Spokane County, Defense Department team up on internship program
Spokane County, Wash. is teaming up with the Department of Defense to offer county department internships to U.S. military members, better preparing them for the job force after service and combatting county workforce recruitment and retention issues.
The Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program connects active-duty service members with civilian work experience in a field they’re interested in for up to their last 180 days of service, so that they can build job skills and have a head start on building their resumes.
Spokane County’s SkillBridge program won NACo’s 2023 Achievement Award in the Personnel Management, Employment and Training category.
Christopher Dorcheus, the manager for Spokane County Regional Veteran Services Center, completed the SkillBridge program through Spokane County’s Human Resources Department. Although Dorcheus didn’t stick with HR, he said that determining what you don’t want to do is another valuable element to the program, saving time and potentially money in pursuing a degree in a field that’s not the right fit.
“Being [in the] military and transitioning out, it’s extremely difficult,” Dorcheus said. “Most of the time, you don’t get this type of opportunity, so you transition out, you sign off from the base or installation that you were at and then you’re off on your own trying to build a resume, trying to seek out employment opportunities … it’s one of those things where they don’t know what they want to do, and they don’t know how to do it.
“This type of opportunity gives them the structure that they’re still used to, and if it doesn’t evolve into a full-time employment opportunity, they have time to seek out other employment opportunities within this area.”
Working within the county allows for networking opportunities in other departments, which is how Dorcheus got connected to his current role.
“Just by that network that I was able to establish and create, I was able to say, ‘OK, here’s my passion, I want to be in Veteran Services,’” Dorcheus said. “So, I reached out to the director at the time, and lo and behold, that networking allowed me to be competitive for the manager position within this role.”
Throughout SkillBridge participation, service members continue to receive military compensation and benefits. Spokane County, as an industry partner through the program, doesn’t contribute to the program financially, aside from potentially paying for background checks for positions that require it, and instead contributes through personalized training and mentorship.
SkillBridge is a great way for service members to transfer specific skills they’ve learned in the military to a civilian job, Dorcheus said.
“A lot of our military members that are transitioning out, they enlisted just like I did right out of high school, at 18 years old,” Dorcheus said. “They may not have that work experience in the civilian sector, and those that stay in the military like I did, that make a career, there’s a lot of leadership, supervisory training that we go through once you get to that level. So, you bring that with you to wherever that is needed in the workforce.
“It gives them a chance to work and learn in the civilian sector with us as an industry partner, and that gives us an opportunity to leverage that experience at zero cost.”
Some internships through SkillBridge are as long as 180 days, while others are around four months, depending on what branch of the military the participant is in and its need. The county and the military work together to determine what is possible and best for each individual, Dorcheus said.
While placement for SkillBridge applicants isn’t guaranteed, all 50 Spokane County departments are open for applications through the program and placement is determined by service member interest and skill set as well as where the county has the most vacancies. Information Technology and Community Affairs have been some of the most common placements for the intern program in Spokane County, Dorcheus noted.
Dorcheus, who reviews the applications, said the program has allowed Spokane County to create a “pipeline of talent” to fill its job openings, particularly amid retention and recruitment struggles at the county level. Local government is one of only two sectors yet to return to pre-pandemic levels of employment, the other being mining and logging.
“For us, retention and recruitment is always a hard thing,” Dorcheus said. “The way I look at it is, each year there are about 200,000 military members that transition back out to the workforce. A lot of times they want to go home, so if Spokane’s their home, they’re looking at employment opportunities within our area … You’re getting an extreme value, it’s mutually beneficial.”
As of last month, Spokane County had 47 candidates looking to complete an internship through SkillBridge and had hired nine full-time employees since becoming an industry partner with the Department of Defense program, according to Dorcheus.
Hamilton County, Tenn. saw an opportunity for people incarcerated in its jail to advance their education in manner normally reserved for longer-term sentences.
Although the lack of broadband, transit, childcare and housing are all stacked against rural counties as they develop the kind of robust workforce that can attract business, planning and relationships between state and local government can help alleviate some of those challenges.
2024 NACo Achievement Awards
Since 1970, the NACo Achievement Awards have recognized outstanding county government programs and services. Through a non-competitive application process, noteworthy programs receive awards in 18 categories that cover a vast range of county responsibilities.