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Robyn Grable on Advocating for Veterans and Disadvantaged Talents

Katie Iannace March 21, 2023

Through resiliency and confidence, Grable has broken barriers in her transition from military to career life and is using this experience to help other veterans do the same. 

This post is part of The Founder Factor, where we bring you behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough.

portrait of robyn grable

Growing up in what felt like a small town, Grable wasn’t shown any resources to help her continue her education through college. So when a navy recruiter came to her high school, she saw it as a fantastic opportunity. “I had only been out of state 2 or 3 times, so this sounded like a wonderful adventure,” Grable explains. “The Navy really was a destiny for me.” 

Stationed for 2 years in Iceland before the internet or cell phones were commonplace, Grable experienced life completely disconnected from her family back home. “Calls always got cut off so many times during those months, and it taught me always to make sure I said ‘I love you,’” she recalls. “I was having the time of my life then, but I didn’t realize the perspective of my family having an empty seat at the time and having to go on with life without me.”

The challenges Grable faced in the Navy turned into lessons that eventually carried through to her current career as founder of Veterans ASCEND. When Grable entered the Navy, there were many jobs that women weren’t allowed to do simply because they were women. “It wasn’t because I wasn’t smart enough, strong enough, or didn’t have the skills,” she explains. “That reality started my advocacy for underserved and undervalued talent.” 

portrait of robyn grable

Her resiliency during these difficult seasons only strengthened Grable’s conviction that she could do anything she wanted. She had plenty of hands-on experience and soft skills from her Navy days to thrive at nearly any job. However, many hiring employees struggled to see that. Grable says, “I left the Navy and went to a resume writer, they didn’t know how to translate my skills to a resume.” 

In fact, one resume writer completely ignored her skill set and instead focused only on her gender. “He told me I should just get a job as an administrative assistant, purely because I was a female.” Grable clarifies that it’s not a knock against the role, but being pigeonholed into a job simply because she is a woman, without consideration of the management skills she learned in the Navy, felt degrading. 

This led her to move 4 times to 4 different states, each time without a job lined up. “I would get bored in jobs I was in because I wasn’t using the skills I knew I had, so I would move on, all while being a single mom.” Grable wasn’t concerned about moving, because she was confident no matter where she went, she could find some kind of job. It was just finding the right job for her skills that remained elusive. “After  12 years, I was back to the same job I had when I left the Navy,” Grable states.

portrait of robyn grable

These struggles after service made Grable want to help veterans like herself find better jobs after their military service had ended. “​​It made me ask, if a veteran had a skills coach, would it help set up a better path for them?” she explains. “This question completely changed the trajectory of my career path.” 

In 2015, Grable left her job at ADP, where she had been able to complete her master’s, and decided to follow her heart and go down the entrepreneurial path. This set her on the road to forming The ASCEND Collective, including Talents ASCEND and Veterans ASCEND. “Veterans ASCEND is our nonprofit that focuses on advocacy, “ Grable explains. “As we did the work, we wanted to open these resources up to everybody, so we created Talents ASCEND to be a business that matches anyone’s skills, veteran or civilian, to careers.”

Although she walked away from a high-paying job at ADP, Grable has never looked back since making this decision. “At ADP, I was a number, but my one-on-one interactions between an employer and a veteran and helping them get a job has been so rewarding,” she states. “I absolutely love what I do.” 

portrait of robyn grable

Not without its challenges, Grable compares the work she is doing to rowing the Titanic with a row boat oar. “The hiring process needs to change. It’s time to get rid of the resume,” she states. “We are slowly getting businesses to leave the status quo and think about talent differently, and I am honored to lead the charge in that.” 

Grable shares her message to anyone struggling to find a position that values them for their talents—“Don’t settle, don’t let someone tell you that there’s only one thing you can do. You matter,” she answers with conviction. “And if you are an entrepreneur with an idea, I say go for it because even though you will have roadblocks, if you truly believe in what you are doing, you can make it through, and it will be worth it.” 

portrait of robyn grable

Follow Robyn Grable on Linkedin and stay up to date with Talents ASCEND here and The ASCEND Collective here.

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