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Shirley Leung

From the line of fire to life sciences: Helping veterans find a career path

Veteran Jim West (center),  manager of the US supply chain at Abiomed, attended the company’s weekly inventory meeting.
Veteran Jim West (center), manager of the US supply chain at Abiomed, attended the company’s weekly inventory meeting.(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

DANVERS -- Meet Mike Minogue, and you think, yeah, this guy’s ex-military. The Desert Storm veteran and West Point graduate still sports a closely-cropped haircut and looks like he can do a lot of push ups.

Minogue is chairman and chief executive of Abiomed, a medical device company here that makes tiny heart pumps. He launched a national program nearly three years ago to help veterans get back into the civilian workforce as the US began its drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, MVP -- which stands for MedTech & BioTech Veterans Program -- has organized close to a dozen boot camps for more than 500 veterans across the country. MVP also has recruited more than 30 life-sciences companies to serve as sponsors, providing everything from financial support to internships to mentors. The goal: Hire 5,000 veterans into the life sciences by 2018.

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Mike Minogue, chief executive of Abiomed.
Mike Minogue, chief executive of Abiomed.(Abiomed)

While there are various efforts in Massachusetts to help veterans with their job hunts, the life sciences rank among the most organized among the sectors in reaching out to former military personnel.

Minogue attributes that to the thousands of veterans and military academy graduates like himself in the medical-device and related fields, often in leadership positions. And if you think about it, working in life sciences is like being in the military: It involves a lot of logistics and a high degree of regulation.

His own company, Abiomed, likes to hire veterans -- so far 31 out of 550 employees globally. Minogue has one his own theory on why this area suits people who have served.

“This industry is very mission focused,” he said. “It’s a mission to help patients. It’s global, it’s intense. There is a service element to it.”

Minogue in his military days during the Desert Storm campaign.
Minogue in his military days during the Desert Storm campaign.(Abiomed)

Brian Concannon, who is CEO of Braintree blood management company Haemonetics, got involved when Minogue asked him to. Anything for a fellow West Point grad. Concannon serves as a mentor in the program, and Haemonetics also became a sponsor.

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Concannon has classmates who still serve in the Army and hears from them the challenges of getting returning veterans to accept help.

“These are people who are not used to asking for anything in life,” said Concannon. “They come back expecting nothing. Even to ask for help is a bit of a challenge for some of these folks.”

The unemployment rate among Gulf War veterans (those who served after 2001) is 7.2 percent compared to 5.8 percent for the general population. A year ago, the unemployment rate among this group of veterans hovered in the double digits, but has improved thanks to programs like MVP and incentives given to employers to hire veterans.

This generation is different from, say World War II’s Greatest Generation, in that there are far fewer returning veterans because the US military is much smaller today. The second Gulf War also lasted much longer – more than a decade – so it’s not uncommon for an individual soldier to serve multiple tours of duty. With long gaps in their corporate resumes, finding a civilian job can be difficult.

The MVP program focuses on networking, mentoring, and helping veterans translate the skills they gained in the military -- from leadership to discipline -- into something that folks in HR can appreciate. MVP does this through a series of free workshops for veterans.

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Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has been a fan of MVP. Last summer the agency, which is charged with administering the state’s $1 billion investment in life sciences, gave a $50,000 grant to create a Massachusetts pilot of MVP.

Susan Windham-Bannister, the center’s president, liked the program so much that state wrote another $50,000 check in July to roll MVP out to 1,000 veterans. The center already pours millions of dollars into local community colleges and universities to encourage people to earn degrees that will lead to life-science jobs.

Since many vets go back to school, the hope is that the MVP program will encourage more to think life sciences and get trained in fields. MVP, she says, “really creates pathways into the life sciences. We really saw this an opportunity to promote access and address a supply and demand issue.”

But momentum also is building to help veterans land in other sectors. Two years ago, Mike Dunford, a senior vice president of human resources at healthcare supplier Covidien, brought Edge4Vets to the Boston area. It’s a program started out of Fordham University that connects veterans with companies that are hiring. There have been four workshops held at University of Massachusetts-Lowell with 100 veterans participating. A third of them got jobs.

Up until recently, the local version of Edge4Vets has focused on life sciences, but now it’s branching out to include companies such as Staples, Northeast Utilities, and Analog Devices.

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“We don’t guarantee jobs,” said Dunford, a retired Marine officer. But the workshops “helped them get a leg up.”


Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.