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Title:Meaningful work, mentors give vets a future

Author:P. BARRY BUTLER

Date:June 2019

Source:Stars and Stripes - Reprinted with Permission - ©2019 All rights reserved

Volume:Volume 3 Issue 155

Joseph Scanlan left for Marine boot camp the day after his 18th birthday. At 23, he was ending his service as a platoon sergeant. Unlike many veterans, he knew where he was going next: Microsoft.

Although the veteran unemployment rate hit its lowest point in more than a decade in December 2017, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics experts say the data do not reflect underemployment. Many are trapped in minimum-wage jobs that only add to the pressure of transitioning to civilian life.

Today, Scanlan is a Microsoft premier field engineer based in Boulder, Colo. He entered the skilled workforce through the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy, or MSSA, program available through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is now pursuing a degree in technical management from Embry-Riddle and hopes to work on artificial intelligence or cloud computing.

Microsoft launched the MSSA program in November 2013 at Joint Base-Lewis McChord, Wash. The reskilling program is now accessible to military personnel across the country. Enrollment is open to transitioning servicemembers within six months of separation and honorably discharged veterans who recently transitioned from the military.

The two-term, 18-week program available through Embry-Riddle prepares graduates to launch careers as server and cloud administrators, cloud applications developers and cybersecurity administrators. Graduates are guaranteed an interview for a full-time job at one of the more than 280 industry hiring companies.

They enjoy a 92 percent placement rate in the IT industry at an average starting salary of more than $70,000. For the 80 percent who enter the program without a degree, this triples their earning potential.

By 2020, Microsoft estimates they will graduate approximately 1,000 students annually from the MSSA program.

"Along the way, we've learned valuable lessons about the importance of mentorship, communication, interpersonal training, and dedicated one-on-one career support — and I believe this model is ripe for expansion," said retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs.

Scanlan is part of that one-on-one equation. After his graduation, he mentored the first MSSA cohort at Fort Carson, Colo. He had no IT background going into MSSA, so he can speak directly to the anxieties of veterans with minimal technical skills as they tackle a challenging mix of theory, practice, virtual labs and certification testing. He cites his work ethic and willingness to learn as qualities that now make him successful at Microsoft.

Corporations and universities have a strong incentive to reach out to veterans like Scanlan. Bringing them into technology fields such as IT fills a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, skills gap and promotes diversity in the workforce.

The United States invests in military personnel and entrusts them with the highest level of responsibility. We can benefit from this investment by welcoming veterans as skilled employees with demonstrated potential as leaders and mentors.

We cannot afford to squander talents just because a person's active service has ended. A job allows them to survive. A career — with the opportunity to mentor others — gives them back a future.

P. Barry Butler is president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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