Military Veterans an Untapped Talent Pool for Tech Industry

Military Veterans an Untapped Talent Pool for Tech Industry
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Military Veterans an Untapped Talent Pool for Tech Industry
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
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Microsoft plans to  double its recruiting efforts at military bases in hopes of attracting outgoing service members to fill jobs in its fast growing cloud-computing business.

Like other tech companies, Microsoft views military veterans as an untapped talent pool. About 200,000 service members leave the military each year. Meanwhile, technology firms are creating more jobs than can be filled by college and university graduates.

This confluence of factors has prodded the industry into action, said Chris Cortez, Microsoft’s vice president of military affairs and a retired Marine Corps major general.

Cortez runs the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy, a training program for U.S. military service members who want to transition to IT jobs.

“We looked at the fact that nearly a million people leave military service over a five-year period, and they’re all going to be looking at what they’re going to do next,” Cortez told RealClearDefense. “You couple that with the fact that, at Microsoft, we have thousands of unfilled jobs, and there’s not enough people with a technology background out there.  So why not match those two?”

Most veterans are not technologists. But they do not need to be in order to make the cut for the Microsoft training program, said Cortez. Candidates with the right aptitude find that the academy’s 18-week program equips them to fill tech roles immediately after graduating, said Cortez.

Most of the job demand is fueled by Microsoft's booming cloud business. Sales of the company’s Azure cloud computing platform nearly doubled over the past year.

“We have an abundance of entry level positions for cloud administrators, business intelligence administrators, and we recently created a new course for cybersecurity,” said Cortez. “The technology industry continues to change.”

The company tested the idea of opening up training sites at military bases four years ago. Executives chose Joint Base Lewis-McChord for its proximity to Seattle, and were impressed by the quality of the talent. That was the beginning of the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy.

“It works,” said Cortez. “These people come with skills, discipline, they know how to think on their feet, they’re passionate. That’s a very unique skill set,” he added. “If you can take these skills and round them out with a technology background, you’re going to have a gold mine of people.” No previous IT experience is required to qualify for the program, he continued. “We have truck drivers, cooks, medics. After 18 weeks they have the foundation to work for a tech company.”

Outreach efforts since 2013 have sprouted from one to nine military bases, and the company plans to expand its presence further starting next year. “We want to get on as many bases as we can,” said Cortez.

The instructors are provided by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Saint Martin’s University. There are two Microsoft Academy locations at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., and two at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Others include Naval Station San Diego, Naval Air Station North Island and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; Fort Carson, Colo; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Fort Bragg, N.C.

Microsoft expects to open new campuses near Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport, Fla.; Naval Station Norfolk, Va.; Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The program in four years has graduated 600 military veterans, said Cortez. “In the 12 months after 14 bases are up and running, we’re talking over 1,000 graduates a year,” he added. “That’s significant.” Graduates’ average starting salary is about $70,000. Over 90 percent of graduates are employed, he noted, “in an industry that is growing.”

Cortez predicts more veterans will seek programs like Microsoft’s as the job market for cybersecurity experts skyrockets across the industry.

He cautioned that he is not trying to poach talent away from the government. The Defense Department has made cybersecurity a top priority and is moving to shore up its IT workforce. Cortez said military leaders do not view programs like the Microsoft Academy as competition. The idea is to provide opportunities for those who already opted to leave military service. “If a Marine decides to leave active duty, leaders are thrilled there are programs like this,” he said.

Microsoft is just one of many technology firms that are recruiting talent from the veterans population. In January, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new agreement with Amazon to set up an apprenticeship program to train veterans for technical careers at the online technology giant.

In May 2016, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company’s goals of hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years and training 10,000 more in cloud computing skills as part of former first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s Joining Forces Initiative. The first group of apprentices is training for jobs in Amazon Web Services’ cloud business.

Learn more at Microsoft Software & Systems Academy

Sandra Erwin is a national security and defense reporter for RealClearDefense. She can be reached at Follow Sandra on Twitter @Sandra_I_Erwin.

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