After spending nine years on tour with the Navy, Michael Barrett found that adjusting to civilian life — especially finding a stable and well-paying job — was a tough and arduous process.
“It’s a difficult transition, because we don’t have a profession to speak of,” Barrett explains. “We’re handicapped in that regard, and we’re less marketable in the work world.”
While entrepreneur Jonathon Lunardi was researching veteran suicide with his brother-in-law, Paul McDonald, he became familiar with Barrett’s sentiments and saw a need to help veterans bridge the gap and become successful in the civilian world. Together, Lunardi and McDonald started Veteran Central, a job resource and development network exclusively for veterans. Lunardi, now the company’s CEO, told Mashable that the startup focuses on job placement and tools for young, blue-collar veterans.
“The older generation has had time to build their networks and to reintegrate, but the younger veterans come home and they don’t have that network,” Lunardi says. “They’re plopped down somewhere in the United States, and they’re trying to connect to the local community.
Lunardi and Barrett, on board as the company’s director of sales, spoke to Mashable about scaling their startup and encouraging companies to consider a veteran to fill their open job positions.
Veteran Central’s mission is twofold. Lunardi and McDonald work on building the young startup’s professional and psychological resources for veterans and supporters, while Barrett focuses on providing important, relatable content for veterans to respond to.
“I had a completely different image of what it was going to be like when I got out of the military while I was still serving, as do most guys still serving on active duty,” Barrett explains. Back on American soil, “I realized that I was [experiencing] the same difficulties that a lot of my peers were.”
Veterans who join Veteran Central (which has 1,200 registered users) gain access to Barrett’s anecdotal podcasts and outreach towards the greater military community — and those so inclined can submit their own original content. While a large portion of the material on Veteran Central focuses on job-seeking and navigating the professional world, there is also material about coping with the psychological impact of war and reintegrating into daily life with friends, family and significant others. But Lunardi says that above all, veterans come to the website to look for employment.
“We have site greeters on the website who talk to all of the people who come on the site, and we’ve been told by them that the number one topic they are asked about is jobs,” Lunardi explains.
And those jobs are available through the company’s peer-reviewed and vetted job board. Job postings are free and open to all businesses looking to employ veterans, and Lunardi says that each job opening is carefully researched by a team of volunteers. When a job is deemed prime for veteran employment, it’s made available to the greater Veteran Central network. These jobs also have a distinctly blue-collar feel — work in industries such as construction and trucking — that would be conducive to the skill-set of a young veteran without a college degree. Lunardi says that while the company does not have exact numbers on the amount of listed companies that actually hire a veteran into their workforce, they are planning to build out a feedback mechanism.
“We want to email everyone who has posted a job and ask them if they’ve found a good candidate through our job board,” Lunardi says.
In the future, Veteran Central is eying to create a two-way culture for integrating veterans back into the American workforce. Lunardi says that he wants to generate content — by businesses, for businesses — that’s focused on the best practices for hiring and managing a veteran. There are also plans for a mobile site to enable veterans to access jobs on the go. And far down the road, Lunardi says he wants to expand Veteran Central to include healthcare and family resources, thus offering a more comprehensive toolset for veterans.
“Veterans struggle with finding out who to trust,” Lunardi says. “We want to be a beacon of light in the veteran community, and you’re going to find content and resources from people that care about veterans.”
“We want to really prove to ourselves and the veteran community that this is a valuable tool to use, and they should tell others about it,” Lunardi says.
But in the end, it’s all about speaking up for those who have dedicated their lives to serving in the military. And, Barrett says, every little bit counts.
“We ask that for Memorial Day that everyone does something as insignificant as go onto the website, or post a job on our job board,” Barrett says. “We want to help make sure that this is not a problem any more.”