Why We Need More Veterans in Technology

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Gary Sinise recently penned an article in the Huffington Post. Perhaps best known for playing wounded veteran Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, the actor and philanthropist is also an amazing stage actor and a founding member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. But it’s the Lt. Dan role that changed his life, inspired a band (yes, the Lt. Dan Band,) and made him a supporter of and an advocate for America’s veterans. In the article, Sinise makes the case for training veterans for high-end manufacturing jobs. His group, the Get Skills to Work coalition, is designed to help connect veterans to colleges and companies across the country, looking to train individuals in the manufacturing field.

Sinise is right. America needs skilled people to do these jobs and veterans with the right training would be excellent candidates. But why stop at manufacturing? The same case should be made for helping veterans learn digital skills and computer programming. Now is the time to put resources and support behind training veterans for the most in-demand jobs through adult learning programs.

Understanding the veteran skills gap

If there were any fairness in the world, veterans would have the best careers, make tons of money, get ridiculous perks, and enjoy fabulous vacations. Unfortunately, for many members of the military, this is not the case. Many veterans find a difficult transition to civilian life and a well-paying job. This is particularly true for post-9/11 veterans, among whom the jobless rate of 8.1 percent exceeded the national average of 6.1 percent in August, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. To be fair, both numbers have been steadily declining. Still, the statistic indicates that the youngest veterans, those who should be most prepared to take on a changing job market, who have the most to offer and gain over the long-term, are being overlooked.

There could be many reasons for this. Disability rates are high among the post-9/11 group, with nearly one-third reporting service-related disabilities, according to BLS. Unemployment among disabled individuals tends to be a bit higher than average, and the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is at nearly 13 percent. These numbers only account for people who are actively looking for work. Some disabled individuals do not.

And while, according to the SBA “thousands of veterans are returning home with the skills, experience, and leadership to pursue and create jobs,” these veterans may not be aware of their own strengths. Remember, many of these young men and women spent most of their young adult or early working years in military service. They may not necessarily be confident in a cubicle. Many are not yet even comfortable in their civilian skins. A 2011 Pew study found that just less than half of the surveyed post-9/11 vets reported a difficult transition to civilian life.

A unique opportunity

It’s easy, then, to image why options would seem limited. But it’s also easy to see the potential opportunities for those who are interested in training for the fastest growing jobs, careers, and even startups. Veterans are in a perfect position to take advantage of adult learning programs in computer programming and information technology. According to data from Payscale.com, about seven of the top 15 most common, well-paid, and quickest growing jobs for veterans involve computers or IT. These are fields in which veterans are comfortable, and with more options for learning programming and IT skills online, location is not necessarily a factor.

With the GI bill, veterans can opt out of traditional college programs in favor of on-the-job training or job-related adult learning programs. Education providers such as General Assembly are there to offer these classes online (we at GA also offer on-campus classes in several major cities), making it easier for individuals who live in rural areas or would prefer to skip the daily commute. Learning is flexible and can be done whenever, wherever the individual is most comfortable. Not even a desktop or laptop is required, these days a tablet will do.

A highly entrepreneurial bunch

The hope is that this training will lead to more high-paying jobs for veterans, but it could also lead to greater innovation and business creation. Almost a quarter of US veterans starts, buys, or considers starting or buying a new business, according to the SBA. With classes in Web Development, User Experience, or Business Techniques and Tactics, these individuals could be inspired to build successful startups of their own.

Help from the WIOA?

How do we bring veterans and other workers into the adult learning programs that will help them train for these in-demand jobs? We are looking to President Obama for help. He recently signed the Workers Innovation Opportunity Act, which will go into effect in July. It is designed to connect individuals with training for the most in-demand jobs. The government will work with local organizations to support and fund programs for unemployed individuals, with a special focus on vets and the disabled. Adult learning programs should be considered in this training initiative, and supported through federal and local resources.

In the meantime, the courses, immersives, and workshops we offer help to change the lives of our students, including veterans, disabled people, and anyone else looking for access to a great new skill or career.

We also offer a select number of scholarships for veterans and other underrepresented groups to our web development immersive through a program called Opportunity Fund.

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