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Charlotte staffing agency serves military veterans

After her husband returned from his last deployment overseas in 2008, Robin Pugh said he noticed that many of his former colleagues from the Navy struggling to find work.

“So many of them volunteered for redeployment,” she said. “(My husband) had it easier. He had a private sector skill set.”

In late 2010, Pugh took over Queen Associates, an uptown Charlotte staffing agency primarily focused on landing IT jobs for clients.

Inspired by her husband’s observation, she used her small business to start Warriors 2 Workforce, a program that connects veterans with career opportunities in the Charlotte area. Since she founded the program two years ago, Pugh said her company has helped “a couple hundred” veterans secure jobs or link up with promising job leads. She said veterans make up 25 percent of Queen Associates’ job placements.

Her efforts drew national attention in May, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program and Spike TV named her company one of the eight finalists in the Small Business Tournament of Veteran Champions. Although Queen Associates didn’t win the top prize, the company was recognized as one of the most veteran-friendly in the U.S., said Bryan Goettel, a Hiring Our Heroes spokesperson.

The unemployment rate for veterans has dropped in recent years. After hovering around 8 percent in 2011, it fell to 6.9 percent in 2012, and came in at 6.6 percent in May 2013.

Despite the improvements, Pugh said there’s still an opportunity to educate employers on the skills veterans possess that might go overlooked.

ShopTalk caught up with Pugh and a recruiter at Queen Associates, David SaNogueira, to find out how they serve veterans hoping to land a job:

“Civilianize” the resume: Pugh and SaNogueira said that for veterans applying to private sector jobs, highly-valued skills are often lost in translation.

“The first thing I do is tell officers to change the word ‘soldiers’ to ‘people,’ ” SaNogueira said. “If you say you led 20 people, it’s much more understandable for someone looking to fill a manager-type position.”

Pugh said industry terms and buzzwords that headhunters zoom in on often don’t show up on veterans’ resumes, but the skills are just the same.

She offered computer-programming language as an example. A veteran might have used a form of C++ or Java in the military, but called it a different name. Reconciling the veterans’ technical experience with commercial-sector jargon is a must before sending out resumes, she said.

“In Charlotte, companies want people with ‘financial services experience.’ ” she said. “Oftentimes, what they want are the same skills veterans already have.”

Network, network, network: Queen Associates deals mainly in tech jobs that require skills some veterans don’t possess. That’s where an organization such as Charlotte Bridge Home, a support group for returning veterans, becomes handy, Pugh said. She’ll connect veterans with Charlotte Bridge Home and use her connections with other staffing agencies to get them in touch with companies like Lowe’s or Duke Energy.

“The biggest obstacle (as a veteran) is just getting your foot in the door,” said SaNogueira, an Army veteran. After that, he said, the training and professionalism of the military kicks in.

Raising awareness: Managers and executives want employees with specific skills and don’t understand enough about veterans to make exceptions, Pugh said.

That’s why she works with executives to raise awareness about the quality of the veteran talent pool. Pugh pitches veterans as more mature, seasoned and professional candidates than college graduates.

“Employers might spend thousands a year on internships for college students,” she said. “I’d like to see them spend more resources on military candidates.”

“Plus, you never have to worry about a veteran showing up on time.”

Keys to Success draws on insights from small business people on building a successful enterprise.
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