TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Alpha Germain, people program specialist for Accenture, and Mark Testoni of SAP NS2 about NS2 Serves, a program to help veterans transition into civilian IT jobs. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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Karen Roby: NS2 Serves is a nonprofit that provides IT training to veterans. This is a program that really gave you a new lease on life, and that’s what we want to talk about today. It’s exciting to hear these stories, Alpha, of how veterans who have such unique skill sets are able to parlay those skill sets and learn and be trained in new things and move all of that into a new career post-military, and I understand you’re still with the Reserves. Talk a little bit about when you were in the military and you knew you were going to make this step over to civilian life. What were your thoughts at first in terms of, “How am I going to do this? What am I going to do?” I mean, that had to be a bewildering, a really difficult time.

Alpha Germain: Yes, definitely. I was active duty, working as a civil engineer. Civil engineering is a male-dominated career. I was the only woman out of 28 civilian and military [people] in our shop. Of course, once I became a mother, it was very hard for me to balance being a single parent and my full-time military career, and to have people understand that I need a little bit more notice than 24 hours. So, I decided to transition out of the military. The military provided a stable life. I still wanted to have some type of connection, which is why I transitioned into the Air Force Reserves. I took a new role in the Reserves that was a little less demanding as well, which was air transportation, but I just had no idea how I was going to find civilian employment.

I had been in the military directly out of high school. I didn’t know how to write a resume, how to interview, and it just made it hard for me to really make that transition. When I went into the Reserves, we do drill weekends, and I was able to find a civilian career doing the same thing that I did in the Reserves. That was how I had some type of job. It was a struggle to balance that job, my Reserves, and being a single parent, also attending school. It just made it very difficult and the job was not that stable.

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Karen Roby: That is when NS2 Serves stepped in. How did you discover the program? Tell us about the program and about some of the skills that you learned when you were part of it.

Alpha Germain: I did that civilian career, and I really tried to balance those things. I went on a deployment and returned in about 2013 and it just was really difficult to get back to that schedule after being away on my own for so long. I moved to Florida to be closer to my family. I wasn’t able to find any employment in Florida. There weren’t a lot of bases near, so it made it hard to find that connection. I fell into a depression, and my aunt, who I’m very close with since my mother passed in 2005, she knew something was wrong. She said, “Listen, I’ll take your daughter. Go back to Virginia.” I had another offer to do that same kind of work that I previously left. So, I went back, didn’t really have a place to stay. It was pretty expensive in the Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland area. The job was in Maryland. I had a best friend who lived in Virginia, closer to D.C. She offered to let me crash on an air mattress in her living room.

Again, just having that struggle, being away from my daughter, it just made it really difficult and still dealing with the depression and just trying to re-acclimate to being back to a full-time civilian. During one of my drill weekends around 2015, our base chaplains told us about NS2 Serves. I knew right away that this was something that I had been looking for, something stable. I knew a career in IT would help me make enough money to be able to take care of my family. So, I applied. Of course, it wasn’t without struggle that I was accepted into the program and completed the program. It was a vigorous training, and I was still dealing with being away from my daughter and depression.

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But I was committed to making a change and creating a better life for her. That’s how I got into the program. We did about 12 weeks of training and we learned various things. There was so much more than just the certifications that I received. We had a speech class in the beginning, we built connections with other veterans and we just had a really great support system. They just gave us that foundation, taught us how to write a resume, we did mock interviews, we had a job fair, just different things.

Karen Roby: With everything that you learned there, Alpha, and the IT skills, and like you said, you knew if you could get this together, that would help ensure a better life for you down the road for yourself and for your daughter and more stability. That’s obviously what has happened as I understand, of course. You took a position with Accenture, and since then, have really been moving into various roles there and wearing many different hats, which is so impressive considering so many of the hurdles that you had to overcome to get there. We hear a lot about with veterans that, yeah, they have a great skill set and they’re very disciplined and all of these things, but it’s difficult to make that move and to find a position that’s going to suit you and your skillset. Talk a little bit about why it’s so important, in your opinion, for companies and organizations to look to veterans who are looking to make a change. Why should they look to that pool of people?

Alpha Germain: I think veterans, through our military career, we build so many different skills, like our leadership and just being able to adapt to different situations, our teamwork, and I think that Accenture really recognizes that and recognizes what veterans bring to the table. They made a commitment back in 2015 to hire 5,000 veterans by 2020. I think that’s an amazing commitment, just to have that military recruiter to be there as a part of the job fair and talk to us. He was a veteran as well. So, to be able to understand what we bring to the table, that we may not necessarily know directly how to translate it, but they’re able to help us translate our skills as well.

