Veteran Katie Buehner spent 10 years as an aviation officer in the US Army. Working as an operations manager in Kandahar, Afghanistan, she amassed 1200 combat flight hours as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot.
After completing an Executive MBA at Washington University’s Olin Business School, she made the transition from battlefield to business—and is now helping fellow veterans do the same.
She works for Tech Qualled, a company whose mission is to defeat the stigma attached to veterans seeking post-military employment by equipping them with the hard skills needed to land high-tech sales roles. They do this through their Launchpad Academy—a scheme that takes in 15-20 veterans at a time and has them ready to launch new careers in just seven weeks.
The availability of such schemes cannot be undermined in America—although the US Department of Labour cites a 10-year low veteran unemployment rate of 3.4%, getting veterans into work is only half the battle.
“We see in high-tech sales companies that they are very reluctant to hire someone in sales who's never experienced handling accounts—they won’t roll the dice or take a risk,” Katie explains.
“What we do is translate to companies that, even though veterans might not have the direct experience, they are driven, results-oriented and resilient—they have the potential to outlearn and outpace everyone else on their staff.”
It’s lamentable that veterans entering the workforce post-military have to take pay cuts and enter low-level jobs when they are used to huge responsibility in the military. But Tech Qualled has so far placed over 100 candidates into work, and now has 75 partners, among them World Wide Technology, and Checkpoint Software.
“Veterans can easily be left behind, but there is a big wave of people trying to help them,” Katie says. “Because the economy is doing better right now and jobs are starting to increase unemployment is going down—so it’s more important than ever to reach out to vets who are struggling.”
The infrastructure for veterans in America is still poor though—the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 6.2%, and 22% are underpaid or underworked. So, how does a military veteran know where to turn to when they leave the forces?
Katie took the advice of friends and opted for the business route, enrolling on the EMBA program at Olin Business School almost immediately.
With one weekend of classes a month for two years, it tied in perfectly with her schedule at home—she had just fallen pregnant with her third child at the time and her husband, also in the military, was redeployed to Afghanistan.
Before she embarked on her mission to help veterans prosper, Katie knew she needed more business experience. She co-founded a nurse staffing company, Presto Staffing, with a classmate and his wife whilst on the EMBA, immersing herself in the world of accounting and HR.
And Katie was also able to bring into play her military nous, profiting from a decade of leadership and team development skills when it came to negotiating with potential clients.
“People see the value of veterans who have gone through a training and education process,” she says. “By combining the soft skills they have with the hard skills they gain, they don’t just enter the workforce; they actually succeed in what they are doing.”