Start-Ups

Australian startup prepares former military personnel to fill the IT skills shortage

Sydney-based Tom Moore returned to the daily grind from serving in Afghanistan, and after a poor transition process, founded a company that aims to change the way the veteran workforce is perceived by industry and upskill ex-military personnel for a career in technology.

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(Image: WithYouWithMe)

Tom Moore spent seven and a half years in the Australian infantry, serving initially as a combat soldier before he became a commander. He led a 60-man team into combat in Afghanistan in 2013 and thought it would be his sole career for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, Moore found himself injured later in that year, which meant he had to return to Australia and face the standard day-to-day life. It also meant he had to find a new job.

The statistics on service men and women transitioning into "standard" jobs are far from inspiring. Moore told TechRepublic he went through 100 applications and 15 interviews but couldn't get a gig; however, the process made him learn two valuable lessons.

"One, we weren't set up for transition. It was like firing a shotgun out rather than a sniper bullet — veterans aren't used to a competitive job market; and two, I don't think Australian industry has really harnessed veteran talent from return on investment," he explained.

Moore built a software app to store the contact details of CEOs. All of a sudden, the game changed and he was offered a handful of jobs.

"My first job was cold calling sales for HP, Lenovo, and Dell, and within 12 months I was consulting back to the head of channel," Moore said.

"My soldiers started to call me quite depressed because they were unemployed or underemployed and I got jack of it, sold everything, and spent my AU$60,000 on building the software application to translate skills and experiences."

From there, Moore built out a mentoring, recruitment, and training program with the aim of helping employers realise their return on investment by targeting gaps in the labour market and matching veterans to those gaps. His startup, WithYouWithMe, also provides veterans with free training — validated by partners such as Amazon, BAE Systems, Accenture, SAP, and DXC Technology — to ensure they have the skills for tech-based jobs.

SEE: Launching a startup: A primer for new entrepreneurs (Tech Pro Research)

Moore didn't have any tech experience before he served, but the skills he developed while serving proved to be invaluable in the IT world.

"In Afghanistan, when you're managing 60 [people], when you're in an environment you're not explicitly trained for, you sort of have to learn, you have to do it. There's a mission you have to achieve," the now CEO explained. "We're trained to win."

However, to get veterans jobs, Moore realised he can't play the game that the recruitment market does.

"We can't just get veterans jobs, we have to be really good at recruiting and I guess our key disruptor in that space is by working with companies, identifying the perfect fit — which is what our software allows us to do — and then we actually train them for the gaps that they're missing," he said.

"In terms of cybersecurity, rather than poaching people off their competitors and paying a lot more money, we're reducing a company's wage budgets and reducing recruitment costs by building them a pipeline of talented people that also happen to be veterans."

With certain new technology tested by the military before it's released to the commercial market, Moore said it means the average junior soldier or officer is already quite experienced and "get" the problem solving piece already.

In terms of cybersecurity, this means veterans are often ripe for futures as pen-testers, analysts, and operations and project managers.

"They can operate really well in an incident response centre because they've done that, they've thwarted threat for so long," he told TechRepublic. "We're built to be problem solvers and we're built to understand the threat."

Over 760 people are currently training on the WithYouWithMe platform and 172 veterans have been placed in jobs in less than a year. Moore is working with around 50 Fortune 500 companies to place returned service men and women into new careers.

In the case of BAE, Moore said trainees using his platform are working within the security giant's SOC as part of their training.

Veterans leave Moore's service quite qualified; they come out with hacking foundations, basic to advanced knowledge of Red Hat Linux, and Python skills, as some examples.

"I think that is important — these people already have clearances, they've already worked against enemy threat from an intelligence combat and IT perspective, and we're not just taking the IT guys in the military, we're taking combat veterans that are analytical thinkers, that can problem solve, pick a lock, and training them to be a workforce that any company that is serious about its cyber defence should look in to see if there's a fit within their team," he added.

Moore wants to change how the veteran workforce is perceived by industry. He wants big business in Australia to look at returned service men and woman as resource rather than a charity case, and an overall good fit to fill the labour shortage gap Australia is going to soon find itself facing.

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About Asha McLean

With a degree in Communications, and a background in technical writing, Asha has left the engineering world and joined the ZDNet team in Sydney as a journalist.

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