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IT pilot program to expand

Program attempts to fix problem service members face proving they are qualified for civilian IT jobs

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:22PM May 2nd, 2013
IT pilot program to expand

Christopher Gaylord/Northwest Guardian

Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Cox earned two IT certifications for civilian employment using the President’s IT Training and Certification Program.

Factoring in more than 15 years of experience working daily with computer systems and networks, Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Cox sounds rather qualified for a job in the information technology field.

But when he started looking at retirement from the Army last year, he realized he was facing entry-level positions at best.

“I knew what I was doing; I knew how to do the job,” said Cox, who is a communications specialist for I Corps command group. “But, you know, the industry wants that piece of paper that shows you know how to do the job.”

Plenty of service members facing a transition to the private sector find themselves in the same boat, with no real means of proving their military training and experience to potential civilian employers.

An exclusive pilot program rolled out last fall at Joint Base Lewis-McChord seeking to level the playing field for troops in the information technology industry who know their craft but are lacking the credentials to prove it.

Named the President’s IT Training and Certification Program, the initiative is a response to President Obama’s call to action last year for industries to step up in support of transitioning troops. He challenged employers across the country to either make an effort to hire those who served the military in career fields relevant to their needs, or to help certify them to the same standards as their counterparts on the outside – or both.

In addition, the president directed the Department of Defense to establish a Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, with a focus to find military occupational specialties that translate into high-demand jobs and to coordinate with civilian agencies to fill any gaps between military experience and the civilian employers’ expectations.

The first lady announced the success of the JBLM pilot program’s efforts at the White House Monday and said the goal moving forward is to expand the program across DOD. She set forth a goal to reach 161,000 transitioning service members in 12 separate lines of work through the credentialing and licensing task force.

Working groups, she said, have already been set up to find troops for positions in the fields of health care, transportation and manufacturing.

“A big problem our service members have is that they go through the military, they gain all this knowledge and experience that is comparable to what their civilian counterparts have, but when they enter the civilian workforce, it isn’t recognized,” said Robin Baker, transition services manager for the Army Career and Alumni Program on JBLM. “They end up in lower-paying positions and have to crawl their way up from the bottom.

“This is our first attempt at fixing that problem.”

The IT industry stepped up first to fulfill the president’s request. Futures Inc., a cloud-based technology that matches talent with companies and corporations looking to hire — to include service members leaving the military for the workforce — contacted Baker in September with a proposal to start a pilot program at JBLM.

Within weeks, Baker reached out to dozens of local troops in the process of transitioning out, who worked in IT-relevant fields. She held an orientation to gain interest in the program; of the 60 who came, 19 registered.

The program offered 50 different classes to service members through Global Knowledge, which provides, business and enterprise training. A program training adviser from Global Knowledge then contacted those who registered and performed individual needs assessments that took into account their knowledge, experience, miltary occupational specialty and where in the IT field they wanted to go.

Participants were allowed to choose which career most interested them and were then put on paths to achieve certifications toward their desired positions.

Global Knowledge and several other corporate partners funded the classes and provided course materials and vouchers for testing certifications, said Chris Gosk, Global’s vice president of content and learning services. Their efforts saved Cox thousands of dollars.

“If I went and got all this training myself, it would cost me almost $15,000,” said Cox, who, through the program, has completed his CompTIA Security+ and Cisco Certified Network Associate certifications. “You have to pay for the tests, you have to pay for the equipment to practice on.”

But the program went even further than that for Cox by reviewing and polishing his resume and then sending it to approximately 2,500 different employers across the country.

“Ever since that day, I’ve had a call a day or an email a day asking me when I can talk to them,” said Cox. Cox said he currently has a lead on a well-paying position.

Without the program, though, Cox might not be having the same luck.

“It would be harder to get a job, because you can tell somebody you know it, but the industry wants to see that piece of paper,” he said.

Gosk agreed.

“It seems the private sector has made commitments to hire vets, but they have a tough time understanding what they did in the military and how that translates to a mainstream civilian job role,” Gosk said. “This program helps give them the confidence that the training they receive will be aligned to what private sector employers typically ask for.”

Baker said the program will continue on in the future and that eligible JBLM service members will be notified by ACAP in some manner of the program’s availability to them.

Cox said he’s happy to have had the help and glad more troops like him will be able to take advantage of the program in the future — not just at JBLM, but elsewhere.

“I’m glad that they’re doing it nationally now, because it’s going to help a lot of people,” he said.

To see the first lady’s Monday speech at the White House Forum on military credentialing and licensing, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/photosandvideo/video/2013/04/29/first-lady-speaks-white-house-forum-military-credentialing-and-lic.

Christopher Gaylord: christopher.gaylord@nwguardian.com.