Many veterans transitioning from military to civilian life have all the fundamentals necessary to make their mark in IT. Transferable skills gained from technology and operations roles in service and strong leadership skills from their military background make veterans a valuable talent pool for IT organizations looking for future IT leaders and dependable, skilled IT practitioners.\n\nBut the shift to civilian work can be a considerable change, which is what Synchrony\u2019s Veteran Leadership Program aims to address. \n\nJim Eubanks, SVP of risk testing and Veterans Network+ Leader at the financial services company, has firsthand experience of the challenges involved in transitioning from military to civilian life. When he left the military, he \u201cdid not have a structured program\u201d and ultimately felt a bit lost moving into a career in technology and finance. The offboarding process for the military has improved in recent years, he says, but the switch can still be a difficult for those who have operated within the structure of the military for a long time.\n\nWith its Veterans Leadership Program, Synchrony seeks to bridge that gap. To build the program, Synchrony leaders looked to the company\u2019s Business Leader Program, which puts college graduates into job rotations over the course of two years to help them gain experience and identify where they\u2019d like to take their careers. Most military members, however, will have already worked in that environment for anywhere from four to seven years. So Eubanks and his team knew that a veterans version of such a program would need to take into account the fact that its members would already be well-experienced in areas that recent graduates are not. \n\n\u201cThey have real world experience \u2014 almost all the veterans in this last rotation have been deployed in some fashion, whether it\u2019s to Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan or Africa. They understand the big picture, they understand how to work in teams, they know how to communicate, and they know how to work in bureaucracies. That\u2019s what the military is. So a lot of those basic skills that are part of the business leadership program for those coming out of college, we don\u2019t need to teach a veteran,\u201d Eubanks says.\n\nStructuring the Veterans Leadership Program for success\n\nThe first four weeks of Synchrony\u2019s 13-month Veterans Leadership Program, dubbed \u201cbasic training,\u201d is treated as a \u201cdecompression time for veterans,\u201d Eubanks says. Some of these ex-military candidates have mere days between leaving the military and joining a corporate setting. For example, Eubanks references one employee who came from the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army, saying that they \u201cleft them on Friday and came to us on Monday.\u201d\n\nThese initial four weeks help ex-military members transition from the highly structured environment of the military to the more flexible and autonomous structure of corporate America. Veteran employees come from an environment where they are used to \u201chaving a very structured regimented day,\u201d and where they knew exactly what to do every single day, Eubanks notes. Corporate jobs typically aren\u2019t as structured, however, and some veterans struggle to effectively define and structure their workdays without that guidance, he says.\n\n\u201cSo that first four weeks is really about that transition period, where they can sort of decompress from things that they learned in the military, but at the same time, we\u2019re teaching them things that they need to know,\u201d Eubanks says.\n\nDuring the program\u2019s basic training portion, veterans receive training on anything they need to know specifically for working at Synchrony, including how to use corporate platforms such as Teams and various HR systems, best practices for video meetings, how to make PowerPoint presentations, and anything else unique to the corporate setting. In the final week of basic training, members are sent to West Point, the US Military Academy in New York state, where they receive leadership training from West Point graduates.\n\n\u201cWe send our veterans into that environment because it\u2019s something that\u2019s very familiar to them. But by the same token, what they\u2019re getting during that week is lessons from very senior leaders within the military of how they made that transition from for the military into civilian world, things that they found different and challenging, and what they need to think about going forward,\u201d says Eubanks.\n\nAfter that, the next step is for employees to enter two six-month rotations in either technology or operations. Each veteran\u2019s personal experience is taken into consideration \u2014 for example, if a military member has experience in cybersecurity, they might be put into a role using those skills. But if they\u2019re eager to learn new skills, that\u2019s also taken into consideration, potentially aligning them in environments where they can see whether they\u2019re interested in other aspects of IT.\n\nMaking the transition while building new skills\n\nJohn Hodge joined Synchrony\u2019s Veterans Leadership Program after being contacted by a recruiter. Hodge, who was drawn to the opportunity because he was looking for a role in which he could utilize and grow the leadership skills he gained in the Air Force, spent his first rotation with Customer Service Operations as an Operations Leader, leading a team of eight customer service managers and around 200 customer service representatives. During his time in customer service, Hodge found he was interested in cloud computing with AWS, so he started taking courses leading up to his second rotation.\n\n\u201cI gained many more soft skills in the military than I did specific IT skills, but I\u2019ve found that leadership is everywhere. I\u2019m able to bring what I have to the technology sector and see things from a different perspective. In my IT rotation I\u2019ve tackled financial forecasting, governance and policy, and public cloud strategy planning. I wouldn\u2019t be able to handle those projects without both the soft skills I learned in the military, and the hard skills I\u2019m adding,\u201d says Hodge.