Steve Janke is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and self-described “Wisconsin nerd” who in 2020 founded the nation’s first for-profit talent attraction business focused on transitioning service members: Mission Wisconsin. With 70% of transitioning service members saying their next step is strictly about finding the next best opportunity, Janke believes wholeheartedly that opportunity is in his home state.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Steve Janke: My story is one of soil, one of service, one of roots. It’s really one of Wisconsin. I came up as a dairy farmer in Marquette County. My goal was to take over the family farm. I went to college for a semester and just realized I lacked the structure, discipline and boundaries I needed in order to be successful. So, I did what a lot of Wisconsinites do: I joined the United States military so I could see the world and experience things outside of the great state of Wisconsin and so that I could find out if I truly wanted to come back to those roots. And I did. I started my transition out of dairy farming in probably 2009-2010, when I realized the economics of it weren’t sustainable for a family farm of our size. I like to joke that I went from physically shoveling manure to verbally shoveling it because I got into government service. And then in June of 2020 the decision was made during a global pandemic that talent wasn’t necessarily our priority, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. ended all of its talent programs. So, I started my company in July of 2020 and have been running that program as CEO and founder of a for-profit business ever since then.

What gave you the confidence to found Mission Wisconsin? Wisconsin is the best state in the country for veterans and their families. It is No. 1 in benefits, is nationally recognized and also has the best educational benefit in the nation. Who is telling our story? Who is going to our active-duty installations? How do we best serve the military community during one of the most transformational times in their lives? It made sense to do it, and moving it outside of state government actually made it more agile. Mission Wisconsin was formed to be that support for them — to help them find their next mission, wherever it is. We believe you have two missions in life. The first one is to serve this country and the second is to make this country worth serving, and we want you to find your next mission in Wisconsin.

How does it work? We go to active-duty military bases around the world and talk about opportunities we have with our companies and about what the great state of Wisconsin has to offer service members and their families. And then when they say, “Steve, I’d love to hear more; how can you help us?” we provide them with free transition coaching services and build them a plan that they can then execute on from the time we meet to the time they land in Wisconsin. We’re there every step on the way. The process is really never a “one size fits all;” it’s all individually driven and tailored to what that person or that family wants as an outcome.

We want to partner with companies that truly understand why hiring veterans is important and also understand that this is a talent attraction model. We get paid a subscription over the year to build your brand awareness and opportunities in the military space and then connect those folks that we coach to companies like yours that don’t want to be given fish but want to learn how to fish.

The more companies we can get in that foundation, the more it broadens the funnel at the top and allows us to grow and better take care of [veterans] while also providing that talent pipeline to the great state of Wisconsin and beyond.

The reason we’re not a staffing agency is because we don’t want it to be a transactional model. We want it to be a relationship-building process where both parties say, “We’re doing this because it’s the best for us.” That’s really the future of talent attraction as a whole.

Why should employers hire veterans?

Why wouldn’t you? Veterans have already stepped forward and raised their right hands and said, “We’ll do something that 99% of the country won’t do.” The better question is, why wouldn’t you want those skills that they learn in the military? The accountability, the structure, the discipline … these are people with a world of experience who bring with them not only the soft skills but also the hard skills employers want, plus the benefit of federal education dollars helping your organization to upskill them at little or no cost to you.

What does Mission Wisconsin do to help military spouses and children? Sixty percent of DOD service members are married, so that brings the number transitioning each year into the 325,000 range if you include spouses. Spouses are not trailing talent; they are more educated than their civilian counterparts. They are more skilled and willing to work as well. So, you’re not just recruiting a service member; you’re recruiting a family. Mission Wisconsin understands that you might be hiring the service member, you might be hiring the spouse, but more importantly: Are they connected to the community chamber? Are they connected to the county veterans service officer? Are they connected to the veterans’ services organizations in the state? Do they know where their kids are going to go to school? Do they have an idea of how to get a VA loan in this state? We leverage all of our networks to help military families.

What motivates you to get out of bed each day? Veteran suicide is 22 a day. Twenty-two of my brothers and sisters die by suicide every day. We can provide a foundational cornerstone that they can rely on to help them through. Fifty-two percent of service members who transition out of the military end up on unemployment at some point in the first six months after leaving service. I know that the job process is brutal, and it is devastating to your self-esteem. You go from being the very best to sending out 150 resumes and no one responds. We want to be that person who engages with you and says, “Hey, we know this is tough,” because we don’t want you to end up as one of those 22.