New Jersey residents who are leaving the armed services and looking for civilian jobs are having success finding work in the growing healthcare sector, with the help of a nonprofit that is connecting them with potential employers.
Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS) is working to provide a training program to nearly 100 New Jersey veterans, including many who are working at health insurance and pharmaceutical companies including Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Merck and Johnson & Johnson.
Program founder Arthur Langer said healthcare-related companies need workers in information technology and other support areas, and the work-study program can teach veterans the skills necessary to start work in those jobs.
He noted that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is prompting some of this need.
“Where there’s change there’s need, where there’s change there’s technology changes,” said Langer, director of the technology management program at Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education.
The beneficiaries of the program include James Lee, a 26-year-old Cliffside Park resident who was looking for a new civilian job last year as he completed his service in the Army National Guard.
He learned about a 39-week work-study program that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey operated with WOS while he was helping to keep order in Bay Head after Hurricane Sandy last year. After successfully applying, he started the program in January and is completing it later this month.
The program includes both classes and an internship with Horizon. Lee is currently working as part of a team testing the interface between Horizon and the federal health insurance marketplace, or exchange, through which residents and small businesses are expected to purchase insurance.
“WOS made it possible for veterans and military personnel to have hope and have a way to get into the corporate world in a nice, easy transition,” Lee said.
Lee has a degree in criminal justice but said he’s realized that that field isn’t “his passion,” and he is now focused on pursuing another degree in computer science.
Along with training that Horizon provides, students take 12 required courses at Rutgers University-Newark in areas like software development and business writing, with graduates receiving a certificate of quality assurance.
“They help you at class, they help you at work,” Lee said, adding that Horizon and WOS officials “understand that we came from low educational backgrounds, but they gave us all the kinds of things we needed” to get a job.
Lee has a tentative job offer from Horizon and is completing the formal application process.
Langer said he started the program in 2005 after doing a five-year research project on the challenges that marginalized populations face in the workplace. While launched in New York City, some of the earliest employers involved in the program were in New Jersey. It expanded from high-school graduates to military veterans in 2010.
Langer said there are many reasons why veterans are attractive to companies, including healthcare-related employers.
“Veterans have been trained; they have developed character; they all come out with a skill set; they have honor; they have been taught to perform,” said Langer, adding that many veterans also are mature.
Langer noted that more than 1 million veterans will be leaving the armed forces nationally in the next five years. “Are you going to put them all on unemployment? We need to utilize them in the workplace,” he said.
Veterans who have served since September 2001 have an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a figure that is above the national unemployment rate of 7.2 percent.
Horizon spokesman Thomas Vincz said the company became interested in working with WOS to hire veterans after having success in training high school graduates through a WOS program.
“We’re familiar with their work,” Vincz said. “We’re very intrigued by it and it was a good fit for what we were trying to accomplish as a company.”
Vincz said the company plans to make the WOS partnership an ongoing program, with the next class likely starting in the spring.
“They bring special energy and expertise to the civilian workforce,” Vincz said, adding that the civilian workforce “is a great place for the skills that these veterans have been able to acquire through their military service . . . It’s simply the right thing to do.”
The company will decide whether to offer full-time, part-time or consulting positions to the veterans, he added.