With several hundred thousand servicemembers transitioning into civilian life each year, there’s been an admirable national focus on providing jobs for veterans, but insufficient emphasis on securing high-paying, long-term careers for veterans and their families.
Knowing that transition is a major psychological shift for servicemembers, specialized industries such as information technology must invite servicemembers to dream and compete for the nation’s top jobs. We believe it will pay off, since the IT industry desperately needs talent. Indeed, five years from now the IT industry is projected to have a 1 million worker shortage of those with computing skills.
In my experience, former servicemembers are ideally suited for tech jobs. They are highly trainable, self-motivated, comfortable navigating ambiguous situations and can bring much-needed team orientation and collaboration to the industry. The dilemma facing servicemembers, however, is that the starting point can be very confusing — which training and certifications to obtain, which degrees to pursue, which paths to follow and, at times, which information to trust.
The IT industry has an amazing opportunity to close the gap with this willing and aspirational workforce. As an industry, we need to empower servicemembers and unlock their potential with clear, step-by-step approaches to entering the IT industry to fill a number of roles.
First, transitioning servicemembers should not overlook setting their sights on a high-paying, long-term IT careers. Our service men and women need to be asking themselves “Why not me?” when it comes to securing jobs in IT. They should seek out friends, mentors, former service buddies who have made the leap and reverse engineer their future using these role models.
Second, the GI Bill can be a life-changer. Yet, studies have shown that only 50 percent of former servicemembers are taking advantage of its benefits. Understanding that some veterans are saving this gift of education for family members, there is still way too much opportunity left on the table. Student veterans should weigh opportunities to even use a portion of their GI Bill to enhance their competitiveness for top careers — before and after transition. Either full-time degree programs in computer science/STEM disciplines or bridge programs like the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy can lead to a high-paying, long-term opportunity.
Third, the IT industry must do its part to create job-aligned education and learning paths for servicemembers to head toward the careers (and industry needs) of the future. High-tech HR professionals must strive to connect with this veteran talent pool, virtually untapped by the industry today.
At Microsoft we’ve learned a few lessons since we dove into working with transitioning veterans on IT career options. Microsoft Military Affairs has the primary focus of working with installations around the country to provide a path forward through specialized curriculum in technology management areas like server cloud/database, business intelligence and software development. Transitioning servicemembers who sign up for the intense program not only gain critical technology skills and certification testing, but also interview guidance and mentorships. And today, Microsoft is announcing the expansion of MSSA from three to nine regions, servicing 12 military installations.
Graduates have gone on to work at Tableau, Century Link, Amazon, Expedia, Apple and Amazon.com, to name just a few of our more than 81 hiring partners. Our “north star” for MSSA is simple: providing opportunities for former servicemembers to find jobs throughout the tech industry.
There is much work to be done. We need even more technology companies to join us — as partners — to commit to hiring former servicemembers and to invest the time to ensure they are competitive contenders for those high-paying careers. I promise, the companies that join us will reap measurable benefits. We at Microsoft sure have.
Sean Kelley is program director of Military Affairs Microsoft.