After leaving the military, many veterans in the United States are faced with an important challenge when transitioning back to a civilian life: reinserting themselves into the labor market.
According to recent studies, close to half of veterans did not feel ready to transition back to civilian life, and finding a job was their greatest challenge. The reasons for this are many. Aside from the difficulties of the current job market, one of the greatest challenges veterans report in finding a job is explaining how their military skills translate to the civilian workforce. In addition, three in five veterans express concerns about cultural barriers, specifically with regards to employers not understanding military culture.
Currently, veterans in the United States face an unemployment rate of 6.5% — a percentage that doubled between 2019 and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 18 million veterans in the US, it is imperative for companies to take proactive steps in order to integrate and empower veterans in the workforce.
The importance of skills training
Among the different policies that could be implemented to integrate veterans into the workforce, more than 95% of veterans say they strongly support increasing investments in training, over other policies like a $15 minimum wage or a guaranteed job.
At the national government level, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a program called the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC), which helps veterans develop high-tech skills for in-demand jobs. The types of training covered by the program include computer software, computer programming, data processing, and information science.
According to the VA, “the ultimate goal [of VET TEC] is to give Veterans the high-tech skills sought by today’s top employers so they can acquire meaningful employment.” In January of 2021, the government announced that the budget for the program will increase from $15 million dollars a year, to $45 million.
Organizations working to make an impact
Beyond the government-led initiatives, several organizations are working across the country in order to integrate military veterans into tech careers. One of them is NPower, an organization that works across seven states launching digital careers for military veterans and young adults from underserved communities.
“Of the nearly 6 million jobs expected to require tech skills by 2020, labor statistics project a candidate pool of only 3.2 million”, says the organization. “To stay competitive, employers will need to find alternative sources of skilled IT workers, re-thinking their hiring practices by making room for credentialed young people and veterans who have the technical and professional skills to meet their needs”.
Through free IT training and job placement programs, NPower works to link nontraditional job seekers with employers hiring IT and digital talent. Many of the participants are veterans, like Ivan A., a former Marine and Combat veteran who took part of the NPower program and is now an Associate Technology Support Analyst at Deloitte.
“Living with my mom, sleeping on the floor, in a house that wasn’t large enough for all of us was demoralizing, there was nowhere to go”, recalls Ivan. “I ran into a friend of mine who was also in the Marine Corps and he told me about this program called NPower. They made me feel as if my service to this country was truly appreciated. I got the tools necessary to start a promising career that would help financially secure my family’s future.”
Veterans helping other veterans
Phil Dillard spent seven years as an active duty member of the United States Navy. After his return, he went to business school and got an MBA, and eventually founded VETCON, a veteran entrepreneur conference. VETCON’s goal is to promote and provide massive value to the international community of veterans who run their own businesses.
In a recent talk at the annual Tech Inclusion conference, Dillard highlighted the importance of including more veterans in tech jobs.
“An important thing to know about military veterans is that we’re learners who thrive on education and training,” says Dillard. “Military veterans are leaders and innovators”.
Dillard says that there are several characteristics that veterans share that make them great team members in companies and organizations.
“The common bond between veterans is the theme of the selfless service, of discipline, of people before others, of teamwork, of hard work, of inclusion, of respecting people about getting the job done, as opposed to the skin that you’re in when you get there”.
In terms of how to help veterans transition to a tech career, Dillard says one key step is to shift one’s perspective, and think about a hand up, not a hand out.
“People don’t want a hand out. They’re not heroes or victims; they’re just human beings who are trying to move forward in this important career transition”, says Dillard.
In order to shed light on the contributions of military veterans to different companies and organizations, Dillard created the Bay Area Brave Facebook page, to share the positive stories of transition.
“We’re putting information out there that shifts the narrative around who we are,” he says, “how we can be a better part of the organization, and how we can help drive inclusion inside the organization as a result.”
Whether it is through raising awareness or organizing courses to build specific skills, these individuals and organizations are all working towards a shared goal — to promote the inclusion of some of the most brave members of our society: veterans.