Legionnaire finds niche for veterans in workforce

When Felix W. Ortiz, chairman of Viridis Learning, left the military, he didn’t know what the future held for him or how he should put the skills he learned in the Army’s 18th Airborne to use. A career-placement test he took through the Army Career and Alumni Program told him he should be a truck driver - a result that didn’t exactly fit his background of entrepreneurship and venture capital.

He eventually went on to found Viridis, an online education platform that helps place “middle-skilled” workers in careers based on their skill sets. Like many other millennial entrepreneurs, Ortiz, 30, drew on his own experiences for his business venture ideas.

He remembered what it was like to be a newly minted civilian fresh out of the Army and unsure about what exactly he wanted to do with his life. So he started Viridis to help exactly that demographic: veterans who have skills but don’t know how to use them in the civilian workforce.

Ortiz, a New York City-based Legionnaire, structured the Viridis platform to funnel job-searchers into seven different industries, based on the applicant’s knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and geographic and personal preferences. After an evaluation, a Viridis user is walked through a career pathway in customer service, restaurant or food service, retail, transportation or logistics, manufacturing, information technology, or hospitality.

Based on that outcome, the user is then matched to a career in that industry and given means to obtain the necessary certifications that the career might require. These certifications are provided by Viridis’ partners, which include community colleges, trade associations and even the hiring companies’ own training programs. Users have been led to careers as residential construction superintendents, energy management and control specialists, and public space cleaners, among many others.

A New York City native who grew up in a crammed apartment with seven other family members, Ortiz’ vision is to redefine the middle-skilled labor force and remove the hurdles that qualified applicants often face in entering it. The linchpin in this mission is reaching out to veterans who learned valuable skills in the military but don’t know how to maximize their value to civilian employers. He calls the middle workforce an underserved population of workers and says he strongly believes that no veteran should be making less than $75,000 a year.

Ortiz recently discussed his background, his career-placement company and ideas about veterans employment in a question-and-answer session with The American Legion.

Q: How did Viridis start and what services does it offer to users?
A: “Viridis, basically, was founded in 2009 on a couch in Brooklyn. The objective being that we want to build and match talent within the middle-civilian workforce. The definition of a middle-skill worker is someone who is focused on trade and industry service. What we do, basically, is users are on-boarded through channel partners like community colleges, workforce organizations, and youth organizations. They enter our system, and they then fill out a skill passport. Within the skill passport, we capture their attributes, anything from geography to skills to work competencies to cultural competencies. And then through that, we map them to a career pathway.”

Q: How do employers utilize Viridis?
A: “From an employer standpoint, they create a profile. They select the criteria they want based on the users, everything from the employability score to the geography to the knowledge, skills and abilities they are looking for. They then basically get a pipeline of matches based on those criteria of which then they can select from the candidate pool they want.”

Q: Specifically how do veterans utilize your services?
A: “Viridis is an approved vendor for (Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service). So veterans don’t have to utilize money out of pocket. As a vocational resource employment center, any veteran who has a disability can utilize Viridis at no cost. Anybody who has a Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit can, if they choose to, utilize Viridis at no cost. My main focus is to really help a veteran get from not knowing what he or she wants to achieve to getting him or her to a level of actually being pinpointed toward something.
“Oftentimes, typically, the young enlisted soldier doesn’t really know where to go or have a foundational sense of what they want to become. That’s the reason Viridis was created. We create a structured outcome to allow the veterans to have best-in-class opportunities without taking advantage of them and always helping them progress along their career ladder and income-earning power.”

Q: What is ultimately your goal for Viridis and the veterans who use it?
A: “Our goal is to allow veterans to have an outcome that suits them so they can have the best earning power and make money for themselves and their families. I believe that every veteran should have the ability to have an income that should be no less than $75,000 a year. I really believe that. We served our country, so we have the capabilities to do that and even stronger abilities to become leaders.”

Visit ViridisLearning.com to learn more about Ortiz' company.