PEPPERELL — After retiring from her career counseling position at a high school in Nashua, N.H., Susan Henry was asked to take her skills elsewhere.
“Adults were coming up to me and saying ‘it isn’t just the kids, we need it to,'” said Henry.
That was in 2008, and since then she has been helping adults re-enter the workforce, with relatively good success, according to her. That year in the depths of the “Great Recession” Henry held a career-counseling class at the Atkinson, N.H., library. Lawrence Library Director Deb Spratt, who happens to be Henry’s sister, requested she bring some advising services to Pepperell. Next she brought her program to Milford, N.H., then Groton, Westboro and other places soon followed before she began the company.
Henry-Adams Associates grew out of her successes with the piecemeal services she was offering after leaving her high-school position. Last Friday she spoke at the Pepperell Army Covenant’s Veteran’s Breakfast on her newest group of counselees: veterans.
“Working with veterans is my gift. I am not charging them, but I am treating them as I would other clients,” she said.
De-escalation of conflicts in the Middle East has swelled the veteran population with a younger group of people. As a whole, half of all vets are unemployed, says Henry, but it is those younger vets that seem to be getting hit the hardest.
However, of the 20 or so audience members attending the vets breakfast, almost none were of this younger generation, and that is one of Henry’s biggest challenges. So far she has only worked with one vet since the program began.
“I just started this spring as an exploratory program,” she said, adding that her time has been spent mostly researching state and federal programs and benefits and looking at how to apply strategies that work well with her other clients to vet cases.
Army Covenant member Stephen Themelis said that younger vet attendance has been light.
“We certainly want to attract more and more younger vets to the program, but it’s proving difficult,” he said.
If any were any in attendance, they didn’t ask Henry about problems they’ve had re-entering the work force, but she says there is a number of complex issues that not only lead to unemployment, but keep them from asking for help with that issue.
“They feel they don’t have transferable skills, but I would argue they do. It is a matter of getting those out onto a resume,” Henry said, and those resumes are ripe for a kind of “language barrier.”
Jargon, acronyms and habits used in the military do not always make for attractive job interviews, she says.
“If someone was a platoon leader, they may have attractive leadership and management skills. It’s only a matter of finding out what they are,” Henry said.
A seasoned crowd wasn’t without questions, however. Veteran, VFW Officer and Covenant member Tony Saboliauskas asked about his own situation: what is a 63-year-old former professional industrial mechanic to do?
“The company I worked for went belly-up four or five years ago — I’ve pretty much accepted I’ll never find another job,” he said.
Henry said the answer for her older clients is reinvention.
“Do you have skill sets to start a small business?” she asked. “It’s important to be open and looking. People always need stuff.
“And be sure you’re utilizing the best of what the Internet has to offer in terms of job searching.”
She praised Indeed.com as a reliable job search engine along with Craigslist, which can be hit or miss, she said, but the hits are usually successful. Offline, personal networking is another important tool.
“Roughly 85 percent of all jobs are found through people you know or those who know you,” she said.
Still, in Saboliauskas’ case, Henry says the bigger problem is a much harder one to solve: how to bring manufacturing jobs back into this country.
Returning to returning youths, retired Navy Seabee Ken Hay said many times, vets had joined the service to take advantage of the GI Bill. Their quandary, he said, is “what do I have to offer as an employee?”
“They return after serving right out of high school and are looking for their high-school job, just to find it filled by other high-schoolers,” Hay said.
According to Henry, vets can dig up enough skills to market themselves back home.
“I would argue that four years as a serviceman has given one phenomenal skill sets which are applicable just about anywhere,” she said. “If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, you will always be successful.
“Attitude is everything.”
Especially her own attitude towards vets.
“The military is in my family, in my blood,” Henry said.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, her father joined the Navy and was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, then spent the last part of the war fighting in the Pacific Theater. Henry’s husband, also a Navy man, fought in Vietnam.
Rep. Shiela Harrington, R-Groton, visited briefly and sat with Henry and discussed the recent passage of the VALOR Act, a measure that increases military benefits and services for servicemen. The act includes provisions for funding veteran-owned businesses and veteran employment. Harrington also thanked Henry for her efforts supporting veterans.
Breakfast was sponsored and served by members of the Pepperell Business Association.
Follow Luke Steere at twitter.com/lsnashobapub.