Recent news headlines have been focused on layoffs in the tech industry, however, landing talent is a big challenge for many channel professionals.
Roughly 664,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs exist in the U.S., and IT talent shortages represent the biggest obstacle to organizations looking to harness emerging technologies, Gartner reported.
One solution that flies under the radar: hiring military veterans.
“Veterans have a set of characteristics that are highly relevant and transferable to cybersecurity and IT. They’re adept at problem-solving, they have great situational awareness, and they are accustomed to working under pressure,” said Rob Rashotte, vice president of global training and technical field enablement at cybersecurity firm Fortinet.
The company recently announced it formed the Veterans Program Advisory Council to help close the cybersecurity skills gap by leveraging military veteran talent. The announcement came on the heels of Fortinet releasing its 2023 Cybersecurity Skills Gap Global Research Report, which revealed that 43% of organizations had difficulty recruiting qualified veterans for cybersecurity roles.
Hiring a military veteran is often a winning proposition for both an employer and a veteran. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that beyond the goodwill factor, veterans display higher rates of productivity and a lower turnover.
Nevertheless, finding, hiring, and training veterans can prove challenging— and there are often concerns about how a veteran will adjust and adapt to civilian work and life.
“Hiring veterans requires a slightly different approach but the payoff is substantial,” said Sean Lardo, a U.S. Army veteran and evangelist for ConnectWise, who also serves as an advisory board member of the nonprofit Train Our Troops.
It’s easy to overlook veterans as a talent pool because many aren’t dialed into job boards and conventional employment channels, noted Tom Marsland, a Navy veteran who is now chairman of the nonprofit organization VetSec Inc., which helps veterans find work in the cybersecurity field.
Consequently, employers must approach veteran hiring a bit differently— and work to understand what is required to tap talent coming from the military. High quality candidates are more important than specific knowledge and skill matches, Marsland said.
“You can teach people with the right attitude and mental framework the skills, but you can’t teach someone with the wrong personality or a lackadaisical attitude to fit in and do a great job, even if they have the skills.”
Yet, many employers overlook the fact that military veterans usually have had at least some exposure to digital technology, Lardo points out. This can range from casual interactions with computers and communications systems to hands-on IT expertise in areas like network administration, cloud computing, IoT, and cybersecurity.
As a result, “Many employers sell themselves short,” Rashotte said. “They limit their access to a valuable talent pool because they’re focused on finding candidates with engineering and computer sciences degrees — yet even college graduates usually require some training or upskilling to work in a specific capacity.”
Concerns about physical disabilities, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other conditions tend to be distorted, said Jayson Ferron, principal and chief technologist at Interactive Security Training. That said, when they do exist, they typically aren’t barriers to employment and most issues can be resolved.
“It’s usually possible to make relatively minor accommodations to a workspace or guide the person to the assistance they need. In some cases, veterans may face challenges leaving the military and working in the private sector, but with mentoring and support they can thrive.”
Winning the Talent Wars
A starting point for any business looking to hire military veterans is to establish a formal hiring strategy. While an occasional resume from a stellar job applicant may float into the HR department, it is essential to be more proactive by identifying resources, building relationships, and develop a network that draws in qualified veterans as they become available for employment.
According to Rashotte, it’s critical to have a person or team in place that takes ownership of the task. This includes interacting with schools, job fairs, conferences, veteran’s groups, and other organizations, such as Women in Cybersecurity, which do not focus exclusively on veterans, but have chapters or subgroups that connect applicants and employers. “This produces a stream of talent that a company wouldn’t otherwise have available,” he said.
At VetSec, for instance, the focus is on providing mentoring, training, and other assistance to veterans pursuing a career in cybersecurity. It offers conferences, workshops, job boards, and an array of other resources. The organization has worked with more than 5,700 military veterans since its inception in 2019 — and is particularly focused on soft skills, since, for example, an inability to communicate well can make it difficult for veterans to land jobs in the private sector.
“Veterans are often a great fit for companies. The problem is that many of them don’t know how to write a resume that gets noticed, interview effectively, or use online job boards and resources such as LinkedIn to their advantage,” Marsland pointed out. He also works with businesses to connect them with qualified job seekers. Businesses “recognize that there’s a lot of talent at conferences and job fairs. They work with veterans’ groups and other nonprofits to tap the labor pool.”
The federal government is also a valuable resource. For instance, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) framework matches military veterans with leading training providers in areas such as computer programming, data processing, and information science. The VA also allows companies to place ads and job postings directly with the agency.
In addition, the Department of Defense offers the DOD SkillBridge program. Participants work in the private sector during the last 180 days of active commitment — through specific industry training, apprenticeships, or internships. Employers provide work experience without having to make a firm commitment to hire the veteran, though the goal is to provide a pathway to employment.
Technical institutes and other specialized schools represent still another resource for tech talent, said Pete Busam, a veteran and CEO of Equilibrium Consulting. If a channel pro or other business takes the time to connect with faculty and establish an ongoing relationship with the school, it’s possible to identify promising graduates, Busam explained. “As an employer, you can have a high level of confidence that you have found a candidate with the knowledge and skills to do the job.”
Hiring Marches Forward
Another option is hiring a veteran, and then enrolling the person in a learning or skills development program. Of course, many veterans have benefits deriving from the GI Bill — which can be used to earn a degree — and an organization can also use an employee assistance program to further fund their education. Organizations can also turn to certification programs from organizations like Microsoft, Cisco and others, to take advantage of training courses, sometimes at no charge.
This includes SANS Institute, which offers the SANS Cyber Academy, CompTIA, and Fortinet, which, among other things, offers a Network Security Expert certification.
In addition, Fortinet’s Veterans Program includes an education outreach component that addresses cybersecurity skills gaps through online training, hands-on learning, career development services, and other resources. It has aided more than 3,000 veterans and their families, and led to the company hiring numerous military veterans.
“It’s a myth that veterans who don’t have a degree can’t compete in IT and cybersecurity,” Rashotte stressed. “The reality is that many of these veterans are equipped for work in the tech industry. They possess skills and characteristics that are a perfect fit for many companies.”
One reason Fortinet established a formal program is that it had numerous prior success stories and company officials saw the value that veterans can deliver, Rashotte added.
Busam concluded: “Veterans are an often-overlooked labor resource. They typically display a strong work ethic and a commitment to doing a job well. Companies that hire veterans discover that it’s great for the business and great for the veteran.”