They’re also able and willing to help upskill us and bring us up to speed in other areas. I think it’s very important for companies just to recognize what we bring to the table. I was hired at Accenture Federal Services in San Antonio to do an IT career. As you said, my career blossomed from there, just because of my adaptability, my willingness to learn and grow and just never being afraid to take something new on. I’ve transitioned from IT into inclusion and diversity, and now into a client account HR lead for one of our largest media and communication clients.

Karen Roby: Congratulations. That’s so impressive, Alpha, and I hope that through NS2 Serves and other similar programs that other veterans are able to take advantage of these programs and move on to new careers that have been hopefully as promising as what you’re experiencing. Where do you see yourself five years from now? How do you think NS2 has helped you and will continue to help you get to where you want to be?

Alpha Germain: Just everything that’s happened with this program, I never imagined for myself. I never imagined that I would be where I am today, even with growing up in my childhood and everything. Now, I have hope for the future. I have dreams that I’ve never had. Previously, I had spoken about saving up to buy a home. I just bought my first home. We’re actually coming up on our first year today. I have my daughter back. I got my daughter back the day I graduated from NS2, and she’s been with me ever since. That program and Accenture have helped me to be able to create a stable life for her. She’s talking about, she wants to be a lawyer, and she has amazing dreams herself. She’s seen me overcome so many different things. I hope to grow in my Accenture career and eventually grow into a C-level position. It’s just a great opportunity to be able to have such a versatile career, and Accenture has really made it a place for me to be able to express and explore different opportunities.

Karen Roby: Congratulations on all of your success, and thank you so much for sharing your story here with us. NS2 Serves, of course, is the nonprofit under the company SAP NS2, and Mark Testoni is the CEO of SAP NS2 and Mark, we’re glad to have you with us here today, just to talk a little bit about this program that Alpha and so many others have graduated from, and it’s such an important program.

Mark Testoni: We have a lot of great Americans who are mid-career, in the case of veterans, maybe exiting the military and didn’t get all the degrees because they were out serving the country, to be able to maybe get into jobs. We have Americans who have lost employment in manufacturing industries. Right now, we’ve lost a ton of them in the hospitality industry, and we know that locally in restaurants. Many of these folks are really talented. They may not have the “sheepskin” (degree) that maybe some of us have. This is an area that I think is hugely important to invest in. We invest in veterans and we’re now expanding our program as we try to repackage them to look at other demographics that are challenged, beyond veterans, like others that may have been disaffected by manufacturing job losses or whatever.

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We have to come up, and business is critical here, and make these investments because these investments really, when you put them in a grand scheme of things, if you train and skill somebody and get them employed, it helps society. It helps you. You’re going to create, in many cases, a very loyal employee in an era where there’s so much transitioning and people generally are excited and they’re motivated. I think this is a policy area. The government can’t build the program, but the government needs to help inspire programs like we have in NS2 Serves, and other companies are doing, where they’re re-skilling Americans.

Karen Roby: Mark, as we know, from Alpha, whom we talked with earlier, and so many other veterans and other people that are out of work, the transition to something new can be very difficult, but programs like this help to make this easier for them. How do we get the message out there? How do we make situations like this happen more often?

Mark Testoni: I’m hoping we’ll see some community resources and some of them exist today, where there are job and re-skilling centers and companies need to connect with these places where people tend to go. Certainly, change is tough for folks, but if you’ve been in an industry and that job has disappeared, you’re generally pretty motivated to try something new. If you have the right aptitude or you have the right background, what we need to do is find ways to get people credentialed to operate in new places. Often, the college degree is a credential that’s a barrier to a lot of people because not everybody has one, but you don’t need a college degree to do cyber work. I can assure you that. You don’t need a college degree in many cases, but if I get you the right technical skills, and in some cases, it may not take all that long.

In the case of our veterans, it took 10 to 12 weeks and we turned them into IT consultants. We put them on jobs with our partners and other things. Then they got the additional learning from on-the-job training. We need to create places for people to go to find these things, either work in the community to do that, and then we need to resource them. To me, those are the two things. Then we just need to create awareness that this stuff exists. There are many people, as we know, Americans, hurting today. I think if we got a little bit of publicity out there where we have these things, people would show up.

Image: iStock/fizkes