Boots to Suits: CU Denver program to serve those who served

Denver Metro Chamber partners in effort to help student veterans transition into business world

Having served two tours of duty in Iraq, Tyler Heath has faced—and conquered—the fear of the unknown.  Now the University of Colorado Denver senior is facing the unknown again – this time as he prepares to enter the business world for the first time.

“I have the education and I have experience working in a team, but what I don’t have is the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in the business world,” Heath said. It’s for students like Heath that CU Denver has created its new veteran support program, CU Denver Boots to Suits.

Developed in conjunction with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, CU Denver Boots to Suits helps veterans shift from their roles as service members to students and, from there, to business professionals and leaders in our community.

“While many universities have veteran enrollment programs, CU Denver Boots to Suits is different. We go beyond supporting our veterans while they’re pursuing a degree to helping them transition into the workforce,” said Jerry Wartgow, Ph.D., chancellor of University of Colorado Denver. “The program ensures they have the skills employers are looking for, matches them with a business mentor, offers them opportunities for hands-on work experience and even ‘suits them up’ with the right attire so they can put their best foot forward during the job interview process.”

CU Denver Boots to Suits directly addresses a very real problem: unemployment among Gulf War veterans can be up to double that of the national unemployment rate, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To better understand local implications, CU Denver and the Denver Metro Chamber conducted a survey of business leaders in the metro area. Of the more than 100 business leaders who responded to the survey, most think veterans hold strong leadership skills, have a high degree of integrity and are adept at leading a team. However, half expressed concerns about hiring a veteran, citing, most prominently, concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder and applicability of skills in a business setting. That said, survey participants who had experience working with or hiring veterans in the past were much more likely to tout the benefits of working with a veteran, rating them 20 percent to 30 percent more positively than respondents with no experience hiring veterans for the attributes they bring to the business environment.

“The chamber is a key player in CU Denver Boots to Suits because the program addresses head on the issues that keep our veterans’ unemployment numbers higher than the average,” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “We know that the skills honed serving our country can absolutely benefit our business community. These dedicated Americans deserve more than a heartfelt ‘thank you’ when they return home. They deserve a great career.”

“Once a business person has worked with a veteran, he or she understands the value they bring to the table,” said Bill Lindsay, president, Benefit Group-Denver, Lockton Companies. Lindsay, one of the first local business leaders to become a mentor for the Boots to Suits program and a military veteran himself, says the program “builds a bridge between our military students and our business leaders that will yield multiple benefits for businesses, veterans and the greater community.”

CU Denver Boots to Suits offers several ways for employers to get involved:

  • Mentor a Veteran
    This semester-long program matches Metro Denver executives with student veterans in their senior year at CU Denver to help set them up for success in the business world. Business leaders commit to meeting with a student veteran four times to share insights and advice as well as open doors to others within their organization. At the completion of the mentorship, organizations have the option of purchasing a suit for the student veteran to help him or her in the job interview process.
  • Offer an Internship
    Employers can recruit student veterans to work on special projects, assist with daily tasks or provide support up to 20 hours per week during the fall or spring semester. Internships benefit both student veterans and employers: students gain experience related to their academic major and career goals while employers benefit from their skills and assistance.
  • Hire a Veteran
    The CU Denver Office of Veteran Student Services and the CU Denver Career Center work in tandem to match highly trained student veterans with company needs for permanent positions.  Potential employers can be confident student veterans are ready for the business world as each veteran is required to complete a program of professional preparation leading to a Certificate of Employability. In addition, companies are provided information about tax benefits they may be eligible for by hiring military veterans.
  • Suit Up Our Veterans
    Many student veterans went directly from high school into the military and lack business attire to wear to job interviews.  With a seed grant from PCL Construction, CU Denver Boots to Suits has created a Suit Up Our Veterans Fund. The program is soliciting donations from organizations and individuals to provide a business suit for each graduating student veteran.

“PCL Construction not only builds communities through complex projects using steel and concrete, but more importantly, PCL builds hope for individuals and families through its many philanthropic efforts that focus on the areas of education, community development, the arts, health and well-being, and the environment,” said Trey Nobles, PCL District Manager. “The CU Denver Boots to Suits program has many values, principles, and philosophies in common with PCL; higher education, supporting military individuals, workforce development, mentoring, and internships.”

Other Boots to Suits initiatives being developed include mock employment interviews for student veterans and panel discussions tailored to their needs, including CEOs discussing what employers are looking for in today’s job market, veteran business owners on how to start a business, and human resources representatives on how to translate military skills to the workforce.

For more information on the CU Denver Boots to Suits initiative, including how to become a mentor or donate, visit http://www.ucdenver.edu/bootstosuits or call the CU Denver Office of Veteran Support Services at 303-556-2745.

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