Internships and Hands-On Training Can Help Veterans Transition to Civilian Roles

Service members endure large-scale changes to leadership, mission and operational tempo at frequency beyond what happens in the civilian sector, according to Victor Johnston, owner of Johnston IT Consulting L.L.C. (JIT). Johnston, a four-year veteran of the U.S. Army, said the skills veterans bring mean flexibility and scalability for the organization that hires them.

“Veterans are extremely resilient in large-scale and overly frequent changes because of this extended exposure and requirement to adapt to said changes,” Johnston said. “They are also adept at operating under a ‘limited information’ project — when a project needs to be completed and very little information is available, veterans are still able to start working on the things they know will be unlikely to change while leadership makes a decision on the rest of the project.”

Military experience means a chaotic environment from day one, and an environment that consists of constant and far-reaching changes that impact processes, schedules, leadership, equipment, missions and area of operations. “These changes have forced a large amount of pliability from each veteran,” Johnston said. “In addition to having that coveted resilience to change, veterans have been conditioned to make those changes much easier for the others around them. The veterans will laugh, joke and continue to work hard, which will calm nervousness of their coworkers and inspire others around the veterans to work harder.”

Veterans work well in IT because they are focused, determined team players with a no-excuse-for-failure mindset, he said. They’re also used to performing evaluations of teams and actions after the completion of a task regardless of if the task was successful or not. “They attempt to identify what processes were done well, what weren’t, why it succeeded or failed, and what could be done better,” Johnston said. “This means the veteran can significantly grow the operational efficiency of an already functioning team by identifying inefficiencies and/or deficiencies in process.”

IT Industry Resources for Veterans

There are plenty of veteran-related employment resources out there, from education, internships and mentoring to job listings and resume building services. Johnston’s company runs the SOCOM Operator to Technician Training Academy (SOTTA), which provides veterans with training in IT, management and project management. After training, veterans get help with things like verifiable professional experience, resume building, salary negotiation, contract negotiation and career track coaching.

Programs like U.S. Tech Vets also help veterans connect to jobs in IT. Because of CompTIA’s support for U.S. Tech Vets, CompTIA members can post vet-related jobs for free on Monster.com and access veteran resumes in a database of more than 970,000. Creating IT Futures Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CompTIA, is another program that provides veterans with marketable skills.

Despite the resources, veterans still struggle to transition to civilian careers. Johnston believes it’s because veterans have been misled about what it’s like to exit the military.

“We are told by our leadership that employers will be kicking down doors to hire us and we will all be paid six figures, starting out, with great benefits. This leads to many veterans not knowing how to negotiate salaries and to request insanely high starting pay amounts,” Johnston said. Rather than reject the salary request flat out, Johnston recommends a conversation with the applicant to discuss pay.

“I know it seems inconvenient, but veterans can really offer a great value to the organization and you would be helping the veteran in the long run because they will struggle from unemployment in many cases by trying to prevent underemployment.”

Hands-On Training, Paid Internships

Veterans take well to training, but traditional handbook training might not be the answer. “While most can teach themselves, they best respond to hands-on training and explaining of why things work the way that they do,” Johnston said. “This means any program that offers this will have the highest impact.”

Paid internships are also critical. “Many have families so they cannot just up and quit working to entirely go to school even if they get a little money from the GI Bill to do so,” Johnston said. “Veterans also tend to be very loyal, so if you help empower a veteran to find success, there’s a high likelihood that veteran will do everything they can to help grow your business and pay you back for helping them transition.”

Veterans are extremely resourceful, he said, and find ways to market and sell ideas with a heightened level of charisma. They’re also into training and development, pushing teams to work harder and knowing how to advocate for everyone on the team. Performance appraisals are par for the course in the military.

“They know how to identify the goals of the organization, the goals of the team, what the team is doing to reach those goals and how each team member is contributing toward that effort,” Johnston said. “They also know how to correct deficiencies in these processes to ensure that there can be a better result the next time around.”

The Department of the Navy offers an apprentice program Johnston feels should be emulated. The program offers apprentices a livable wage, job training that includes college and certifications, job experience with the Department of the Navy, and pay raises that put apprentices closer and closer to what the typical salary for that job would be. “This model has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of highly trained workers and can be easily implemented outside of the Department of Defense model,” Johnston said.

Going forward, companies interested in hiring veterans should post jobs on veteran-frequented job sites like Indeed.com and Monster.com, set up at military hiring fairs, and offer paid internships.

Being in the right place is one thing, but it’s very important that companies can remove biases about veterans, specifically ones that have issues like PTSD, Johnston said. “The Golden Rule is really important here, because if your company’s supervisors, managers or executives are disrespectful to any employee, veteran or not, then they need to be retrained,” Johnston said. “Professionalism goes a long way.”

Read more on how CompTIA supports veterans, and how U.S. Tech Vets is helping veterans transition to the civilian workforce. And hear more from CompTIA members on how our industry can help returning vets find careers in IT in part one and part two of our Veterans Day series.

Michelle Peterson is a communications specialist for CompTIA.