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Careers in Focus – Jake Robinson

For this month’s Careers in Focus feature, hear from Jake Robinson, a local veteran, on how his time of service helped prepare him for the construction industry and his current role as Operations Manager at Synergos. Jake also shares what he enjoyed most about serving in the military and offers career advice for veterans.

Q: What branch of the military did you serve in and how long did you serve?

A: Eleven years ago, I was transitioning from the military back into civilian life after serving four years in the United States Marine Corps. All my high school friends and extended family members were receiving their undergraduate degrees from universities or had been busy working, making money, and developing connections in their respective trades/jobs. I can remember thinking, “what do I have to show for the last four years of my life?” and feeling as though I had regrettably set myself back in building my career. I’m happy to report that I was wrong!

Q: How did your service in the military help prepare you for your current career and what did you learn from your time serving?

A: Admittedly, it has taken me almost the entire eleven years to realize that I was wrong about my thoughts and feelings of self-impediment. My first mistake was believing I didn’t develop ANY transferable skills from my time in the military. Sadly, I believe this is a prevailing mindset amongst most active duty and veteran service members.  My other mistake was not understanding the value, or necessity, of “soft skills” in the workforce. Truthfully, I assumed that hard “technical” skills (math, programming, finance, etc.) were the only desired proficiencies that companies were looking for when hiring. 

Here’s what I have learned from my experience:

By teaching me how to be adaptable and work as part of a team, my time in the military helped prepare me for a career in construction management tremendously. From the early stages of boot camp until my final days in the fleet, adaptability was the most important skill instilled in me. Adaptability is vital because it can showcase your ability to be resourceful, highlight your diplomacy, and separate you as an impactful leader among peers. I’ve encountered countless numbers of the “technically skilled” type, and don’t get me wrong, they are incredibly intelligent and analytical, but so many lacked the ability to problem solve reflectively, influence others, or foster healthy business relationships; all necessary skills for success that are rooted in the ability to be adaptable.

In the military, it doesn’t matter if you’re combat infantry or a cook preparing food for 3,000 sailors on an aircraft carrier—you must adapt and overcome! Quitting is not an option when you’re serving your country. You can apply the same principle in civilian life, and business: when you’re at 50% of your annual budget at the close of Q3, and your boss asks for your end-of-year plan to meet expectations, or when a competitor starts leaving business cards on your technician’s windshields—you must adapt and overcome.

Q: Looking back, what was your favorite part of your service in the military?

A: I’d have to say that my time spent overseas on deployment was my favorite part of my service in the military. The amount of training, preparation, and anticipation built up for a nine-month seaborne deployment, in wartimes, was exhilarating. Looking back, I was 19, and responsible for ensuring the flight integrity and pilot safety for several 25M aircrafts and aircrew—you had to grow up quickly! It was truly remarkable to experience how vast the ocean is when you’re traveling on an aircraft carrier for 102 days straight without seeing land. I’ll never forget thinking that the USA is like living in Disneyland compared to the rest of the world. I’m so thankful to live here.

Q: What advice do you have for veterans looking to enter the construction industry?

A: The military is a huge advocate of teamwork. You learn very quickly that there is no place for bigotry, favoritism, or special treatment when you sign on the dotted line and report for training. Moreover, you come to understand that the group of men and women serving next to you are your only support and that your team is only as strong as the weakest member. I found that in construction, as in the military, it’s vital to identify your teams’ strengths and weaknesses, then apply their strengths and develop their weaknesses to create an even more cohesive unit.

Adaptability and teamwork are two of many soft skills that are voluntold onto you while serving in the military, and these are valuable skills. They are skills that cannot be easily absorbed from reading about them in a book or from a lecture. They are not measured before graduating high school and cannot be quantified on a resume. These are skills learned through experience, especially in the military, so if you have them and apply them, success will surely follow.