The unemployment rate for veterans is high. Way too high, especially for those who have served since September 11. The official number hovers around 10 percent, higher than for non-veterans. This means that nearly 250,000 Americans who have served are out of work. It is unacceptable.
What’s worse, it seems likely that this number will only grow as the military cuts back the size of its active duty force and sequestration cuts further reduce the number of jobs in other branches of government or among government contractors. Traditionally, many of these jobs have been filled by veterans. As a result, more veterans return from duty with fewer employment opportunities.
Meanwhile, tech companies are having a harder and harder time finding talent. This trend shows no sign of slowing down. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million “computer specialist” job openings in the United States. Yet, training is lagging behind these market trends.
Round peg, meet round hole.
Equipping our veterans with the necessary technical skills to fill high-paying jobs is not only possible, but imperative. Doing so paves the road for economic success for them and the country. Veterans should have access to the type of training that will arm them with such skills efficiently and—at least in some cases—without having to attend four-year college progams. Our government has a history of providing job training to those who serve, traditionally this training exists in manufacturing and logistics fields. Those types of programs should be expanded to include technical fields. Furthermore, veterans should be able to use their GI Bill benefits to take advantage of opportunities that already exist to learn technical skills without attending traditional college programs.
Take the experience of Isaac Elias, a 32-year-old veteran who spent five years on active duty and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. When Isaac left the military, he knew he had access to various career development opportunities. However, most of them were through formal partnerships with traditional industry, like manufacturing or logistics. These jobs didn’t appeal to Isaac, who had served in military intelligence.
In turn, he used his GI benefits, including paid tuition and living expenses, to attend a four-year college. In only three years, he finished with a degree in Business Administration. While in school, his interest in technology grew, aided by professors who extolled how technological advances were dramatically changing business.
Between his classes, his family (a wife and three children), and his job waiting tables, Isaac taught himself to code.
Armed with an informal coding education and a business degree, Isaac struggled to find reliable employment in his desired field. So, he went back to school, this time without GI benefits. He applied to coding bootcamps and decided to attend General Assembly, which offers business, design, and technology courses taught by experienced practitioners. Isaac funded these programs and his family’s living expenses on his credit card, accumulating nearly $25,000 in debt on four different cards in the process.
Isaac says it was all worth it. He ended up with a great job as a software developer and regularly hears from recruiters. However, he spent three years in school and exhausted his GI Bill benefits working on a degree he doesn’t use. In fact, in 2014 Isaac said that he would have told 2009 Isaac to bypass college and go to General Assembly.
About Author: Julie Samuels is the executive director of Engine, a research foundation and advocacy organization for technology entrepreneurship.