Tech vendors tout veteran hiring programs for House committee

A panel of technology industry leaders and veterans shared ideas with legislators on how to connect veterans with jobs in the private sector.

Shutterstock image. Military-civilian transition.

As veterans navigate the often rocky transition from military service to the workforce, legislators are looking for ways to connect veterans with technology companies that want to hire vets and their spouses.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee hosted a panel discussion on May 17 with industry leaders and veterans to discuss ways to help veterans get jobs and explore the efforts companies are making to hire them.

"The feedback from employers is extraordinary," said Joseph Kernan, a retired Navy vice admiral and chairman of NS2 Serves, a nonprofit organization established by SAP National Security Services that helps veterans find jobs in IT fields. "Every single one of them has been very positive."

Still, the transition to the civilian workforce is often daunting. "Companies have to partner with [veterans] so they can have an easy time of going into it," he added.

Bernard Bergan, a technical account manager at Microsoft, was a sergeant in the Army's Special Forces and served an 11-month deployment in Afghanistan's Helmand Province while on active duty from 2008 to 2014. He said when he came home, "it was tough because I didn't know where my next job would be."

His commanding officer referred him to the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, which offers intensive IT skills training and a guaranteed interview with Microsoft.

Bergan said the academy's ongoing mentorship for veterans helped ease the transition to civilian life. He added that the academy plans to offer evening courses for military spouses who want to make a career change into the technology industry.

Todd Bowers, a former Marine who is now director of UberMILITARY, said veterans can burn through their savings fast while training for new careers.

"I really needed something to fill that gap," he said. The transportation company offers a flexible work schedule to help veterans make the transition, and Bowers said more than 56,000 veterans have signed up to drive for Uber so far.

"We get very caught up in being the digital tool," he said. "But it's when you get in that car that you end up asking the individual who’s driving you, 'Hey, how come you drive with Uber?' and a tremendous amount of veterans who drive on the platform love that acclimatize back into civilian life just by having candid conversations with civilians behind the wheel."

He added that Uber plans to test a program that would help veterans get to their Department of Veterans Affairs appointments more easily.

Amazon's vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, told lawmakers Amazon has hired more than 10,000 veterans since 2011. The company plans to hire 25,000 additional veterans and their spouses over the next five years and train them in fields such as cloud computing.

Huseman said the company also has a program that connects veterans with one another and provides mentorships and career coaching.

He told the committee he believes service members should receive technical training before leaving the military and that the government should encourage stronger partnerships between the private sector and the military.

"It's programs such as these that are critical in making sure veterans can get into these jobs where they can leverage their skillsets," Huseman said.