By Colonel David Sutherland
President, Sutherland Partnerhip, Inc. and Chairman, Easter Seals Dixon Center

It’s time to break down the myth that service members who get out of the military will find employment right away. That’s simply not realistic — and those who have been laid off, out of work or watching a recent college graduate look for a job will recognize this.

That’s where the Teamsters Military Assistance Program (TMAP) comes in. TMAP has been engaged in the transition of military soldiers into civilian sector careers since 2008.

After being involved with the Teamsters since 2011, I was asked to represent Easter Seals Dixon Center in informing and influencing TMAP’s development. Our two organizations now have a Memorandum of Understanding to continue working together on TMAP. And, with financial support from the PwC Charitable Foundation, we are able to extend the reach of our assistance into communities where service members transition.

What differentiates this program from others is its close cooperation with the Armed Forces, particularly the Army’s Soldier for Life Program, to develop a skills bridge in advance of a service member leaving the military. This allows a newly-minted veteran and successful TMAP program graduate to have a private sector job guarantee before he/she leaves the military.

The Teamsters, who represent hundreds of professions and thousands of contracted employers requiring state credentials, are also working with state lawmakers to accept the skills bridge from those transitioning into the civilian sector.

Michael “Mick” Yauger, National Director of TMAP, is a passionate advocate for veterans and military families. He recently sat down to talk about TMAP and how other organizations might expand this model.

What do you see as the biggest impediments to employment when a service member gets out?

Employers recognize a college degree as verifiable proof of knowledge. But they don’t recognize a DD214 [military discharge papers specifying experience] as proof that you know what you’re doing. This is especially important with credentialing. Think about all the professions that require a credential – truck drivers, fire fighters, pilots, auto mechanics. So many of those in these industries get their experience in the military.

I’m not saying that because you drove a truck for the military it should automatically qualify you for certification, but it should count for something. If more states like Illinois recognized military experience and our skills bridge, vets would be tested, they’d pass and they’d go right to work. In my mind, if a vet has the TMAP certificate, it should be recognized by every state.

What differentiates TMAP from similar programs?

First off, this is a program that starts before the service member exits the military. We go direct to candidates on four installations – Ft. Sill, Ft. Riley, Ft. Drum and Ft. Carson – recruiting and training right where they’re stationed. Next, if candidates pass our program – and it’s not automatic, you have to work for it – there is a guaranteed job waiting for them at the location of their choosing.

That sounds too good to be true. How is it possible to guarantee job placement?

To be able to guarantee 100 percent job placement, we screen our candidates very carefully to ensure there are no impediments to employment. Then we give them the finest training so that any one of the more than 15,000 Teamster companies would be happy to hire them.

For example, our commercial driver’s license (CDL) program requires 200 hours of driving experience in order to become certified. Ironically, the state of Illinois only requires 160 hours of training, so our graduates could already be considered “over qualified.” Most training schools also require about 16 hours of classroom time. Our program averages five times as much.

Critics might say the Teamsters support TMAP because it benefits them, adds to membership.

Look, we have 1.4 million members and 700,000 of them turn a key on a vehicle in order to do their jobs. The reality is that everyone has skin in the game – companies, the military, the unions. We’ve actually lost members two months after placing them because these vets are so good at what they do that they’re promoted to management. And I love it. It makes me proud.

You talk about a “two-pronged approach.” Service members are the first prong. What is the second?

If we are going to be successful at helping every veteran, we need to address the needs of the entire family. Ironically, this wasn’t part of the plan when we started TMAP. But then we’d have folks ask for support with family challenges such as day care or spousal employment. That’s when we connected with Easter Seals Dixon Center, so that we could fill the void.

As a TMAP candidate graduates and is placed in a career, Easter Seals Dixon Center follows them to ensure the entire family unit is set up for success. As one example of this, we work with Easter Seals Dixon Center, TMAP’s transit division and local bus companies to assist in employment opportunities for military spouses and dependents.

Inclusion of the family unit is a necessary component to the program to ensure that the vet not only has a career, but a successful, long-term path forward with as few distractions as possible. So prong one is the mentorship for the vet. Prong two is the life coaching that extends to the family. With a presence in all fifty states, we co-exist to support the many transitional needs – some planned, many unplanned. Failure is not an option for any of us.

Are there any companies or organizations doing it well?

There are certain companies that truly understand what service members bring to the table. For instance, Tim Thorne, CEO of ABF Freight, who served as an infantry officer started his career out on the docks with ABF. His understanding of vets goes beyond what they did in combat. In fact, that’s just a small part of their career skills. For Tim, it’s about what military members are taught: Work as a team. Never leave a buddy behind. Stay drug- and crime-free. That’s the kind of employee that every employer wants but is increasingly impossible to find, and Tim puts them on the front-line, working face-to-face with his clients.

How do you know this really works…that it’s not just another dead-end job?

Underemployment is a huge concern to me. I don’t want to see vets with a job that comes nowhere near what they can do and doesn’t pay a living wage. So this program specifically works with companies that not only provide good wages and great benefits, they go beyond by offering a career ladder – promoting from within. That way a young soldier begins his career with the potential to achieve the American dream.

I’ve never slept better than the time I had a young kid come up, tell me I recruited him for TMAP and now he just got his first home. That’s what I’m most proud of. Less than one percent of the population has the smarts, desire, sense of honor, strength and responsibility to wear the uniform. And I intend to do my best until my last breath to make sure that these folks succeed.

This story originally appeared on the Huffington Post on February 24, 2016.