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Searching for a job or identifying a career path can prove daunting, especially in a world where face-to-face contact often takes a back seat to automation. Resumes and professional inquiries sent via e-mail and online are frequently lost in the shuffle.
For veterans, the challenges may be even more complex. When transitioning back to civilian life after serving our country in the armed forces, veterans face an array of obstacles and adjustments.
Enter Bridging The Gap for Veterans Inc., (BTG), a 501(c)3 organization established in February 2016 with Chief Door Opener, President and Co-founder Mike Ferraro at the helm. Ferraro, a retired United States Air Force Command Chief Master Sergeant, who served our country for 32 years in both active duty and the Air Force Reserve, is committed to assisting veterans and their families with this multi-faceted transition. “We are military career coaches,” explained Ferraro, adding that they help prepare veterans and then open corporate doors to secure interviews. BTG has clearly become his life mission.
Besides extensive military expertise, Ferraro’s impressive resume includes being an accomplished corporate executive, management consultant, leader, business entrepreneur and government civilian. He understands the delicate nature of cultivating relationships, generating revenue and fulfilling client demands.
In many cases, Ferraro explained, veterans are simply not employment-ready, resumes are not up to par and there’s uncertainty about how to market themselves and build networking relationships. The bottom line-their career transition efforts are going nowhere. “I established Bridging The Gap for veterans so that we can open career doors and enable military candidates a competitive advantage when in a career transition,” explained Ferraro, who enlisted in the military after graduating from Howell High School in 1982. His father had worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and Ferraro developed a passion for aeronautics at a young age. “I was always around airplanes and control towers,” recalled Ferraro who enrolled in college prep classes to become an aircraft mechanic. After enlisting, he worked for five years on the F15 Eagle, then cross-trained as a C-141 flight engineer. As an aircrew member, he flew onboard C-141 Star Lifters, became a first sergeant and ultimately took on leadership positions.
“I was blessed to lead almost 28,000 airmen and 18 installations around the world,” said Ferraro who holds a bachelor’s degree in Professional Aeronautics and a master’s in Aeronautical Science. “It was a humbling and rewarding experience.” His service encompassed flying cargo planes in war zones to deliver troops and ammunition throughout Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Europe. His missions included Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, to name a few.
When Ferraro retired from the military in 2013, he established VIP Careers, a for-profit business that provided job shadowing and career assistance for veterans. His former firm became the foundation for BTG. “I wanted to do this by teaching the skills of how to go about finding a job, but also to give veterans the opportunity the meet employers onsite and face-to-face, the old-fashioned way,” said the 56-year-old Manasquan, NJ resident who brought companies into the classroom to partake in speed interviewing. He likens the concept to speed dating but in a business setting.
It began as a pilot program with 30 veterans and 15 companies at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County. The sole purpose was to educate veterans and match their skills with the needs of potential employers. “The idea took off like crazy,” said Ferraro of the unique business model.
Today, the Manasquan-based Bridging The Gap is run as a business by veterans. There are five employees, including Ferraro. Together, they refine and orchestrate training programs that assist veterans-free of charge. Most come from throughout the state of New Jersey, but programs are open to veterans across the country.
One of their monthly training programs, “Top Gun-Ignite You Future,” consists of four hours of career tactics and two hours of speed interviewing. It begins with identifying the natural skills and abilities of the veterans.
To date, more than 2,000 veterans have benefited from their training classes; some 511 have been placed in jobs. The programs have been sustained through donations.
Greg Petersen of Howell is one of the many who has been assisted by BTG. The 37-year-old disabled veteran who served our country as a U.S. Army Brigade Reconnaissance Trooper in the First Infantry Division. “It was definitely life-changing,” said Petersen, describing his experience with the organization. It meant a world of difference to have a professional assistance enhancing his resume and being sent on face-to-face interviews. A Six Sigma Certified Process Engineer, Petersen is grateful that BTG literally opened doors for him. Once he met with potential employers, he was able to secure positions. But getting in the door, he explained, is critical. “Mike [Ferraro] is really for the veterans,” he said. “You can tell he definitely cares about each and every veteran.”
The Earle Companies
Michael Earle, co-president of The Earle Companies with brothers Rob and T.J., has been working with Bridging The Gap since early 2018. His family-owned, veteran-friendly business is headquartered in Wall, New Jersey, yet its various entities and divisions stretch throughout the state, as well as, Bucks County and Eastern Pennsylvania. They specialize in private and municipal road construction and paving; highway construction and the manufacturing, recycling and transportation of construction-related materials. “There was always a desire to bring veterans on board,” said Earle, of the company established in 1968 by his father, a Navy veteran. “Our corporate character, systems and processes are very aligned with how the military operates.”
“We are very diverse,” continued Earle. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is our in-house training and development program that we’re able to put veterans in to further refine the training they received in the military.” This has enabled the business to place veterans in a multitude of positions: construction, office, logistics, equipment maintenance.”
Still More to Do
Ferraro is perpetually trying to enhance and improve their business model and secure adequate funding. It’s the only way they can continue to sustain their initiatives. “Two hundred and twenty thousand get out of the military annually across all the armed forces,” he said. “Testimonials have been off the charts. We have helped so many people-even with simple things like resumes or opening the door to get an interview.” Yet, there’s always more to do.
BTG recently introduced the “Adopt a Coffee Platoon,” which Ferraro described as a cost-effective innovative program. Corporations and business entities enlist in the Platoon and adopt a monthly coffee service for the cost of $1,000 a year. BTG then donates the coffee to VFW posts, police stations and fire departments throughout the region. The organization then assists these companies with finding employees while simultaneously branding them as veteran-friendly businesses. The funding is tax-deductible, as well as an opportunity to serve coffee to veterans at various locations. “Our platoon members can say ‘Thank you for your service,’ one coffee at a time,” said Ferraro, adding that fresh coffee is delivered monthly and is available in an array of flavors and packages-beans to K-cups.
Bridging The Gap’s Media Outlet
Ferraro has taken his mission even further as host of a 30-minute weekly television show “Bridging The Gap for Veterans.” It can be seen on Fridays at 11 a.m. and accessed at RVNTV.TV, as well as through Amazon, ROKU (a streaming service) and Apple. “We bring in veteran service organizations, corporations, military leaders and patriotic Americans,” said Ferraro. “We talk about local and national positive news stories going on in the military community.”
Ferraro is also active throughout the veteran community and is often invited to events as a keynote speaker. He recently was a guest speaker on a South Jersey Chamber of Commerce panel that explored solutions for career transitions of veterans.
Yet, Ferraro’s vision for Bridging The Gap extends above and beyond our region. “We want to expand what we’re doing now in a grassroots effort to other military installations across the country,” he said.