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PORTAGE, Wis. — The Wisconsin Employment Resource Connection and Job Connection Education Program (WERC/JCEP) celebrated passing the 1,000th client successfully placed in gainful employment during a brief ceremony last week.

WERC began in the fall of 2011 when unemployment in the Wisconsin Army National Guard was estimated at 10.1 percent. Today, that rate is estimated at 3.7 percent.

Brig. Gen. Mark Michie, Wisconsin Army National Guard land component commander, praised the efforts of the WERC/JCEP office and described the initiative as “a great investment” of time and resources.

“A part-time Soldier, to be successful, needs a full-time job,” Michie said.

Shortly after opening its doors at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Madison, Wis., WERC joined forces with JCEP, a National Guard-funded pilot program that started in Texas in 2010. Since then JCEP has expanded to Tennessee and Iowa as well as Wisconsin.

sm151105-O-QS269-027.jpg“We attribute our success to conducting one-on-one mock interviews and connecting clients directly to employers,” said Jessica Williams, JCEP program manager. “We are not a virtual program. We get to know our clients and their spouses, we understand their needs and provide guidance so they can be successful in their employment endeavors and make a positive impact on our community.”

Staff Sgt. Ted Schumacher, WERC program manager, agreed.

“This is so key to our success because we actually get to meet these service members, meet their spouses, have a vested interest, be their ally in that search for employment,” he said. “It’s not just about finding a job, it’s about changing lives.”

Some recent WERC/JCEP clients shared their success stories via video. When Tiffani Roltgen learned that WERC/JCEP was available to military spouses, she sought assistance with resumes, cover letters and job interviews.

“I was looking for some guidance on how to navigate where to go next and successfully complete that process,” she explained. “I wasn’t sure exactly what opportunity I was looking for, but it definitely felt like it was time for a change. Having been at home for about six years, I definitely felt out of touch.”

sm151105-O-QS269-063.jpgRoltgen now works as an assistant children’s librarian in Fitchburg, Wis.

Master Sgt. Josh Bowers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard had a job as a teacher, but wasn’t certain what he wanted to do when he returned from a deployment.

“It’s really easy to find a job,” Bowers said. “What I was looking for was more of a career, something I would enjoy doing.”

The WERC/JCEP office helped Bowers translate his civilian and military experience into a job with the Lake Delton Police Department.

“It’s a very challenging, rewarding job,” Bowers said.

Tim LaSage, a retired U.S. Marine Corps first sergeant, learned how to convey his skill set to civilian employers.

“What I thought was a resume wasn’t a resume — it was a training record book of all my schools, which an employer looking at it doesn’t know what that means,” LaSage said. “Some of the things I thought were menial really became pertinent, and some of those things were what the employer was really looking for.”

LaSage now works with WPS Health Solutions as a security and military affairs advisor.

The WERC/JCEP office also works closely with the state Department of Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Workforce Development. These state agencies reach out to employers and service members alike to fill employment needs. Charles Jones, a supervisor with the Department of Workforce Development’s office of veterans services, said his office has forged a true and valuable relationship with veterans and employers.

“As we continue to work together, we hope that we can bring one more employer, one more organization to provide services for our men and women in uniform,” Jones said.

Capt. Mike Riley, the Army National Guard’s section chief for employment outreach and transition services, was impressed with WERC/JCEP’s accomplishments.

“I think there’s a correlation between readiness and Soldiers and family members being stable, Soldiers being able to focus on their state mission and their federal mission,” Riley said. “Being able to place Soldiers in employment and have that civilian career that meshes well with their military service is exactly where we need to be in terms of continuing to be an operational force.

“This is a priority,” he continued, “and we’re going to continue to try and push for our veterans and service members to get connected to opportunities.”