CXO

Why veterans can fill your company's tech skills gap

A new Amazon initiative to train veterans for technical roles sheds light on an untapped talent pool with an important skillset.

The US Department of Labor recently partnered with Amazon to create an apprenticeship program that trains veterans for technical roles at the online giant, shedding light on how other companies can access the large, untapped veteran workforce to fill tech skills gaps.

In May 2016, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos laid out the company's goal of hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2021, and training 10,000 more in cloud computing skills. The first cohort of a dozen apprentices under the new partnership will be trained as Amazon Web Services cloud support associates.

"Our hope is that with the experience we gain, the program will expand to additional technical roles and can continue to scale," Ardine Williams, vice president of talent acquisition for Amazon Web Services, told TechRepublic. "Veterans provide an attractive candidate pool for fast-paced, innovative companies like Amazon, and tech roles offer both a competitive wage and, even more important, a career path."

Amazon also announced a similar initiative in the UK.

"We've found that veterans flourish at our company," Williams said. "Military service, either directly, or as a spouse, is a significant life experience that fosters focus, resiliency, collaboration, and leadership. Veterans and spouses who combine leading edge tech skills with that life experience are a strong addition to many companies."

SEE: Can apprenticeships help diversify the tech industry?

Amazon joins Tesla, IBM, and more than 160 other employers, colleges, and labor organizations that have built apprenticeship programs with the Department of Labor for any worker. These apprentices make an average starting wage of $15 per hour, which increases incrementally as they become more proficient, according to the Department of Labor. There are currently more than 505,000 apprentices on the job nationally through the program.

The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is higher than the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics—making it even more important to focus on getting this population into the understaffed tech workforce.

"We are creating technology and jobs at a faster pace than colleges and universities can produce candidates to meet the demand," said Williams. "Apprenticeships are a time-proven combination of focused classroom and on-the-job-training that produces job-ready candidates—typically in a shorter period of time than a traditional college or university program."

Adding veterans to the tech workforce may become even more important this year, as President Donald Trump plans to make changes to the H-1B visa program, as TechRepublic's Brandon Vigliarolo reported.

Other tech companies, including Microsoft and Accenture, also offer veteran tech training programs, with the opportunity for an interview upon completion.

"Veterans make great software developers," said Rod Levy, executive director of Code Platoon, a coding bootcamp for veterans that launched last year. "Today's tech worker needs to be able to work on a team, communicate effectively with everyone around them, and demonstrate grit, persistence, and leadership skills. These are all characteristics the military spends billions of dollars training veterans to develop. It's a missed opportunity from a business standpoint to not capitalize on these ready-made workers."

SEE: Three education options for veterans wanting to enter the software engineering world

Translating skills

Hiring veterans is a good business decision, as studies have shown that veterans are more productive and have higher retention rates than other employees, according to Randall Smith, national veterans' employment manager at the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service. Military experience is also correlated with strong cognitive and decision making skills, Smith said.

"Some employers are unfamiliar with the level of tech skills most service members already possess, and the success stories from other companies who have had success with hiring veterans in tech," Smith said. "Employer demand for IT skills is everywhere, and will continue to grow."

Veterans are not IT experts by education, but they frequently use tech equipment for communications, navigation, and satellites, and analyze incoming data, said Steve Jordon, director of the Veterans Employment Initiative at the Northern Virginia Technology Council. "They are immersed in a bootstrap tech education," Jordon said. "It becomes about how they take that and translate it so a company can understand that although they don't have a bachelor's degree in computer science, they are tech savvy and can enter a company in an entry level tech position, or get a certificate."

It's important for veterans to learn to communicate the skills they gain in the military on their resumes, Jordon added. "You need to be able to change your vocabulary so it's something the talent acquisition folks in the commercial sector can understand and match to their position descriptions and job requirements," he said.

While many CEOs understand the value in hiring veterans, they must ensure that the message makes it down to the hiring manager, Jordon said. "If the CEO pushes it down as a priority—that they don't need the paper-perfect candidate—then hiring managers can take a hard look at candidates who don't have that degree but have talent and potential there," he added.

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Image: iStockphoto/videodet

About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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