Lance Cpl. Andrea Bernai, a Marine warehouse supply clerk, logs and tracks supplies at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. Marines are being urged to apply for one of 300 scholarships in which they can earn certification in Six Sigma, a business process improvement methodology. (Lance Cpl. Kenneth Jasik / Marine Corps)
A Vietnam-era infantry officer who helped create a business improvement methodology used by top Fortune 500 companies is offering Marines 300 scholarships to provide them with training that can lead to six-figure incomes in their post-military careers.
Former Capt. Mikel Harry is one of the architects behind Six Sigma, a statistically based, data-driven approach to process improvement and the elimination of defects, which allows companies to improve their bottom line.
Harry said he was tired of just saying “thank you” to today’s generation of Marines — he wanted to show his appreciation in a more tangible way. So he teamed up with Leatherneck.com to arm Marines with skills to help them succeed after they leave the Corps.
Gary Weisbaum, the chief operating officer of Leatherneck.com, said his organization felt strongly about teaming with Harry to provide Marines with better opportunities after they leave the service.
Six Sigma “is one of the leading management programs in the world,” he said. “As competitive as the job market is, and how difficult it is for veterans to find and compete for jobs, this would at least put them on par or give them a leg up on some of the people they’re competing with.”
Harry developed Six Sigma with a co-worker at Motorola in the 1980s. At the time, the company was failing as it tried to figure out how to deal with competition from Japan, he said. Their system helped turn things around.
“Sigma,” a statistical term, measures how far a business process deviates from perfection. The higher the sigma level, the fewer defects, which increases customer satisfaction and improves sales. Six Sigma raises companies to world-class levels, Harry said. It has been implemented at major companies around the world.
Six Sigma training, which the scholarships will provide, allows students to become certified, earning different “belts” for their level of knowledge.
The scholarships will give Marines the opportunity to become “certified Lean Six Sigma black belts.” Harry said there are more than 17,500 job openings for black belts today, with an average salary of $98,000.
Impetus for the scholarships
Harry said the idea to offer scholarships came to him after a party.
One of his employees was engaged to a Marine, and when the Marine returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, Harry threw a party for him and his comrades. He kept in touch with them, eventually helping them land jobs after they left the Corps.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I just love this. How can I replicate it?’ ” he said. “And it hit me; I can give a Marine a career.”
Harry hired retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Derek Hayes, whom he credits with a passion for helping transitioning Marines, to direct the scholarship program.
Weisbaum and Harry said Marines with many different skill sets may apply for scholarships. They’d like to see applicants have an associate degree and basic math and computer skills, to include knowledge of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Leadership skills will be key, Harry added. Companies are looking for strong leaders.
“Business executives ... want those leaders to have critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems,” Harry said. “That’s what Six Sigma is all about. So if you take somebody who has got those skills and they have the advantage of demonstrated leadership skills ... they’re a shoe-in for these jobs.”
The scholarship will require Marines to invest about $100 per month, but provides online training, coaching and text materials to prepare them to pass the Six Sigma certification. On average, the program takes six or seven months to complete, Harry said, but can be done in as little as three months if Marines work on it full-time.
The scholarship is open to active-duty or former Marines and their immediate family members. Starting Sept. 1, applicants should submit an email via Letherneck.com stating the reasons they want the scholarship and how it would impact their opportunity to find work in their post-military career. Scholarships will be awarded based on the impact and creativity of the entries.