It was April 2016, and Leon, who had served 20 years as an illustrator in the Air Force, was unsure how his expertise would fit in a job initially thought might be geared more towards a younger cohort. But at the San Antonio Wounded Veteran and Caregiver Employment Conference – hosted by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Hiring Our Heroes Foundation – Leon began to see a new future open up. “At 60, I’ve decided to make a career change,” he says. “At the conference, I met a recruiter for Accenture, and she mentioned a new program for software engineers.”
A native of St. Martinsville, La., Leon enlisted in the Air Force in 1974, at the age of 17. After making a full career of the military, he transitioned to an IT job at QVC, but after nearly 16 years with the Pennsylvania-based shopping network, he was laid off. Work had been a lifeline for the Air Force veteran, so as months passed without a job, Leon began to lose hope. That was until his wife, Patricia, also an Air Force veteran, came home one evening in mid-2015 mentioning a connection she’d made with Susan Sprayberry, a certified rehabilitation counselor with Operation PAVE, Paralyzed Veterans of America’s award-winning vocational rehabilitation program.
“Susan started to give me leads on jobs, and she directed me to a website that enabled me to build out my military resume,” Leon says. “She’s worked so hard to position me with people who can help me.”
For Leon, the most valuable connection was the Wounded Veteran and Caregiver Employment Conference. Now in its second year, the conference hosted by Paralyzed Veterans of America in partnership with Hiring Our Heroes presents an innovative approach for veterans, military spouses and caregivers seeking employment. The conference, which has taken place in 10 U.S. cities and continues to grow, connects every participant to a PAVE certified vocational rehabilitation counselor and the program’s wide range of job services, provided free of charge.
“The conference was a rich environment for a job opportunity,” Leon says. “There were several employers eager to learn about you and see if there’s a way you can fit into their organization.” The conference marked the first time Leon had learned of the global professional services company Accenture, and after talking with a recruiter during the conference’s unique one-on-one meeting format, learned that his experience and expertise may fit into the company’s training program for software engineers. Leon followed up and, after applying for the job and undergoing two interviews, was offered the job in the company’s San Antonio office.
“Everyone I’ve worked with at PAVE has been very kind, caring and helpful and ultimately positioned me to regain my employment,” Leon says. Leon, who came on board at Accenture in July 2016, recently completed the company’s training program in software engineering, and will soon move into his role as a software tester for one of Accenture’s major clients. The role is one he can see himself in until he officially retires.
“Accenture is turning out to be a company that I can grow with,” Leon says. “The people I’ve met since I’ve started have been fantastic. It’s a flexible work environment, and there are so many opportunities for advancement.”
Thrilled with his new, fulfilling career, Leon encourages other veterans – regardless of whether they are disabled – to not be afraid to reach out for help, specifically from an organization like Operation PAVE.
“I tried doing it on my own and got nowhere,” he says. “There is so much that organizations like PAVE can do for veterans like me and those with disabilities. If you’re a veteran looking for employment, Operation PAVE and the Wounded Veteran and Caregiver Employment Conference is a great place to start.”