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November 14, 2023

SkillBridge Serves as Pathway to AEP for Transitioning Veterans

Jason Garza knew early on that he’d made the right choice in making AEP his next stop after leaving the military. He’s also quick to point out another good call that made all the difference in his new career. Before he decided where he was going, he settled on how he’d get there. For Garza, a 20-year Air Force veteran and now a transmission field services station electrician based in Abilene, Texas, the answer was SkillBridge, a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) initiative that helps veterans transition to new careers post-service
“This is a great program for veterans, not only those retiring, but also any veterans looking to rejoin the civilian world,” Garza said of SkillBridge. “Many times, veterans don’t know what they’re going to do when they get out of the military. They have that unknown. SkillBridge gives you the chance to try something new, to give you a taste of the civilian world before you actually transition.”

Through SkillBridge, the DoD places veterans with participating companies as interns in a variety of fields that are mostly, but not exclusively, mechanical and technical in nature. The SkillBridge internship lasts as long as six months, during which veterans, as they’re winding down their armed services commitments, receive hands-on experience and training while working alongside AEP teams. At the end of the internship, the veteran formally transitions to civilian life and either receives an offer from AEP or enters the job world with specific skills and plenty of experience, along with a strong sense of their next direction.

SkillBridge is free for AEP and other participating industry partners. Veterans continue to collect their military compensation and benefits while receiving civilian training and work experience since they are still active members of their branch until the three to six month program is completed. 

“We already know what we’re typically getting when we bring in veterans – highly skilled, highly motivated, and well-trained people who also often offer tremendous character attributes,” said U.S. Army veteran Jason Bettger, a sourcing specialist with AEP’s Talent Acquisition team. “SkillBridge provides an opportunity to bring these veterans in at no cost, allowing us to learn more about them, for them to learn about us, and to determine if there’s a good fit once the internship is complete. And it has proved to be a good fit many times.”

Garza was the first AEP employee to come to the company through SkillBridge, and officially became part of the TFS family in August 2021. TFS has brought on more than a dozen SkillBridge veterans who have completed the internship, and currently one intern is placed in another part of the AEP organization. Most of those brought on board have been in AEP's western footprint, including Clayton Steelmon, a line mechanic based in San Angelo, Texas.

“The internship I had, the way the process went, was like a breath of fresh air. AEP did everything to make sure I felt welcomed and knew everything I needed to know,” said Steelmon, who served as a combat engineer in the Marines. “They’ve provided me with a great opportunity.”

That’s how Bettger positions the internship when he talks with veterans. It’s a tremendous opportunity for all involved, and it’s with a company, he said, that doesn’t require much effort to pitch.

“When I talk to veterans, I ask them, ‘Do you want to work for a great company that cares about you?’ That’s all the pitch I need,” Bettger said. “I truly believe AEP does care about veterans because they’ve shown it to me and shown it through many others. A lot of companies want to hire veterans, but here they really care about them, where and how they served, and the value they bring in skill and attitude.

“So that’s an easy pitch. Working for a great company that cares about you is the way to go. It’s the place to be,” Bettger said.

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