Natalie Hargott, CHRP is the Project Manager for the Legion Military Skills Conversion Program at BCIT. The program is focused on supporting former and current Reserve Forces as well as Regular Forces Canadian military members advance their careers.
Natalie kindly took the time to respond to some of my questions about the revolutionary project, and these are her responses:
1. Can you tell me about the reservists and military members who are enrolled in the program? Generally, how old are they? Is there an even distribution of men and women?
Our average participant is 32 years old but the ages range from 21 to 55. They are mostly male, but it is reflective of the proportion of men to women in the Canadian Forces. Most are from the Army, have around 12 years of experience, at least one deployment (e.g. Afghanistan tour), fall between the ranks of Corporal to Warrant, have dependents, and don’t have the time or money to start from scratch again.
2. How did reservists and military members respond to the program at the beginning? Was it always warmly welcomed?
Service members for the most part received the program with genuine interest, but with an understandable level of skepticism. There have been many programs in the past that have claimed to help service members but have often fallen short of the mark, often because they did not understand the Canadian Forces culture, ethos, lifestyle, and the amazing set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that their members bring to the table. This has led to a lot of Canadian Forces members to be wary of new programs because they do not want to be let down again and essentially, told that they have nothing of value. However once we made it clear that we recognized their uniqueness, even at the individual level, were available to chat and answer their questions, and actually had their best interest at heart, word spread quickly in the community.
3. I understand that the program allows participants to take one of three paths: attend BCIT, start a business or find a job. What kinds of jobs are reservists and military members looking for, and what kinds of business are they looking to start?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what type of jobs service members are looking for as they are such a diverse population with expertise in many different areas. Some popular areas have been operations management, project management, HR, finance, mechanical and electrical engineering, nursing, occupational health and safety, and trades (particularly in electrical where naval members have significant training). Some people who come to the Legion Military Skills Conversion Program at BCIT have 15+ years of experience in these areas at the middle and senior management level, but aren’t able to find work because they are not certified by their professional designating body and/or don’t have a post-secondary credential in that area.
For business development, again it varies with the expertise and interest of the individual service member. We’ve had ideas ranging from coffee shop, to mobile gym, to sail boat crafting, to HR consulting businesses. The Canadian Forces is really a very diverse and talented population!
4. What have your greatest successes been thus far?
Our successes aren’t really in what our program does, but what our participants are able to achieve. I am particularly proud of a number of individuals who were able to overcome significant obstacles (financial, personal, and physical) to get their post-secondary accreditation and find work to support themselves, their families, and contribute back to their local communities after extended periods of underemployment and vocational purposelessness. I can give you a great example:
We recently had a service member join our program in 2010 who was frustrated with his civilian career, or lack thereof. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and upon returning, couldn’t find a job anywhere – even it if was stocking shelves. He signed up for Op Podium, the 2010 Winter Olympics joint task force security detail, and found himself back at the same point after the games concluded. At BCIT, because of his military experience he was eligible to do our 2 year fast-tracked Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program path. Within 3 days of finishing his final BBA classes in Spring 2012 he had a lower management level job offer. He’s now working in a civilian job and excelling at it.
5. What does the future of the program look like?
We’re working really hard on making the program accessible to service members across Canada through a number of online options, transfer credits, and developing additional advanced placement opportunities. We realize that not everyone wants or can move to the Metro Vancouver area, and we do not want geography to get in the way of a service member achieving his or her career goals.
The need for accessibility became really evident to us when we were summoned to speak at the Senate Sub Committee on Veteran’s Affairs in Parliament Hill back in May. We were the only post-secondary asked to attend and from the senator’s responses to our presentation, many of whom represented areas in the Maritimes, Ontario, and Quebec, it is clear that there is nothing else like us out there
For more information about the program, there are a number of online resources you can refer to:
Natalie is also happy to answer questions via email. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org