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Hiring heroes: Why veterans make great tech employees

Military veterans come with the soft skills employers value most, and many have backgrounds in technology

Hiring heroes: Why veterans make great tech employees
Veterans at Trailhead DX, a Salesforce event where administrators, developers, consultants, and architects can gain high-demand technology skills and certifications.
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Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate was at a 50-year low. Competition for talent was intense, nowhere more so than in the technology sector. Even after the pandemic hit, more than half of businesses polled for the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey said they still faced a technology skills shortage. As the economy heats back up, employ­ers will struggle to land the best-qualified workers. Military veterans are a valuable resource they should not overlook.

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“More than 200,000 veterans enter civilian life each year, swelling the talent pool with candidates who’ve acquired core military skills, such as leadership and the ability to foster teamwork and put mission over self,” says Hari Kolam, CEO of Findem, which uses an AI-powered platform to help companies build better workforces. “Chances are veterans have picked up tech skills in any positions they held.”

The value that military veterans bring as employees comes as no surprise to compa­nies such as Boeing, which has been tapping this resource for years. “Veterans are not only critical to Boeing’s success, but we also bring technical skills, diverse viewpoints, and unique experiences that make us valuable resources for other employers,” says U.S. Army veteran and West Point alum Jason Pak, director, Boeing Global Engagement.

GOOD MATCH FOR TECH JOBS

Military service often makes veterans uniquely well-suited for work in the technology sector, he adds. They are forward-thinking and resilient, agile and entrepreneurial, and great at teamwork. “They are used to using cutting-edge technology that is at the forefront of capability, and they are used to testing that capability in high-stress situa­tions,” Pak notes.

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Boeing’s Military Skills Translator and Veteran Talent Network portal helps transition service members by match­ing their skills and education to specific career opportunities. Boeing also part­ners with USO Pathfinder to expand its recruitment reach to veterans. As employees, veterans find camaraderie and support across 33 Boeing Veteran Engagement Team chapters. The lead­ership, integrity, teamwork, and critical skills formed during their military expe­rience “enriches Boeing’s culture and the vital work that we do,” Pak says. “We’re fortunate to have veterans and military members on our team.”

Jason Pak and his service dog Indy attend a Warrior Canine Connection event at Boeing’s Arlington, Virginia office.

Recently, Boeing announced a $4.5 million partnership with the Institute for Veterans & Military Families to establish Future Force, a workforce training, recruitment, and placement program for veterans.

Since 2010, Boeing has hired more than 13,500 veterans. More than 15 percent of its U.S. workforce self-identified as veterans in 2020, and Boeing contributed more than $14 million in support of veterans causes globally last year.

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COMPOSURE UNDER PRESSURE

Salesforce is another enterprise sold on the value veterans can bring to any job. Ann Weeby, vice president of workforce innovation and head of the Salesforce Military program, cites her own active-duty experience with the Michigan National Guard, which included a tour of duty in Iraq. “I learned how to work in teams under incredible stress in dynamic, ever-changing situations,” she says.

In terms of 21st century skills, military veterans represent a population that has a jumpstart and offers a unique opportunity for corporate America, Weeby says. “No matter what industry you’re in, you need to connect to your customers through digital channels. Every business needs to accelerate its digital transformation, and Salesforce helps them do that while putting their customers at the center of everything they do,” she says.

A core component of Salesforce Military is Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform. Since 2014, with Trailhead, Salesforce Military has upskilled and reskilled a growing community of more than 30,000 military Trailblazers with high-demand technology skills and certifications that help them launch meaningful careers in the Salesforce ecosystem. Air Force veteran Stephanie Brown is one of its success stories.

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After being laid off as a banquet chef at the start of the pandemic, Brown threw herself into the Trailhead program and earned multiple certifications. “I was motivated by the desire to get back to work and back out on my own,” she recalls. “It was also just plain fun, and it was nice to be able to see my progress.”

NEW LEASE ON LIFE

Brown was selected for the inaugural Salesforce Fellowship Program, a paid 12-week internship under the umbrella of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program. She interned with a tech startup, hired on with them as a full-time Salesforce administrator, and later moved on to a global cybersecurity firm. “I absolutely love my new career in technology. It’s given me a new lease on life,” she says.

I LEARNED HOW TO WORK IN TEAMS UNDER INCREDIBLE STRESS IN DYNAMIC, EVER-CHANGING SITUATIONS.”

ANN WEEBY HEAD OF SALESFORCE MILITARY

As big an attribute as military vets have already proven themselves to be in the civilian workforce, many businesses are still missing out on the valuable opportunities they

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represent. “We know from our recent policy roundtables that we need to reach out to veterans earlier in their transition to educate them about opportunities in tech and to demystify tech careers,” says Katherine Webster, founder and CEO of VetsinTech, which connects returning veterans to the national technology ecosystem.

Kolam stresses that employers should use a different lens in evaluating veterans during the recruitment process, since their experience and previously held titles might not seem blatantly transferable. “Hiring managers must instead focus on veterans’ skills and make determinations based on whether those skills map to the job,” he says. “Online tools are available that convert military titles into civilian nomenclature to provide a clearer view.”

Perhaps the strongest argument for hiring military veterans is that they already have the soft skills—discipline, resiliency, loyalty, versatility—that employers frequently struggle to find in civilian hires, says Chuck Underwood, who has provided training in generational strategies to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. “The hard skills might vary from employer to employer,” he says, “but veterans are tech-savvy and accustomed to pressure.”

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