AUBURN — Several weeks ago, Matt Leonard took a call from a newly retired colonel who’d moved to Maine because he and his wife had vacationed here and loved the state.
He had 30 years in the Air Force, three master’s degrees and zero job prospects — he’d applied, but no one was calling him back.
Leonard is looking for more veterans like him.
The former chamber president on Thursday announced the opening of Military Talent Source, a business to help veterans fresh out of the military find work and to help companies find employees — especially veterans who may not have been on a company’s radar.
“If we have retired colonels just moving to Maine on a whim because they love Maine and they can’t find a job, then we need someone to help deal with that because we need the people,” said Leonard, a retired senior chief petty officer with 21 years in the U.S. Navy.
“There’s a lot of bureaucracy and administrative barriers people don’t know how to tackle,” he said. “Understanding both cultures, I think that’s what makes me uniquely qualified.”
He’s targeting his company to employers hiring in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, all states with low birth rates and aging demographics. The jobs have to pay at least $20 an hour.
“Only 17 percent of people actually stay until retirement; the military is built for people to get out,” said Leonard, 41. “So you have a steady stream of people who are getting out every year who are highly skilled, qualified and have a lot of the intangibles companies are looking for: They have leadership ability, teamwork. So why not focus on that pool?”
There would be no cost to the veteran and a flat fee to the company looking to hire, depending on the services they’re after, he said.
“Let’s say Central Maine Medical Center becomes a client and they say, ‘I need this doctor, this doctor, this nurse and this tech,'” Leonard said. “Naval Medical Center San Diego is the largest hospital in the Navy. Walter Reed is one of the largest service hospitals. Every week on every base there’s a class of people who are getting out within a year. When that military command is a hospital, everybody in that (weeklong transition) class is a doctor or a nurse or some kind of medical tech. I say, ‘Hey, you’re a doctor. I need a doctor. Have you looked at Maine? Is this job description something you might be interested in?'”
There are several barriers to finding work that people who’ve never been in the military don’t realize, he said. On a resume, in presenting their skill sets, they may come off as overqualified or they may be a good fit for a position but get bounced by an automatic resume reader on a technicality. For instance, if a position required 10 years of experience in a bank and the veteran had experience overseeing financial operations for a military department but had never worked in a bank, that resume wouldn’t pass to the would-be employer.
“When I was at the chamber, a company’s No. 1 concern was always finding people,” Leonard said. “And being a veteran myself and having gone right from military service to the chamber, a lot of my peers getting out of the military were calling me and asking for advice (on) how they go about their job search.”
Leonard left the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce abruptly in November, resigning over a controversial semi-automatic rifle raffle. He said Thursday that he was ready to put that behind him the day after it happened. He began work on the roots of Military Talent Source in December.
In addition to working with companies, he anticipates working with veterans as they’re preparing to leave the service.
“Military personnel really get stressed out; they’re looking for a job 12 months before they can be hired, so they start getting really frustrated,” Leonard said. “Companies are like, ‘I don’t want to talk to you until you’re 30 to 60 days out at the most.’
“It creates a lot of friction, creates a lot of stress. During that window when companies aren’t ready to hire someone, we can refine (a veteran’s) resume, work on certifications that may enhance their ability to get the job that they want and start initial conversations.”