Nonprofit Effort Provides Training Programs for Veterans

November 12, 2014
By Sandra Jontz
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Last year, Kade Wolfley held a federal job as an electrician that gave him such little satisfaction he opted to quit and test his luck on an intriguing training program that took him away from his family for 11 weeks and offered no guarantee of employment.

The 36-year-old veteran took the “blind step of faith—hold on to the horse and see where it goes” approach, he says, and the plunge took him to Potomac, Maryland, and the Bolger Center, where for nearly three months, he underwent intensive training as part of the first class of the SAP National Security Services (SAP NS2) Serves veterans employment program, an independent, nonprofit initiative to give back to the community it serves.

The program, started last year, offers rigorous training in SAP solutions geared toward military and national security applications. Graduates earn SAP certifications that give them opportunities to find work in the private sector, says Vice Adm. Joe Kernan, USN (Ret.), NS2 Serves board member and administrator.

“I wanted to be part of [a veterans program] that was really substantive, that really provided something to the veterans that contributed to their long-term health, well-being, ability to provide for their family and quality of life,” Adm. Kernan says.

The initiative attempts to provide a solution for the troubling unemployment rates for veterans. The October unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 7.2 percent, higher than the 5.8 percent rate for the U.S. work force as a whole. For female veterans, the unemployment rate was higher—11.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet, the program can only accommodate 20 students at a time, and organizers have been able to host just one class a year. “We would love to grow it, but given that we cover all of the veterans' expenses, it is costly,” Adm. Kernan says. “We’re just a subsidiary of SAP AG … but we’re committed.” Their goal is to run three courses a year at the center for as many as 200 graduates.

The initiative offers training and employment assistance to selected veterans from across the country and invests $50,000 per student to attend the live-in course focused on information technology, business and networking skills. Participants do not use their GI Bill. All 17 of the students in the first course last year not only graduated but received job offers in careers with an average starting salary of $60,000 a year. Twenty students are enrolled in the current course. Organizers target primarily prior enlisted veterans between ages 25 and 35—the age group experiencing the most difficulty finding work.

Veteran Jennifer Canaday was a Korean linguist who spent 16 years in the Army until she retired as a chief warrant officer 2 after accepting early retirement under the Army’s Temporary Early Retirement Authority. While Canaday had stockpiled a decent amount of savings before leaving military service and had her retirement pay, she says she felt trepidation as her job search stretched from weeks into months. “It was scary leaving the comfort of being in the military,” says Canaday, an NS2 Serves graduate from last year. “You always had a pay check, always had medical.”

She heard of the NS2 Serves initiative, applied and was accepted. After 11 taxing weeks, she was certified and on her way to a new career with Computer Sciences Corporation, which provides information technology services and professional services.

Though diverse overall, the program's curriculum is tailored to needs and demands expressed by industry partners, Adm. Kernan says. For example, the first program concentrated on supply chain management, while the current course focuses on business analytics. Acceptance into the training program is not limited to veterans who worked in information technology. “Just because they served as an infantryman or in another area that isn’t quite related to IT, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t make it through,” Adm. Kernan says.

The course was one of the most grueling tasks Wolfley says he has taken on. “It was mentally exhausting. Your mind was numb by the end of the day. You didn’t want to see anything but the back of your eyelids. Then you got up few hours later and did it all over again.

“It was an amazing ride,” says Wolfley, now a device management consultant with HCL Axon. “I met some of the most amazing people. … Not any one of us did it on our own. We did it as a team.”

SIGNAL Magazine compiled Working the Frontline: Job Guide for Veterans to give veterans easy access to a number of useful services—from employers who seek employees with military experience to job fairs, government programs, resource groups and helpful interviewing and resume writing tips.  

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