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OPINION

Veterans can help STEM the tide of unfilled jobs

By DEREK HORTON | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: August 28, 2018

Workers specializing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics can help businesses retool, compete and thrive in the 21st-century economy. Far too many companies in America’s leading industries are struggling to fill crucial STEM positions. Employers should turn to highly skilled military veterans who increasingly leave the military with advanced technical expertise but are too often overlooked for STEM jobs.

STEM jobs comprise a diverse range of positions across a wide range of industries, including civil engineers, financial analysts, software developers and even accountants. However, what ties this assorted group of jobs together — and makes them difficult to fill — is the need for a very particular set of skills, including mathematical proficiency, analytical reasoning and research capabilities. Last year alone, nearly 3 million STEM jobs went unfilled, despite being some of the best-paying and most rewarding positions in the job market.

Each year thousands of military members leave the service with the skills needed to be successful. The military has expertly adapted to an increasingly digital world. Openings for “electronic warfare specialist,” “cryptologic cyberspace intelligence collector” and “geospatial intelligence imagery analyst” are now commonplace with military recruiting sites. That’s because the crux of the armed services no longer consists of infantrymen operating in remote corners of the planet. Instead, much of our security operations today are managed by bright scientists and mathematicians, sitting in bunkered bases throughout the world.

Members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard regularly engage with some of the most advanced technologies available; and the need for a deep understanding of these sophisticated processes has become a fundamental requirement for most servicemembers as warfare shifts to the cybersphere and military devices increasingly replace boots on the ground. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats illustrated the shifting nature of the times when he testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year and named cyber threats as the top worldwide threat to our national security. Moreover, in a race for technological superiority, the military’s adoption and integration of advanced technologies will only accelerate in coming years.

Meanwhile, the STEM field in the United States is facing a significant skills gap. According to a Ranstad North America report released in 2017, the U.S. has a 3-million-STEM-job surplus. As a result, some of the most lucrative and impactful jobs available on the market today are unfilled, and the gap is only growing — in North Dakota, for example, there are currently 87 STEM job openings for every qualified worker.

The consequences of this skills gap are even more troubling. With so many vacant openings, tech giants have begun outsourcing STEM jobs overseas to competitors like India and China. In the process, the U.S. risks losing its standing as the world leader in innovation and as a hub for technological breakthroughs. Meanwhile, every year, over 200,000 veterans retire from active duty to transition back into civilian life. Of these, a significant portion has worked in highly technical fields and are distinctly qualified to excel in STEM jobs in the private sector. The problem is that they are rarely presented with a chance to demonstrate these skills because of their lack of traditional college degrees or general job experience.

As a former Marine who was hired by Sallyport, a Reston, Va.-based global logistics and security contractor, the skills I bring to my job every day as director of Information Technology are directly based on my military training and experience. Sallyport values the experience and expertise that veterans like myself bring to the table, mainly when looking for talented people to fill STEM-related positions.

The niche with technical skills that I learned while in the military prepared me for a successful career at Sallyport. The understanding of military members’ skills should be considered by companies who are outsourcing their hiring overseas.

The STEM workforce shortage in the United States is a rare problem with an easy answer. Our veterans can fill these jobs — and fill them well — if only given a chance.

Derek Horton served in the Marines from 1990 to 1998 (four years active duty, four years inactive) as a communications watch officer before joining Sallyport.

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