Talent-Starved Tech Firms Should Be Training Our Returning Veterans
By Valley Voices, Contributor
The unemployment rate for veterans is high. Way too high, especially for those who have served since September 11. The official number hovers around 10 percent, higher than for non-veterans. This means that nearly 250,000 Americans who have served are out of work. It is unacceptable.
What’s worse, it seems likely that this number will only grow as the military cuts back the size of its active-duty force and sequestration cuts further reduce the number of jobs in other branches of government or among government contractors. Traditionally, many of these jobs have been filled by veterans. As a result, more veterans return from duty with fewer employment opportunities.
Meanwhile, tech companies are having a harder and harder time finding talent. This trend shows no sign of slowing down. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million “computer specialist” job openings in the United States. Yet, training is lagging behind these market trends.
Round peg, meet round hole.
Equipping our veterans with the necessary technical skills to fill high-paying jobs is not only possible, but imperative. Doing so paves the road for economic success for them and the country. Veterans should have access to the type of training that will arm them with such skills efficiently and—at least in some cases—without having to attend four-year college programs. Our government has a history of providing job training to those who serve; traditionally, this training exists in manufacturing and logistics fields. Those types of programs should be expanded to include technical fields. Furthermore, veterans should be able to use their GI Bill benefits to take advantage of opportunities that already exist to learn technical skills without attending traditional college programs.
Take the experience of Isaac Elias, a 32-year-old veteran who spent five years on active duty and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. When Isaac left the military, he knew he had access to various career development opportunities. However, most of them were through formal partnerships with traditional industry, like manufacturing or logistics. These jobs didn’t appeal to Isaac, who had served in military intelligence.
In turn, he used his GI benefits, including paid tuition and living expenses, to attend a four-year college. In only three years, he finished with a degree in Business Administration. While in school, his interest in technology grew, aided by professors who extolled how technological advances were dramatically changing business.
Between his classes, his family (a wife and three children), and his job waiting tables, Isaac taught himself to code.
Armed with an informal coding education and a business degree, Isaac struggled to find reliable employment in his desired field. So, he went back to school, this time without GI benefits. He applied to coding bootcamps and decided to attend General Assembly, which offers peer-taught business, design, and technology courses. Isaac funded these programs and his family’s living expenses on his credit card, accumulating nearly $25,000 in debt on four different cards in the process.
Isaac says it was all worth it. He ended up with a great job as a software developer and regularly hears from recruiters. However, he spent three years in school and exhausted his GI Bill benefits working on a degree he doesn’t use. In fact, in 2014 Isaac said that he would have told 2009 Isaac to bypass college and go to General Assembly.
Isaac is proud of how far he’s come. He should be. But he noted how he felt like he had to fight and break down barriers to achieve these goals. He felt like he was in a box–that it shouldn’t be so hard.
As a society, we should assist those leaving or preparing to leave the military to better research the job market they are about to enter. Even more, we should help them prepare for that market by providing mentoring and other educational opportunities they will need to succeed. Many of these opportunities already exist. General Assembly is just one example. Others include the CodeAcademy, Dev Boot Camp, and Hackbright Academy. We even have free access to some university-level programming courses.
It should be easier for veterans to get access to strong education and training. Where it costs money, they should be able to use their GI benefits. Right now, these benefits are only available for federally accredited programs; nearly all modern coding bootcamps and schools lack this accreditation. What Congress can and should do is create a special category of accreditation that would pave the way for veterans to receive this kind of technical training. In addition, the Pentagon should partner with tech leaders to create pipelines for veterans to find training, jobs, and mentors—just as the Pentagon does with other industries.
Furthermore, tech companies who are in a position to afford it should provide the kind of programming and mentoring that veterans will need to succeed. This not only makes sense economically, but it is simply the right thing to do for our nation’s heroes. The inefficiency resulting from throwing good GI Bill benefits after bad, often into traditional college programs that fail to prepare veterans for modern job opportunities, harms not just those veterans, but our economy at large. Instead, these resources should be used to help more veterans find gainful employment in an industry that needs it the most.