, the qualities that make service members effective in their jobs make them valuable civilian employees as well.” 

SkillBridge interns at FRCE go through initial new employee training and safety classes. They receive training in resume writing, interview techniques and job-search strategies. Service members said these classes help them translate their military experience into terms that are relatable to the civilian workplace.

“They teach us to take our military training and experience and express the value to the civilian employer,” said Sgt. Darehle Perry, a Marine who is currently attending SkillBridge training at FRCE. “I can tell a supervisor how I solved this problem, or learned how to lead my subordinates effectively. I gained a lot of valuable skills in the military, and I need to be proud of that and communicate those skills to a potential employer.” 

After their initial training, SkillBridge interns are prepared to perform a specific federal job. They receive on-the-job training with a supervisor and work with a mentor to hone their skills. After that, they have the opportunity to work in various jobs based on their job skills and interests.

Cooper’s Coast Guard experience was in avionics and electronics, but he learned to work as a sheet metal mechanic at FRCE. He said he learned a great deal from his mentors in the production shop.

“I thought I knew how to drill a hole before I got here,” he said. “It’s more complicated than I thought. There’s a reason the mechanics are called artisans, because they are very meticulous and precise.”

In addition to providing job-related experience, the SkillBridge program also helps service members navigate the administrative details that come with transitioning to post-military life. Clower said creating a clear plan can help alleviate some of the stress service members may feel about leaving the military.

“You’re leaving the service on Friday, and everybody tells you you’re prepared, but you’re really not,” said Clower. “On Monday morning, reality sets in and you look in the mirror and you realize that this is real. This is the next chapter of my life.”

According to Clower, the goal for the SkillBridge program at FRCE is to continue to bring service members in as they near the last 180 days of their military service, providing them with training, job skills and, in the best cases, job offers. Cooper said his SkillBridge participation has made his transition from the Coast Guard to civilian life much less stressful.

“I learned so much about myself, what I want to do, and where my strengths and weaknesses are,” said Cooper. “Now I can say I have a job, and I don’t have to worry about leaving the military and not having a plan for my future.”

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

  
 

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