Transitioning from active military service to the civilian workforce can be a challenge. SkillBridge, the U.S. Department of Defense’s career transition program, allows separating service members to explore career opportunities through internships and apprenticeships.

“A SkillBridge internship bridges that gap and lets a service member put on their resume their most recent experience as a private sector job,” said Jeff Cumberland, Virginia Tech’s talent acquisition manager. The Department of Defense pays the service member’s salary and benefits during the SkillBridge internship.

Virginia Tech is participating in the SkillBridge program for the first time with an intern in the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP). MAAP is one of seven FAA-designated uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) test sites.

Dakota Scharver, 28, a drone operator in the U.S. Army, was looking for a civilian position in the same field. His wife is from Martinsville and they wanted to be near her family. He contacted Virginia Tech’s Human Resources office and asked if there were any opportunities for transitioning soldiers.

“I was really excited when I heard about this,” said Tombo Jones, director of MAAP and a former service member. “Our team was eager to participate. Now that Dakota is here, we’re able to witness the benefits he brings to Virginia Tech.”

Scharver began a six-week internship in mid-May.

“Dakota hit the ground running,” said Jones. “I didn’t realize the degree to which Dakota would come here already trained. It would normally take months to train people.” During his time at MAAP, Scharver has helped conduct training and assisted in community outreach and flight scheduling.

Added Jones, “In addition to being able to introduce the service member to some of the roles we perform, it has been really beneficial for us. Dakota brings a focus on aviation safety, which he learned in the Army. It is very much in line with the type of mindset we usually have to train an employee in.”

Scharver is impressed by the people he works with at Virginia Tech. “It’s a very professional, goal-oriented organization, whether it’s the research department or the faculty,” he said. “Everyone is moving forward. The people here are very educated and very good at what they do.”

The position has helped Scharver with his separation from the military. “It’s a really nice way to wade into the waters of civilian life,” he said.

He believes former military members make good employees. “Military members are disciplined,” he said. “They have respect for others, resourcefulness, a strong work ethic, and a sense of purpose.”

While there is no guarantee of getting a job with the SkillBridge employer, Scharver applied and received an offer for the position of drone pilot and safety officer with MAAP. He has accepted the job and begins on Aug. 14.

According to the Defense Department more than 50,000 service members have participated in the SkillBridge program since its inception in 2011.

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