GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — For eight months, Hugh Lehigh struggled to find work after relocating from Seattle to West Michigan in 2012.
The 59-year-old Army veteran was transitioning from a three-decade career with the U.S. Postal Service. He applied for 100 positions in the Grand Rapids area and landed a few interviews. But they didn't pan out, according to The Grand Rapids Press ( http://bit.ly/1d4jHL5 ).
The Spectrum Health Veteran Explorers Program, which launched in 2013 and is tailored to help put veterans back to work, opened a door for Lehigh. He's now a senior reconciliation specialist at Priority Health, where he says he's found his passion working in the medical field.
"In our economic environment now, it gives veterans hope ... that when they return they have opportunities," Lehigh said of the program that helped him land his new career. "That is all a veteran really wants. They want opportunities to display their skill set."
Lehigh was among four participants of Spectrum Health's pilot program. Three were hired within Spectrum Health and one veteran was hired outside the organization. The program rotates veterans through three departments, allowing for 10 weeks in each.
Gearing up for the second round of veterans to begin in March, LeMark Payne, director of diversity and inclusion, said Spectrum Health seeks to eventually expand to 60 participants.
He hopes the program can serve as a pipeline for other employers looking to hire veterans, as the skills they acquire during the paid internship are not exclusive to health care.
"It's not unique to health care. And it really becomes community-focused," Payne said. "There's still time for other employers to become a part of the program and present employment opportunities for other veterans."
Participants can try their hand in departments such as pharmacy, materials, information services, finance and project engineering. The program's organizers take the veterans' interests and skills into consideration.
Randy Pomaville, like Lehigh, learned about the program through Michigan Works. The former machinist was unemployed for about a year after his last employer downsized.
His experience working on an aircraft carrier in the Navy prepared him for navigating Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital and handling machinery, he said. The 49-year-old now works as a material handler at a warehouse owned by Spectrum Health — which he referred to as the best job he's had.
He and Lehigh said their career shifts might not have been possible without the exposure they received and networks they formed in the Veteran Explorers program.
"The machine industry kind of works you to the bone and I kind of wanted a break from it," Pomaville said. "When I found out how different work is at Spectrum Health, I said this looks a lot better and they treat me a lot better than I was treated."
Spectrum Health's supervisors are asking for more veterans after the first group of participants left them impressed. The veterans' discipline, time-management skills and attention to detail is superior, Payne said.
Veterans receive resume help and coaching on how to draw from their civilian and military experience to market themselves to potential employers. Their goal is to land interviews that lead to full-time jobs by the end of the 30-week internship.
"You go from having a tough time getting past the interviews to job offers," Payne said. "All of our veterans are so appreciative of the opportunity and the value that they bring to the organization is - I don't know if you can put a cost around that."
Information from: The Grand Rapids Press:MLive.com, http://www.mlive.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Grand Rapids Press.