At the beginning of the current semester, Tyler Heath was nervous and worried. A student and U.S. military veteran, Heath did two tours of duty in Iraq and was about to graduate from the University of Colorado Denver with a degree in information systems management — but he was worried about finding a job.
Enter CU Denver Boots to Suits, the university’s veteran support program. Heath was one of 37 student vets paired with a member of the business community through Boots to Suits, a program created in partnership with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. The program helps veterans shift from their roles as service members to students and then to business professionals and leaders in our community.
Heath was among the first students to be paired. His mentor is Richard Lewis, president and CEO of RTL Networks, Inc. and a veteran himself of the United States Air Force. Lewis strategized with Heath about networking and applying for jobs. The two also attended events together. After several meetings and strategy sessions, Heath found a job. He was hired in desktop support at Anchor Network Solutions.
“I was getting worried and I am so relieved to have this job. I have a buddy from Iraq getting his degree in economics and he can’t find a job. He’s even thinking about going back into the military. But I can’t imagine that. ” said Heath.
Lewis said many of the veterans need some direction when it comes to how their skills might apply in the civilian world. “A degree applies to a civilian career. But vets need to learn how to leverage their military experience,” said Lewis. He then offered to call Heath’s friend to see whether he can offer his support and knowledge.
Student vet Lucas Velasquez also was among the first participants in Boots to Suits. He was paired with Bill Lindsay, president, Benefit Group-Denver, Lockton Companies, LLC. Both men are former Marines. Lindsay said it was fulfilling to help Velasquez.
“He had a mock interview with our head of human resources and met with the IT department to find out what he needed to land a job,” said Lindsay. Instead of taking time off during spring break, Lindsay relayed that Velasquez received certifications to increase his chances of getting a job. After 11 interviews and 11 offers, Velasquez settled on a company called Junction Solutions and he doesn’t even graduate until December 2012.
CU Denver Boots to Suits offers several ways for employers to get involved:
- Mentor a Veteran
This semester-long program matches Metro Denver executives with student veterans in their junior or senior year at CU Denver to help set them up for success in the business world. Business leaders commit to meeting with a student veteran four times to share insights and advice as well as open doors to others within their organization. At the completion of the mentorship, organizations have the option of purchasing a suit for the student veteran to help him or her in the job interview process.
- Offer an Internship
Employers can recruit student veterans to work on special projects, assist with daily tasks or provide support up to 20 hours per week during the fall or spring semester. Internships benefit both student veterans and employers: students gain experience related to their academic major and career goals while employers benefit from their skills and assistance.
- Hire a Veteran
The CU Denver Office of Veteran Student Services and the CU Denver Career Center work in tandem to match highly-trained student veterans with company needs for permanent positions. Potential employers can be confident student veterans are ready for the business world as each veteran is required to complete a program of professional preparation leading to a Certificate of Employability. In addition, companies are provided information about tax benefits they may be eligible for by hiring military veterans.
- Suit Up Our Veterans
Many student veterans went directly from high school into the military and lack business attire to wear to job interviews. With a $15,000 seed grant from PCL Construction, CU Denver Boots to Suits has created a Suit Up Our Veterans Fund. MillerCoors has also donated $5,000. The program is soliciting donations from organizations and individuals to provide a business suit for each graduating student veteran who participates in the Boots to Suits program.
Heath and Velasquez recently went to Macy’s Department Store with Lewis and Lindsay to get fitted for business suits they will receive through Boots to Suits. The mentors also helped them select shirts and ties to go along with their new suits.
For more information on the CU Denver Boots to Suits initiative, including how to become a mentor or donate, you may call the CU Denver Office of Veteran Support Services at 303-556-2745.