Feature Story

IT Credentials Bring Top Talent to U.S. Businesses

The White House and companies are working together to connect service men and women with high-paying tech jobs.

Over 1 million armed forces personnel will transition from military to civilian life in the next few years, but matching military experience to civilian job openings is like finding two different needles in two different haystacks. Through the IT Training and Certification Program, Cisco is helping 1000 men and women with IT experience fast-track their job search with more than 1500 scholarships for free and reduced-cost access to IT training and certification exams and career matching opportunities.

"What do you do in the military?"

That's the question employers will ask as 1.2 million transitioning veterans and reservists enter the job market in the next few years. The answer is complicated and both veterans and companies lose out as a result. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 10.1 percent jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans and over 18 percent for veterans ages 18 to 24. Companies in search of the best talent have trouble comparing the work and educational experiences of veterans and reservists with civilian candidates.

As a Major in the Army National Guard, Daniel Wojciechowski, 33, planned and implemented communications technology for special operations teams to secure voice and email communications anywhere they were deployed. "I knew I was employable, based on my skills," said Dan. "But how do you convince an employer of that? Officers do project management with Army flavor…How do I put my experiences behind the credentials that back it up?"

Sara Harbaugh, 24, spent 6 years in the U.S. Air Force, first in radio maintenance and then providing basic system administration on the Air Force's high frequency global communications system. "To say what you did in the military is very challenging," she said. "Because we don't have the formal education or degree, [potential employers] see us as entry level, even though we've been doing the job for years."

"So many [veterans] sell themselves short," said Andrew Marsh, 25, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. "If they were better able to articulate their skills and what they bring to a potential employer, they would be securing higher paying jobs that are a better fit to their skill set."

Certifications translate experience into high-demand skills

Sara, Dan, and Andrew boosted their visibility in the job market by formalizing their training and skills with professional, industry-recognized certifications as part of the IT Training and Certification Program. Launched in April 2013 as part of the Obama Administration's commitment to help military personnel transition to civilian employment, the program is fast tracking 1000 military personnel with IT experience to in-demand jobs by providing free and reduced-cost access to IT training and certification exams and career matching opportunities. The initiative is a unique collaboration among Cisco, the White House, and other leading technology companies, including Futures, Inc., a specialized search-and-match technology provider that has helped over 100,000 military service members find jobs. Together, these organizations are helping transitioning military personnel refine their job search and translate hands-on experience into recognized proof of in-demand skills.

When Andrew enrolled, the system matched his military service code to 3 IT career paths.  Free access to Global Knowledge courses gave him a quick way to turn his 4 years of experience into highly sought after professional certifications. Within a few months, he completed training and passed exams for Cisco CCNA, ITIL Foundations, and NetApp Certified Storage Associate (NCSA) certifications.

A program manager with the IT Training and Certification Program helped Sara identify and enroll in courses through Global Knowledge that she needed to prepare for the Cisco CCNA exam and pursue her dream job. "They gave us guidance, a track to follow and the funding," she said. "Without it, I would not have been able to pursue my ultimate goal." With her CCNA credential, she stood out from other applicants for a civilian Air Force job and became director of training for a $235 million radio system with a Cisco networking backbone. "Having that CCNA certification got me the job. That's what they looked at."

For many veterans, the time and money to complete IT training and certification slows their transition to meaningful jobs that effectively use their skills. "I knew the value of the certifications," said Dan. "I would go to Monster.com and type in the certifications and get hits. They are expensive... I'm an officer, but a lot of soldiers are maybe 25 and may have a spouse and kids. They can't afford that."

Military personnel with eligible IT experience and skills were identified for the program when they registered through an online talent exchange platform called the US IT Pipeline, developed by Futures in partnership with Cisco. The software program powers an exchange that matches 9200 military operations service (MOS) codes to 950 career tracks and over 3500 specific skills to professional certifications. Transitioning personnel who had specific IT-related job codes and were near the end of their service became eligible for the IT Training and Certification Program.

Economic Impact

The IT Training and Certification Program helped Dan translate his decade of military experience into a high-level technology project management position at Costco Wholesale and launch a new career. The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification provided a recognized language to explain to hiring managers his extensive project management experience. He successfully transitioned from special operations to risk analysis for a billion-dollar global company.

Dan believes that veterans and reservists have a lot to offer the workplace: "Young people get thrown into pretty serious situations early on in the military. They have responsibility and accountability that they would never get in a private sector… They can handle the stress."

Elliott Goode, another participant in the program, retired after 26 years in the Army and became an IT Service Desk Analyst with Apex Systems, an IT staffing and workforce solutions firm in Fort Worth, Texas. Elliott provides remote and desktop support primarily to TSA screeners. His military experience has helped him become the go-to guy for the most challenging customers. "I try to get past the angry," he says. "You learn to assimilate in the military and be calm under pressure. You have to have an inner peace and knock off a task at a time despite the turmoil around you."

Community Impact

The CCNA certification gave Sara the leverage she needed to obtain the salary she required. Before her certification: "I did a phone interview for another job and the woman asked about my salary. When I told her what I felt my experience was worth, she said ‘there's no way I can give you that salary because you don't have a 4-year degree.'" While many of her peers (military and non-military) remain unemployed, underemployed, or in temporary contract positions, Sara is pleased to have a full-time, secure position with the Air Force. She plans to complete her bachelor's degree in electronic engineering technology and remove that roadblock to future jobs.

"It was such an awesome program and so beneficial," she said. "There were no restrictions. They were willing to give you what you wanted. They worked their hearts off to get you in those classes and help you succeed and transition more easily."

Andrew and his wife have settled in Arlington, VA where she is a nurse and he is a Storage and Virtualization Consultant with PGTEK, specializing in geospatial imagery and data center projects. "In IT they want to see a decade of experience or certificates," he said. "Certifications give your resume weight. I had 4 years experience in the Marine Corps providing leadership that is not often mirrored by my civilian peers but that doesn't always translate on its own during a job search. Certifications give the employer something tangible, something they are familiar with to evaluate my skill set."

Dan continues to serve in the National Guard and hopes that companies begin to realize the value that reservists bring to the workplace. Though they require 2 weeks off per year for annual exercises, reservists gain valuable professional and life experiences. Last year, Dan trained personnel in Bangladesh during his 2-week exercise. "I got to learn their culture and worked with people who speak a different language. You don't get that experience in many ways as a typical employee and it makes me a better leader."

The U.S. IT Pipeline supports transitioning military personnel and the employers searching for their talents. Both job seekers and employers post their information for free, and have the opportunity to participate in hiring events to streamline the interview process. For those who need additional training for certification, Cisco Networking Academy courses are available on and near many military bases and more than 41,000 military personnel have taken advantage of them.