Veterans urged a Congressional economic opportunity subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs earlier this month to assist veterans in landing innovative careers in technology fields through policy changes.
That call at a May 17 hearing may go even further in boosting the results of the Joining Forces initiative, a five-year-old program launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife Jill Biden. Earlier this month, Joining Forces announced that 40 companies pledged to hire or train more than 110,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.
While unemployment among veterans is on the decline and is now below the national average, it was previously more than 12% in 2011, according to Joining Forces. But more can be done, according to veterans and tech companies.
During the House hearing, Veterans in Tech: Innovative Careers for All Generations of Veterans, one speaker, Bernard Bergan, a technical account manager at Microsoft and a former member of the Army, called on Congress to pass legislation that would support the use of veteran programs, such as the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA), either on or off military bases.
As an example, Bergan noted that although technical training programs are offered for free to vets by some private employers, it can be difficult to gain the approval from a commanding officer to allow people on active duty to spend weeks away from military obligations in order to get the technical training they need to ease the transition out of the service and into the public sector.
"Giving up a body is a difficult decision" Bergan said during the hearing, noting he was fortunate, however, to have a commanding officer to allow him to train in the MSSA program. "He was willing to lose 22 of his best servicemen ... [T]he exit out of the military was well planned, just as our entrance into the military was."
MSSA is an 18-week program to train active duty military members in IT skills at bases throughout the US. Bergan recommended the Department of Defense encourage senior leaders to support this training for those who are transitioning out of the service.
Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy at Amazon, made a similar request at the hearing. He advocated active-duty military members be trained in IT before they leave the service in targeted in-demand areas like cloud computing. The online retailing giant, which operates its Amazon Warriors program, announced this month, says it plans to offer more than $7 million in AWS training to "10,000 service members, transitioning veterans, and military spouses."
In addressing the subcommittee hearing, Brad Wenstrup, House subcommittee and chairman, said, "We need to figure out how to connect these (veterans) to companies, as well as get them into the necessary training programs to cover any skills gaps that may exist before they enter the tech field. There is a great potential between our nation's veterans and tech companies."
That sentiment was also shared by Joseph Kernan, senior vice president of corporate development and marketing for SAP National Security Services and a retired US Navy vice admiral. Kernan, who spoke at the hearing as chairman of NS2 Serves, an independent nonprofit established by SAP National Security Services, said information technology is ideally suited for veterans, regardless of the occupation they were trained for in the military.
He noted there are certain skills developed in the military that are transferable to tech positions, such as accountability for one's actions, commitment to the task at hand, and responsibility. But he noted the transition is not an easy path when leaving the military.
"Transitioning to the civilian workforce is often daunting, particularly for young enlisted service members," Kernan said during the hearing. "They don't want a hand out, but rather an opportunity for a fresh start in their post military lives."