When John Spells retired from the United States military, he faced one of the greatest challenges that so many veterans come to know first-hand: the transition from military to civilian life and the hurdles that exist in reentering the workforce. It’s been a long journey, but with guidance and support provided by MERS Goodwill and the Veterans Administration in Springfield, Missouri, John proudly just passed his 90-day mark working as a Machine Operator II for Nestlé Purina PetCare Company.
“Even though I’m late in my career stage, one of my goals was to find a job that presented me with good benefits, healthcare and the opportunity to put away for retirement,” said John. “I love my job because it challenges me to learn and accomplish new things I didn’t think I could have before.”
Eager to travel the world, John enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 19 and soon found his calling working as an aircraft electrician by trade. John invested 15 years in active duty prior to his service in the reserves. Recognizing the requirement to serve three years in the reserves to be off duty, John made the decision to continue an extra five years, retiring from the reserves in 2001 with a total of 23 years of service.
For many retired veterans, the process of obtaining competitive employment can be arduous. It can take months – even years – for documents to be processed that are necessary for veterans to compete for jobs following military service. After his service, John found there was a current high demand for his skill set and was fortunate enough to secure a competitive job after the military. When the economic recession happened in the mid-2000s, however, employers used the downturn to cut back and let many qualified employees go – John included.
“I found myself approaching 60 and falling in an age group that is not ideal to potential employers,” said John. “It’s pretty discouraging to know you have all the experience and skills but then hear you are over-qualified.”
John had been unemployed for seven-and-a-half years and working with the Veterans Administration in Springfield before he met Barb Morris, placement counselor for MERS Goodwill. That’s when he learned about the job training and employment services the organization provides for veterans and other individuals with barriers to employment.
“The biggest obstacle John faced was long-term unemployment,” said Barb. “Even though he had invested a remarkable 23 years of his career in the military, civilian employers may not acknowledge that or take that into consideration in the hiring process. We needed to focus more on character references in the job application process since we couldn’t rely on recent competitive work history.”
Barb was the main source of encouragement for John, who applied and interviewed for nearly 20 different open positions over a period of 12 months.
In April 2016, John was thrilled to learn he got hired at a Dairy Co-Op company, working 60 hours a week. Right before his 90-day mark, however, John was terminated from the position and the employer gave no reason why they let him go. He was devastated, but went back to the drawing board with Barb. They learned about an open position as a Machine Operator II at Nestlé Purina PetCare in Springfield, which seemed to be the perfect fit for John. He applied for the position in October 2016, and was hired in January 2017. While John interviewed twice for the position in that timeframe, he continued to court other employers in order to keep his options open.
Knowing John’s experience and diligent follow-up process, Nestlé Purina called John and asked if he would like to work for them. In his first 90 days working for Nestlé Purina, John has already been rewarded for his outstanding performance and punctual attendance.
Barb praises John for being proactive in his job search. “It can take a few months from the time you submit an application to the call announcing you’ve been hired,” said Barb. “That lead time is typical with competitive employment, so it was important to keep the motivation going for John when, at times, it seemed like his hard work was not paying off.”
Looking back on his path to securing employment, John is fortunate to have connected with Barb and MERS Goodwill. “Before I came to Goodwill, I didn’t know anything about their programs or services,” said John. “Barb is an exceptional person and she has been so helpful. I like to think it was divine intervention that brought me to cross paths with Goodwill.”