Internship Program Helps Active Duty Service Members Explore Careers
When Eddie Dunn is asked what he does for a living, he proudly smiles and tells anyone who will listen that he’s in the “veteran transformation business.”
The former Army First Sergeant leads UnitedHealth Group’s Military Internship Program to help service members discover their next meaningful career path before transitioning back to civilian life. Approximately 250,000 active duty service members leave the military each year and enter back into civilian life, searching for new careers and purpose.
Eddie served in the Army’s famed 82nd Airborne Division, both active duty and reserves. He discovered his new calling, helping veterans gain career skills, during his 2004 homecoming from Iraq.
Eddie’s father, a disabled Vietnam veteran, was waiting in the crowds at the airport to give his son the welcome home celebration he never received.
“It has inspired me to do my very best work. I can’t affect the outcomes of where Vietnam veterans are now but I can sure as heck affect the outcomes of our current generation of heroes,” Eddie said.
UnitedHealth Group, parent company to UnitedHealthcare, created the Military Internship Program, in partnership with the Department of Defense SkillBridge program. It’s designed to give active duty service members career skills training before they get out of the military. The program provides workforce reintegration and mentoring, in the hopes of creating better outcomes as an estimated 50 percent of transitioning military leave their first civilian job within one year.
Interns have the opportunity to receive health care career skills training from multiple career tracks including business and finance, clinical operations, customer service and IT during a program that can last up to six months.
With nearly 20 interns to date at UHC, Optum and UHG, an estimated 80% of veterans in the program became employees. The program boasts a more than 90% retention rate of employees who started as veteran interns.
UnitedHealth Group’s strong mission and values draw some of the brightest minds in the workforce. The unique backgrounds and experiences of veterans not only helps create an inclusive workforce but increases workplace effectiveness to identify creative solutions.
Candidates who are good fit for the company’s culture and can bring a diverse perspective to their role, are highly sought after. This program helps to connect those dots for active service members who adhere to a strong set of values in the military and are looking to carry that into their next career.
“Think of it as a test drive. It’s a two-way test drive. The transitioning military member has a chance to work in a corporate environment and experience the new set of requirements, the new set of expectations. The surprise is, many of them aren’t different than the military,” said Tom Wiffler, UnitedHealthcare’s head of Specialty Benefits and a former Marine, who serves as one of the executive sponsors in the internship program.
Eddie began leading the program last year and believes companies like UnitedHealth Group to be at the forefront of creating career paths for veterans in the corporate world.
“Our predisposition is to think of veterans as broken warriors that need charity, where most of us are absolutely qualified to do any job and can lead organizations but we are not given a chance,” Eddie said.
On Veteran’s Day this past November, Eddie led a career event, where veterans could network, meet with recruiters or attend a panel on military transition. It’s just one more way his everyday service is a tribute to his father and all the veterans searching for support out-of-uniform and in the all-too-challenging civilian world.