Commentary

When it comes to employing vets, here’s how we can do better

Today’s veterans transitioning from military service to civilian careers face a confluence of pandemic-driven employment challenges, high demand for technical skill sets and an abundance of programs promising to get them hired ASAP. As these veterans — and their spouses — face new chapters in their lives and careers, they’re often navigating a complex landscape that feels alien compared to life in the military.

Thanks to initiatives at the highest levels of the government and across the private sector, veterans today are recognized as assets to the workforce, well-versed in leadership, integrity and other service-instilled “soft skills.” But this understanding of the value veterans bring to a team doesn’t always translate to easy, seamless transition and employment.

The reasons for this are multifold, but too often, much gets lost in translation between military experience and civilian career trajectory. Some employers may not understand how a vet’s military occupational specialty or service background directly apply to a civilian job position; some veterans may not know exactly how to explain it. In other cases, there may not be a clear connection between what a veteran did in the military and a civilian occupation or career field. This struggle in skills-matching is a key reason for a proliferation in programs aimed at training and reskilling veterans, especially for work in technology-related fields.

No doubt, these programs are integral in helping veterans successfully transition from the military into a civilian career track. But as the Center for New American Security noted in a report earlier this year, access to training alone isn’t enough.

“Currently, it is nearly impossible for veterans in transition to understand the full breadth of options available to them and which will best help them achieve their goals,” according to the report. “While the numerous efforts largely include thoughtful programming, there remains a lack of clear pathways from military service to particular jobs. There is no comprehensive roadmap as to which credential, academic degree, or job placement program would best help a veteran reach a particular career goal.”

Building a supportive path to veteran employment

The most effective programs recognize this gap in the veteran-transition process and work to address it through comprehensive initiatives that address training but also provide mentoring, networking opportunities and access to an ecosystem of companies looking to bolster their ranks by hiring veterans.

This is especially true for companies working in the IT, cybersecurity and federal contracting spaces. A military background inherently includes some level of understanding of hierarchical systems, problem-solving, defensive posture, chain of command and active-threat response. These are skills that can mean the difference between a company winning or losing a key contract, fending off a threat or suffering an attack, or simply remaining stagnant instead of progressing based on the discipline and confidence their veteran team members bring to the operation.

According to Jay Garcia, a 20-year Marine Corps veteran who is now Fortinet’s global veterans program manager, the Fortinet Veterans Program — offered for free to veterans and their spouses, as well as partner companies interested in hiring vets — encompasses a multipronged approach to helping vets and addressing the cross-industry cybersecurity skills gap.

“We put military veterans and their spouses on a pathway that aligns to their goals,” Garcia said. “For example, if a participant wants to pursue a [security operations center] analyst role, we provide career path information to help them become a SOC analyst. We let them know what certifications they need and what experience they should seek. We provide Fortinet resources, as well as outside resources, that they can connect with for additional training and certifications.”

The multi-pronged approach includes expansive resources in training and certification through six-month course series, as well as peer-to-peer coaching and networking opportunities with an ecosystem of hiring companies. Participants get a “battle card” comprising a condensed resume along with security clearances, commendations and certifications; those battle cards are circulated among more than 300 organizations.

Michael Beckham, a 21-year Navy veteran who worked in cryptology while in the service, is one example of the Fortinet program at work — he was hired by Walker and Associates, initially in an engineering role that was expected to ramp into the company’s nascent security practice. Instead, two years later, he’s now a federal sales engineer at the company.

“In the military, successfully achieving mission goals is paramount,” Beckham said in Fortinet’s case study outlining the veterans program. “Companies can rely on the fact that these men and women will apply themselves to achieve the organization’s mission. … Each military service has instilled core values into veterans that can help them to become major contributors and make an immediate impact in the corporate world.”

Ensuring that capacity for contribution and impact is clear to organizations looking for talent is a top priority for Garcia and the program he helps oversee. For him, the mission is personal.

“I was able to transition successfully thanks to my network and mentorship, and that’s what we work to offer,” Garcia said. “One of the key things we do is assess the candidate and provide the feedback, recommendations and tips that help them transition — and that’s what a transitioning service member really needs. These vets need people in their corner to vouch for them.”

Jane Brightwell is a board member of the AFCEA International Board of Directors Executive Committee. She serves as Walker and Associates' vice president of federal, international and RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Companies) at Walker and Associates.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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