\n\nVeteran John Campbell started his first rotation as a Front-Line Manager for Customer Service Operations, leaning on his leadership background gained in the military. He found the principles he learned in the military to be very applicable to civilian work, giving him a strong foundation to build on while learning the technical skills for his role.\n\n\u201cI got to see how similar a lot of those principles are from military to civilian work. In the current rotation, I get to learn about the tech behind what makes Synchrony run and how we mesh with various clients. I would say the biggest connection to the military is the problem-solving attitude that I learned in the military both as a team and as an individual. Teamwork, cross-functional, and initiative are skills that were ingrained in the military that I still use today,\u201d Campbell says.\n\nHaving military members running the Veteran Leadership Program also helps Synchrony identify transferable skills that might be overlooked by civilian recruiters. Eubanks gives the example of an Air Force One crew chief who, after seven years with the Air Force, transitioned to working with AWS at Synchrony. While someone without military experience might not recognize the skills and background required for an Air Force role, Eubanks says that military members know that a Crew Chief is similar to a systems expert and that it\u2019s indicative of someone who can handle high-stress environments. He also points to hiring a Marine F\/A-18 aviator, noting that, while they \u201cdon\u2019t fly jets\u201d at Synchrony, anyone in the military will know that it\u2019s a role that requires navigating complexity, an understanding of cybersecurity, and strong teamwork skills.\n\nBuilt-in mentorship to help build up veterans\u2019 networks\n\nVeterans are paired with a mentor during the program \u2014 either another veteran in the organization or someone within senior leadership. They work with that mentor for the first six-month rotation, and then are assigned a new mentor during the second six-month rotation. The goal is to help build their networks and to offer more guidance while making the transition to a civilian career. Mentors and mentees meet at least once per week for the first month, and then monthly after that. \n\n\u201cYou\u2019re connected with a mentor who has a relatable background and is in the same career field as your rotations. In my first rotation, my mentor was also an Operations Leader and prior Air Force like myself,\u201d Hodge says. \u201cSwitching to technology for my second rotation my mentor was an Applications Engineer and prior Navy. I continue to talk with both monthly and the conversations we have are wonderful, lower my stress, and have contributed to a comfortable and smooth transition.\u201d\n\nBeyond mentors, Hodge also notes that he was able to meet executives and senior leaders, helping him better \u201cunderstand the business as a whole, how the company was organized, and learn the goals and vision of where we were headed.\u201d When he expressed an interest in AWS, Hodge says these connections helped put him in touch with leaders on the technology and public cloud teams, laying the groundwork for his second rotation within Cloud Platform Engineering.\n\nBruce Spencer, a member of the Veteran Leadership Program and the Azure and Active Directory Authentication Team, found out about Synchrony\u2019s program while attending a Service Academy Career Conference (SACC) event in 2022. He says he was drawn to the company\u2019s culture and values.\n\n\u201cThe uniqueness of this program comes from your access to senior leaders as a member of the Veterans Leadership Program. I have not been in or seen an organization where I\u2019ve been exposed to senior leaders within the organization \u2014 veterans and non-veterans \u2014 who take the time to speak with us directly and to make sure we\u2019re successful,\u201d says Spencer.\n\nCampbell found that the program helped tremendously with transitioning both himself and his family out of the military. Prior to finding the Veteran Leadership Program at Synchrony, he says he struggled to tap into his network in the private sector and to effectively demonstrate to recruiters how his military skills translated to a civilian job.\n\n\u201cThis program took a chance on me and placed me in different roles, assisted in networking and gave me the latitude to try different aspects that may or may not be a good fit. These factors greatly assisted in the overall transition process and boosted my confidence to be successful in a new career,\u201d he says. \n\nEyes on the future\n\nCurrently, Synchrony has hired two separate classes of veterans into the organization through the program; moving forward the plan is to have everyone in one class per year to help alleviate some of the coordination issues required to run the program. With one class per year, Eubanks says Synchrony can better allocate HR resources, mentors, and the West Point training.\n\n\u201cCoordinating that twice a year was busy for us,\u201d he says. \u201cWe\u2019re glad to do it, but it would be easier if we just brought everyone in together at once. So we\u2019re going to continue doing that going forward, because it really has yielded some really unique talents that we didn\u2019t think we\u2019d find.\u201d\n\nMoving forward, Eubanks says the success of the program will be evaluated by the demand for veteran employees, noting that \u201cfor the second class that we hired, we had essentially twice as many requests for the veterans as we did veterans.\u201d\n\nWhile the early signs of success are there, Eubanks notes that the long-term metrics of success will hinge on retention and employee satisfaction and engagement.\n\n\u201cWe feel like by setting them up for success in a program like this, that they\u2019re going to want to stay with Synchrony, right where they they\u2019ve learned, grown, and developed. And I think that\u2019s going to be the future metric that we\u2019re going to track \u2014 how well do these veterans do here at Synchrony? The early indications are good, but I will really know that three to five years out,\u201d he says.