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Infantry to Industry

A soldier’s journey through BCIT

Sergeant Michael Woolley

Sergeant Michael Woolley. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Forces

“The military is not like most jobs.”

After spending some time with Sergeant Michael Woolley — Legion Military Skills Program participant and recent business administration graduate — his comment seems grossly understated.

Michael was referring to what he sees as a major difference between civilian and military careers. In most jobs, you’re hired for a position, you train for that position, and your career goes forward from there. In the military, things aren’t quite so linear.

With 12 years in the Canadian Forces, Michael has trained and served as a combat infantry soldier, a radio operator and a transportation coordinator (not to mention that he completed leadership training and advanced to the rank of sergeant). With the Legion program, he’s translated his military skills and expertise into an accelerated bachelor’s of business administration at BCIT.

Not Your Average Job

Michael began his military career as an infantry soldier, training to be “the ones who are at ‘the pointy end of the sword.”

In 2003 he was deployed to Bosnia, tasked with managing communications for a fleet of 20 military vehicles. At the age when many of us were deciding what to do with our lives, Michael ensured that information that could affect the lives of his entire unit got where it needed to go. Heady stuff for anyone, let alone a 22-year-old.

From Bosnia, Michael spent three years working with the Canadian Forces Public Relations office in southwestern Ontario at 31 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters.

“I’m a combat arms soldier, an infantry soldier,” Michael explains. “Now, for the next three years i was sitting in an office, talking to media, photographing everything from training exercises and parades to funerals.”

This is a prime example of the diversity of experience that comes from a military career — from overseas deployment to photography and public relations.

During his time in public relations, Michael completed leadership training and worked at the headquarters level, which he likened to a bank branch manager position, before volunteering for deployment to Afghanistan in 2008.

As a sergeant, Michael coordinated the transportation of people and materials in the combat zone. Some of those people included civilians working alongside the Canadian forces, such as non-government organizations and United Nations personnel. Michael’s main responsibility was the security of these convoys while they were away from camp. Talk about logistics and supply-chain management.

…but Not Enough for Your Average Job

After returning to Canada and moving to BC, Michael began to see that the skills and experience he had gained in the military weren’t as valuable in the civilian job market as he had expected.

Employers responded to over a decade of military training and practical experience by asking to see a university degree. Michael worked security at Cypress Mountain during the Vancouver Olympics as part of the military and RCMP joint security forces.

“[I was told] my military experience was not enough for a law enforcement job and that 30 credits in university-level was more important than practical experience when it comes to the application of force,” Michael explains.

His experience in the job market reinforced the need for him to return to school. That’s when he heard about the BCIT Legion Military Skills Program.

Back to School

Michael on graduation day.

Michael on graduation day. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Michael Woolley

The BCIT Legion Military Skills Program is a one-of-a-kind program that allows military personnel to obtain block post-secondary credit for the skills they learned in the armed forces. Participants can complete a degree in as little as two years, a major draw for veterans eager to enter the civilian workforce with a post-secondary education.

“It is not easy, as you get older, to sit in classes with people who are almost ten years younger than you are,” Michael explains, especially with a decade of work and military experience.

The accelerated timeline was a major selling point for Michael, as similar programs — such as the UBC Veterans Transition Program — tend to focus more on transitional support as opposed to transferring experience into a larger block of credit.

The program began as the Reservist Re-Entry Project in 2009, a directed studies project for human resources management students. Over the next several years, the BCIT chapter of Students in Free Enterprise became involved by providing entrepreneurship and job skills training, and the BCIT school of business officially took over the program.

Recently, American universities, including the University of Washington, have reached out to BCIT to explore implementing similar programs.

“The US has something like 200,000 people exit the military every year,” says Natalie Condrashoff, project manager for the Legion program. This means an enormous number of people requiring exactly the type of assistance the Legion program provides. “We’ve been working with a consortium of universities, collaborating with them, sharing knowledge” to expand these opportunities south of the border.

Natalie credits the program’s success to recognizing the diversity of skills and experience that military personnel have. Each candidate for the program goes through an informational interview and completes a World of Work Inventory form, which combined with his or her military record, allows Natalie to develop a profile of each candidate.

Armed with a workup of transferable skills, aptitudes and preferences, program participants can choose the BCIT program that works best for them. The adjustment from military to student life is definitely that, though: an adjustment.

“We’re transitioning from one way of doing things in our lives to a totally different way,” explains Michael. “My life had been the military . . . all my friends were in the military, all my activities were in the military.” Being at BCIT has meant going beyond that paradigm.

Making a Difference

Michael’s gone a bit further than integrating as a student; he’s become involved with a whole host of BCIT activities, especially helping to promote the Legion program to other veterans.

“The majority of the student veterans who come through this program give back to the program because that’s the type of people they are,” says Natalie Condrashoff. “Michael has gone above and beyond,” she continues, explaining that he acts as a veteran set rep, a liaison between members of the Legion program and the program itself. He also assists in recruiting for the program.

“I can talk all I want about coming to BCIT and what it’s like,” says Natalie, “but I’m not a veteran myself, Michael can talk to them on a level that I could never pretend to.”

On the future of the program, Michael is optimistic.

“I think the program is going to be much bigger than it is now . . . there are over 70,000 people in the Canadian Forces and there are thousands getting out of the military in the next five to 10 years at all different ages, all different experience levels. This is the only school that I know of that offers recognition academically for our military training experience.”

As for his own future, Michael sees going into communications, public relations or working in a consulting capacity for logistics management.

“I think I can help people,” he says.

Something tells me he’s absolutely right.[hr]

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