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Training, Reskilling and Hiring Veterans for Meaningful Technology Careers

This post was originally published on and written by vice president of Military Affairs at Microsoft Chris Cortez on December 6, 2017

America is facing a huge workforce challenge as technology and artificial intelligence disrupt the job market and create a critical job-skills gap. As a result, many people feel left behind in the digital economy, while tech companies can’t find enough trained workers.

A recent Brookings Institution policy brief notes, “rising public concerns about economic insecurity, income disparities, technological changes, and disruptions in job markets.” It says that public-private partnerships and accelerated private investment are needed to reskill workers so that technological change does not displace more workers than it employs. And to make that happen, companies must step up to train workers for the growing number of unfilled IT jobs.

The veteran community is one place we must look to as a society — and as technology leaders — for reskilling opportunities to close the jobs and economic gap. Each year, 200,000 Americans transition out of the military. As a Marine Corps veteran, I know firsthand they have the dedication and discipline we need to not just fill open positions but evolve our industry.

Every veteran’s career path is unique. A two-year degree is right for some. Programs that get them into the workforce more quickly are right for others, such as certification programs in trucking, manufacturing and building, and hiring programs for customer service, sales and operations. Our country needs many such training and hiring programs to provide the necessary scale to help veterans obtain civilian jobs. From our experience, these jobs are incredibly valuable, and the stakes increase when veterans are reskilled in a strong career path that moves them up and grows them professionally, helping them stay competitive in the new digital economy.

Leaders such as Colonel (Ret.) Chuck Hodges of Hiring Our Heroes and former Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy say reskilling programs help veterans successfully reintegrate into civilian society. “A career that matters, and companies that care enough to train and hire veterans, are key elements of a smooth transition from military to civilian life,” Hodges says.

Each employer’s role in reskilling is unique, too. Through my military career and professional career at Microsoft, I know the type of assistance veterans need, and what Microsoft is able to offer. A few years ago some veterans at Microsoft had a vision to create a model for on-base participants to get to the heart of the reskilling issue, called the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), which teaches veterans the skills they need to compete for and land long-term, meaningful IT careers. We’ve learned valuable lessons along the way — about the importance of mentorship, communication and interpersonal training, and dedicated one-on-one career support — and believe this model is ripe for expansion.

What’s truly remarkable to see is the diversity in transition programs and the appetite many technology companies have, to train and hire our nation’s heroes. Having programs that address the industry’s labor needs helps the industry overall, helps veterans and helps our country build a stronger workforce to compete on the world stage. When companies scale up their investment in skills training, they can increase their economic competitiveness while also increasing workers’ real incomes. That is why securing long-term, high-paying careers for these veterans is our mission — to ensure they have a forward growth path and opportunities to advance in the industry, which has shown proven success in the lives of these veterans.

MSSA, a cornerstone of the Department of Defense Skillbridge program, provides vets with 18 weeks of in-depth training in high-demand fields such as server and cloud administration, database and business intelligence administration, cloud application development, and cybersecurity administration — the basis of high-paying careers.

Army veterans Mark Switzer and Tara Overfield typify the more than 420 MSSA participants who have secured career positions earning an average of $70,000 per year with Microsoft or one of our 200-plus partner companies. Their examples prove to me that tech reskilling is not just good for vets, it’s just plain good business.

We don’t do this alone. Partnerships drive our approach, from our education partners Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Saint Martin’s University who deliver curated Microsoft curriculum and materials via instructor-led classroom training, to our over 200 hiring partners such as Accenture, Expedia and Dell who hire MSSA students.

We thank the public sector leaders who have worked with us on this approach to addressing the STEM skills gap. As a private sector company with hundreds of partners willing to hire MSSA-trained candidates, we’ve created a successful model of an on-base credentialing program for service members. This sort of collaboration ultimately results in a deep pool of job candidates to fill the growing need for skilled careers and cybersecurity professionals across both private and public sectors. But this is not enough. We still see a critical need for more technology companies to join us in these reskilling efforts and hire a veteran.

By working hand in hand with the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs to create transition training for 21st century jobs, the private sector can help veterans live up to their potential and address a vital need for America’s economic future.

As vice president of Military Affairs at Microsoft, Chris Cortez leads the company’s engagement with veterans and military families as part of its focus on inspiring and developing former service members for roles in the IT industry. He served as a U.S. Marine Corps major general, leading the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico, Va. He has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Marietta College in Ohio and a master’s degree in business management from Azusa Pacific University.