San Diego biotech industry stepping up with program to help train military veterans

Getting veterans into industry remains a challenge

SAN DIEGO - A group of San Diego companies are working together to help military veterans enter their industry.

Marine 1st Lt. Brian Hayek is looking for more than just a job. After 11 years of fighting for his country, the Camp Pendleton platoon commander, husband and father is transitioning out, and San Diego's biotech industry could be a way to continue a familiar mission.

"In the military, you have service; the idea that you could help create a medical device that would save somebody's life or you could create this drug or this pill to save somebody's life, that's very appealing," said Hayek.

Now, the BioCollaborative Life Science Immersion Program is helping veterans go from life on the battlefield to life sciences.

"A lot of people in the military only see a life science career as a lab coat," explained Kristie Grover, executive director of BIOCOM Institute.

That is one reason why they are having trouble filling the 100-plus spots for their online training course, which is free for veterans. About 40 veterans are in some phase of the roughly 100-hour course launched 18 months ago.

The course is a much-needed tool to battle unemployment at 10.4 percent among local military veterans in 2011, and nearly 13.5 percent for veterans in the 18-34 age group, according to a recent report from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"I drove a ship and now I'm an HR leader, that makes no sense, but that's how it works," said Philip Dana, senior manager of talent acquisition for Life Technologies.

Dana, who is retired from the Navy, said life science jobs include many non-lab jobs that are perfect for veterans who are known to adapt quickly.

Dana said there is something else central to military culture that veterans will have to learn to put aside.

"Networking and bragging about yourself in a resume and an interview is anti-culture, especially as a leader," he said.

Hayek said he knows it can be hard for self-sufficient service members to ask for help, but he recommends doing it.

"Find a mentor; everybody wants to help and if you don't ask for help, you're just throwing darts at a wall," said Hayek.

The program not only connects veterans with mentors, but it follows up after the course with job opportunities and interview tips. The program is also open to non-veterans.

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