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New coalition aims to help veterans land jobs upon exiting military

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 12:27 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce have their eyes set on a lofty goal of making the state’s economy larger than the country of Mexico in the next 10 years. Part of their plan to do that includes a new partnership with a prominent veterans organization.

The details of this new coalition were announced Wednesday morning.

“This is exactly the kind of legislation Florida needs to stay competitive,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce President, Mark Wilson. “With funding from the department of defense, Florida companies will be able to hire future employees from an already pre-qualified group.”

A new pair of bills are making their way through committees. Senate Bill 586 and House Bill 435 aim to standardize an already-existing federally funded program throughout the state. The legislation would create a state-wide skill bridge program under the oversite of the state’s non-profit veterans organization, Veterans Florida.

“Really, the mission of the Skillbridge Initiative is to train, retain and attract the veteran workforce of tomorrow and maintain Florida’s competitive edge,” said the organization’s executive director, Joe Marino.

The program will help exiting military members in their last six months of service to bridge the skills they learned in the military with a civilian job in Florida.

Derrick Fishback, who is from Pensacola, but went through the program in Georgia, said he felt the program helped to prepare him for the civilian workforce after retiring from the military. He now works for Amazon,

“There’s a lot of shock therapy when it comes to, ‘Hey, I thought because I was in the military and I was a veteran, that people would just hire me,’” he said. “Had I not had that opportunity, I don’t think I would have as clear of a path as I have had to this position.”

“I’ve personally seen firsthand how Skillbridge benefits our servicemembers during critical months prior to when they hang up the uniform and they transition to what we veterans call “civ-div,” the first civilian division,” said executive director of the Florida VA Major General James “Hammer” Hartsell.

Hartsell said there are 16,000 servicemembers that transition every year from the 21 military bases across Florida, and chamber members want them all to stay in the Sunshine State.

“We have what’s called a 20/30 blueprint and two of our goals are to make sure Florida is a top 5 manufacturing state, and we are a top three for technology jobs,” Chamber policy director, Matthew Choy told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan. “There is no way we’re going to be able to get to those incredibly bold goals, without the participation of our former service members.”

Bill sponsors Senator Tom Wright and state Representative Tyler Sirois, both Republican and of the Space Coast, said they see the incredible potential in their own district.

“There is tremendous and growing opportunity in aerospace, and modeling simulation, and training and aviation,” Rep. Sirois said.

Veterans with questions are encouraged to reach out to Veterans Florida.

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