Veterans from the second era of the Gulf War continue to face higher levels of unemployment than their civilian counterparts, and one new program is focused on making a difference in their careers --and their lives.
NS2 Serves says its signature program is training "recent veterans of U.S. national security missions ... in world-class software solutions that support U.S. national security."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January of 2014 through January of this year, the unemployment rate stayed at 7.9 percent. However, the number of such unemployed veterans grew to 219,000, up from 189,000 in that span.The national unemployment average is at 5.7 percent -- holding below 6 percent since September.
President Obama took a portion of his State of the Union address to call on businesses to hire more returning service members. "So to every CEO in America, let me repeat," he said. "If you want somebody who's going to get the job done and done right, hire a veteran."
Multiple organizations, training centers and groups help returning veterans, with the independent nonprofit NS2 Serves focusing on helping post-9/11 veterans to get high-tech careers.
For NS2 Serves, ideal applicants are zero to three years out of military service, and they have an interest or background in information technology. It received close to 450 applications for its first two free programs, which includes 12 weeks of certification training, a monthly stipend, room and board -- and a bonus for passing certification.
NS2 Serves President Mark Testoni had a clear vision for what the program should do. "Let's really do something," said Kristen Sanchez, the nonprofit's director of marketing. "Let's train these veterans and make sure when they come out that they are trained in a skill where we can place them in a job and kick-start their careers."
NS2 Serves boasts a 100 percent hiring rate for its 37 graduates, with jobs at Walmart (WMT), Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) and other prominent companies. It is seeking more corporate donors to increase the program's offerings as its third class begins this March.
Teaching the Veterans
Jennifer Canady, a 16-year veteran of the Army, accepted early retirement from a position as a military chief foreign officer that took her around the world. With two months out of the service, Canady knew if she wanted to change careers from her specialties, NS2 Serves would be the place to start. "If I didn't cut the umbilical cord now, I never would."
NS2 Serves graduate Mark Brummitt, a retired Army Sergeant First Class, spent 13 years in various military police and intelligence positions. He was equipped to transition to the civilian workforce with relative ease, except for injuries that made continuing impossible. Nevertheless, the husband and father of two spent his first year out of the service working and saving as much of his retirement pay he could. At the same time, he served in his Missouri church and built his own veterans assistance program, Who's Saving Who.
Like many veterans returning with long-lasting wounds, Brummitt found himself feeling like "half of a man" who didn't want to appear "broke" to his young son. "As a person coming out of the military, there's a lot of depression and struggles going along with losing everything you worked for," he said. "I struggled with that for a long time."
"NS2 [Serves] didn't provide a handout. They provided me the resources and ability to do it myself," he said, sharing a similar sentiment of many program graduates.
Ready to Work
Canady believes veterans are well-equipped to work in the civilian workforce right away, with just a few tweaks. "I think it's a culture change more than anything. In the military, everything is set out for you." She notes that the work ethic and discipline is already instilled in the veterans, and they just need to adapt to the work culture and ease up on military lingo. She notes that NS2 Serves helped bridge those gaps for students and recruiters alike. "Though we still talk military talk," she joked.
She advised veterans transitioning to civilian life to start early. She emphasized the importance of attending even non-required military transitioning classes to learn more about their impending change.
"What NS2 Serves is providing is unlike anything I've seen," Brummitt said of the proverbial IT boot camp. "They gave me an opportunity. I couldn't thank them enough."