Troops in transition: Las Vegas companies help veterans find jobs throughout the year

Wilson Edgell at MGM corporate offices, 840 Grier Drive, in Las Vegas, Nev. on Nov. 2, 2016. Edgell is a 27-year Air Force veteran who is now assisting military veterans, military spouses and individuals with disabilities find careers with MGM Resorts International.

After serving for almost 27 years in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft armament systems specialist — more commonly known as a weapons loader — Wilson Edgell speaks veteran.

Unfortunately, when he left the service, that was the only language he spoke fluently.

“Having served in the military for as long as I did, the military was all I knew,” said Edgell, who moved to Southern Nevada in 2009 after a four-year assignment in Germany, and wrapped up his service at Creech Air Force Base.

“I knew I was going to stay in Las Vegas, so I was exploring career opportunities in the city. But I’d never written a résumé, I’d never interviewed for a job outside of the military, and while I had done my due diligence and completed my education while on active duty, I did not have any practical work experience outside the military.”

While attending an executive transitional assistance program (TAP), Edgell saw a flier for MGM Resorts International’s Boots to Business program.

“And the rest is history,” said Edgell, one of the first recruits to complete the program.

Founded in 2012, Boots to Business is an aggressive 12-week veterans-recruitment and management-training program that helps people transition from military service into management positions.

“Unemployment is a huge problem with veterans, and we have 1,100 to 1,200 jobs open at any given time,” said Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for MGM Resorts International. “What’s unique about the program is that Boots to Business hires veterans who don’t necessarily have experience in hospitality. But the military invests so much time in training at all levels around teamwork, discipline, leadership and structure, that if we can find someone who can learn hospitality, their military skill set is a huge benefit.”

That was the case for Edgell, who began working for MGM Resorts in organizational development.

“I always played a part in the introduction of other veterans into our organization,” he said. “Now, my role is diversity and disability outreach programs manager. I get to assist military veterans, military spouses and individuals with disabilities find meaningful and rewarding careers.”

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is also committed to supporting former military personnel and their families, having launched a veterans-hiring initiative in January. As part of that push, the resort partnered with 50 employers to host its inaugural Supporting Our Veterans Career Fair on Aug. 31. About 350 veterans and their families attended the event.

“We invited our competitors to join us so we can better serve the community by pulling together,” said Lori Calderon, director of talent acquisition. “We hope to make this a regular event, because it’s a great opportunity for job-seekers to meet with veteran-friendly employers.”

The Cosmopolitan, which hosted a Personal Finance for Military Families workshop in February, also supported the U.S. Army and its Partnership for Youth Success job-placement initiative.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. launched Enlisting Heroes in 2013 to help veterans find jobs in the company. The program has hosted about 80 events and hired more than 2,000 veterans nationwide. The Nevada Department of Veteran Services designated Caesars Entertainment a “Green Zone Employer” in 2014 to honor its efforts.

“Our initiatives to hire and train veterans have been extremely successful for our company,” said Mark P. Frissora, president and CEO of Caesars Entertainment, “and we are proud to extend and celebrate these efforts again this year in recognition of Veterans Day.”

Station Casinos also recruits veterans.

“We have a strong presence at veterans and military job fairs, and we reach out to local organizations that support the veteran community,” said La Reese Turner, corporate director of employment for Station Casinos. “Last year, we hired 19 veterans, and so far this year, we’ve hired 10 through our proactive efforts with the military-recruitment community.”

Another major Nevada employer, NV Energy, has about 300 veterans in its workforce, and is aggressive in recruiting servicemen and servicewomen through participation in job fairs for veterans and posting job openings on veteran-friendly websites.

“NV Energy also provides access to the Troops to Energy Jobs online resource that guides veterans on transferring the skills learned in the military to a job in the energy industry,” said Jennifer Schuricht, public relations manager of the south region for NV Energy.

“Our company has (also) earned the designation of Military Friendly Employer by G.I. Jobs magazine,” Schuricht said. “We were honored in 2013 with the Extraordinary Employer Support award from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. NV Energy is the first Nevada employer to earn this award.

While local companies do their part to support veterans, the Small Business Administration also serves those who have served our country, offering a number of programs for veterans, according to Bob Holguin, Nevada SBA district director.

Boots to Business (not related to MGM Resorts International’s program) is an entrepreneurial education program offered as an elective track within the Department of Defense’s TAP. It is open to service members and their spouses.

Conducted in Nevada at Nellis Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Fallon and occasionally at Creech Air Force Base, classes range from five to about 35 attendees. A similar program, Boots to Business Reboot, is conducted at various locations, including SBA Small Business Development Centers, and targets veterans regardless of how long they’ve been out of the service.

The SBA Resource Partner Network also expands its reach specifically to the veteran community with its Veterans Business Outreach Center program. Through a cooperative agreement with 15 veteran-serving organizations across the country, SBA provides entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, mentoring and referrals for eligible veterans who own or are considering starting a small business.

Services include pre-business plan workshops, concept assessments, comprehensive feasibility analysis, entrepreneurial training and assistance with franchising, marketing and accounting.

“The Veterans Business Outreach Center program is another SBA service that focuses only on veterans, serving as a catch-all for providing business-related services,” Holguin said. “The SBA also has a Veterans Advantage program that provides a more aggressive guarantee program for loans for veterans looking to start a business.

“We provide percentage guarantees to the lenders which entice them to mitigate the risks a lot of small business owners have. If the borrower defaults on the loan for whatever reason, the SBA, not the taxpayers, pays back the lender.”

While the law mandates that companies must provide a military leave of absence guaranteeing that an employee who gets called to active duty will still have a job to come back to, MGM Resorts International takes this a step further.

“Whenever an employee is involuntarily deployed and called to duty, we still pay them their salary — including tips — and provide benefits, because we don’t want their families to suffer financially because of the sacrifice they are making for our country,” DiTondo said.

“If it were not for the Boots to Business program, I’m confident I would not be here today,” Edgell said. “Had I simply been directed to apply online, although I had the education and equivalent job experience in human resources, I’m not sure a recruiter or hiring manager would have taken a chance on a 27-year ‘weapons loader.’ My engagement with the Boots to Business recruiter led to my résumé ending up in the hands of Michelle DiTondo, who took a chance on me, and four years later, I’m still with the company.”