Home » SkillsBridge provides military service members with work experience before they're discharged. It makes it easier for them to find jobs. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

SkillsBridge provides military service members with work experience before they're discharged. It makes it easier for them to find jobs. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

by Arifa Rana

WEST BEND – Jonathan Ehley starts his work shift in the briefing room of the Washington County Jail.  
Sgt. Ben Rozewicz asks him if he wants to go to “the pod,” booking or juvenile.  
Ehley picks “the pod.” One of the reasons he chose to spend his day there is that there are normally 60 to 70 people housed there, which will make the day more interesting than the other options, which tend to involve fewer people.  
Ehley, a Marine and Hartland native, is near the end of a nine-week Department of Defense training program called SkillsBridge that aims to provide active-duty military personnel opportunities to train in a civilian field so they have some job options once they leave the military.  
“It’s just learning people skills again, learning how to talk and do things the way civilians do,” Ehley said.
“Even if I were not to end up working at the jail, it definitely helped me with my transition process. Especially because right now, I am still getting paid by the military and there’s not a lot of pressure where I feel the need to fit in somewhere and if it doesn’t work out, I have time.” 
After graduating from Mountain Top Christian Academy in Horicon, Ehley went straight into the Marine Corps because he wanted to do “the hardest thing.” 
“If I can do the hardest thing, that’s the thing I’ll have the most pride in,” Ehley said. “I had some friends that also joined (the Marines) and I looked up to them.” 
He rose to the rank of corporal and is now in the final months of his four-year contract.  
During his time in the Marines, Ehley worked in Marine Corps. corrections, so some skills will transfer over.  
“If someone’s upset with you, you have to learn how to de-escalate the situation with your words, that verbal judo,” Ehley said. “Otherwise you’re going to get yourself in trouble.” 
Ehley has already submitted an electronic application and gone through an in-person interview at Washington County Jail while participating in the SkillsBridge program.  
“If I wouldn’t have done this program, I’d be getting out mid-May and I wouldn’t have any of this,” Ehley said. “I wouldn’t have any of this interview experience. … I’d just be starting all of that, sending my application in just then. The time that I’d be going without working from once I get out to, if they were to hire me, versus now where I can pick up as soon as I get out, it’s huge.” 
Ehley went to Kyle Jacobs, his Marines for Life representative, who referred him to Steve Janke at Mission Wisconsin, a private company that recruits veterans for local businesses. Although Washington County does not have a contract with Mission Wisconsin, Janke said he was willing to do the work for free.  
“We did it because it was the right thing to do,” Janke said. “Being a Marine veteran myself, reaching back and helping those folks is the right thing to do. It’s to make sure they transition well.” 
Ehley said Janke was very involved and helped him get connected with the right people in order to pursue a law enforcement career.  
“He met with me on Zoom, probably, every week for the three months before I came home,” Ehley said. “He played a huge part in making sure I was doing everything I needed in the right order for this program to work.” 
Janke said Ehley would have tried to apply for the job himself but having some guidance improved his chances of getting a job.  
“Maybe it would have went well, maybe it wouldn’t have,” Janke said. “But he would have struggled translating his résumé, making sure that his skills that he learned in the Corps translated into what the civilian world wants to see.” 
Janke said being able to help veterans right after they’re discharged is “life or death.”  
Janke added more than half of transitioning service members spend some time on unemployment within the first six months of being discharged.  
“We also know that those are the critical 12 months,” Janke said. “When we talk about veteran suicide and stopping that epidemic that plagues our nation where we lose 22 a day, and it really shows someone like Jonathan who did one tour, was in four to six years, how that skill translates to the real world.” 
Capt. Scott Lehman wasn’t sure what to expect when the sheriff approached him about this opportunity to have a Marine in the SkillsBridge program shadow his staff.  
There hasn’t been any county jail that has participated in the program, and Lehman said his department was a “guinea pig” but he has enjoyed the experience so far.  
“There’s not a lot of jobs where you can do a test run and get to meet everybody and work alongside of them prior to accepting a position,” Lehman said. 
Lehman said Ehley asks good questions and is eager to learn about what it takes to work in a county jail. 
“When I’m watching Jon, I’m looking at character. What his character is, what his work ethic is like,” Lehman said.  “The actual skills to work inside of a jail, we can teach a lot of that stuff. But if you don’t have good integrity, good work ethic and good character, that’s the kind of stuff you can’t teach. That’s the stuff that I’m more focused on with Jon and he’s been checking off all the boxes.” 
Although Marine policies are different than what is done in Washington County, Lehman said Ehley understands the structure of working in the facility.  
“In the end, you’re all dealing with the same thing,” Lehman said. “You’re dealing with individuals who are usually at a low point in their life. A lot of them don’t like to take direction from authority figures and you have to use your communication skills in order to make sure they’re doing all the things they need to be doing.” 
Lehman helped prepare Ehley for a panel interview, which went well. On April 15, the county offered Ehley a position as a corrections officer, which he accepted.  
Ehley still needs to go to Camp Pendleton in southern California to finish his service. Once he’s discharged, he can start working at Washington County Jail. 
He has some advice for service members who are considering trying the SkillsBridge program: 
“I’d tell them, there’d be no reason not to do it,” Ehley said.
“Realistically, if you don’t end up doing whatever trade you’re trying to intern in, you’re still going to get that extra time to set yourself up for success. You can’t just sit around and wait for opportunities to come to you, you have to seek them out.” 
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