Vietnam Veterans of America
BY WILLIAM C. TRIPLETT
In this digital age, the future can look extremely bright for certified Information Technology professionals, and there’s no reason veterans should miss an opportunity to join their ranks. Of course, training for just about any career can be expensive—one reason Congress in 2017 passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, commonly called the Forever GI Bill, to fund more training for veterans.
Included in the bill is a new, nontraditional training program intended to help veterans get through the IT doorway. After about two years of prep work, the VA launched the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) program in April 2019. It’s still in a pilot phase, so there may be a few bugs to work out, but Frank Barry, chair of VVA’s Economic Opportunities Committee, has already been advising interested veterans to look into it.
“It is another training option that we let our chapters and VSOs know about to pass on to younger vets,” Barry said. “As a committee, we promote jobs and training.”
It definitely sounds like an option worth exploring. According to the VET TEC website, “You will have your classes and training paid for by VA and will receive a monthly housing stipend during your training.” Also, while eligibility for VET TEC requires that a veteran have at least one day remaining of GI Bill benefits, the IT boot camp doesn’t draw from those benefits at all. As military.com said when VET TEC launched, “It is essentially free money.”
If accepted into VET TEC, you get to choose one of five available areas of concentration: information science, computer programming, data processing, media applications, or computer software. You also choose where you’ll train, selecting from the list of approved providers around the country. If you attend classes on-site, the VA will provide you with the monthly military Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents. If you take classes online, you still receive an allowance—half the BAH.
The nontraditional part: Unlike normal training from universities or institutes, VET TEC training can have you ready for certification in a matter of weeks instead of several months or even years, according to the VA.
Moreover, training providers have a strong incentive to help graduates get certified and eventually hired: They receive 25 percent of tuition and fees when a veteran signs up for class, and another 25 percent after the student completes all coursework. But the remaining 50 percent isn’t paid until the grad “secures meaningful employment in his or her field of study,” according to the VET TEC website.
The VA has capped tuition and fees at $10,000 for all providers. However, if a provider agrees to refund all received payments to the VA should the student complete the program but not find meaningful employment within 180 days, the provider will be designated as “Preferred,” which exempts it from the tuition and fee cap. It also exempts the provider from the 85/15 rule (a limit on the number of students who have any portion of their costs paid by the school or the VA).
So far, the VET TEC list of approved providers totals seventeen with facilities in thirty-six locations, many of them in California, Colorado, and Texas. Other facilities are in Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, New York, Delaware, Florida, and Georgia. Six providers are designated Preferred.
RECRUITING IT COMPANIES
The VA recruits companies through “outreach to high-tech coding boot camps and similar accelerated learning programs through targeted emails, webinars, and social media campaigns,” agency spokesman Mike Richman wrote in an email. “Also, VA spoke at length about the VET TEC program during conferences, school visits, resource fairs, and other events to broaden the program’s exposure and encourage both veterans and training providers to participate.”
According to Richman, more than 100 students have completed a VET TEC program and more than 200 are currently participating. The top draws for students have been full stack development with JAVA, Technology Professional 6 (240 total hours training over 12 weeks), and information security analyst. Twenty of the grads have found jobs, and those who have not yet done so are still within the 180-day window.
For a national program, the number of providers and students at this point seems low to Joe Wynn, president of the Veterans Enterprise Training Academy (VETS Group), which offers IT training. An approved VA training provider for three years, VETS Group applied last year specifically to be part of VET TEC but was denied, Wynn said, because of some minor data-entry errors unrelated to training. VETS Group has corrected the errors and, as the VA advised, will reapply.
Part of the reason for seemingly low numbers may be that the program is still relatively new and there hasn’t been enough promotion of it yet. But Wynn believes the process of approving providers is the main reason.
For example, he said, to become an approved VET TEC provider, companies must be structured as a school for a minimum of two years. Also, the school must have a catalog of courses and syllabi, and the certifications and resumes of course instructors must be submitted for review. “There are also required policies,” Wynn said, such as a policy regarding attendance, a policy for dealing with grievances, and ones for tardiness, unsatisfactory performance, and for getting a veteran to improve.
Normal IT training, especially the kind offered by larger companies, has none of these things, Wynn said. If they want to participate, they essentially must restructure their programs, which many are unlikely to do. Hence, he believes, the low level of current participation.
“The criteria for participating is too stringent,” Wynn said, adding that he expressed these concerns to the VA last year.
The numbers so far “align with VA’s expectations with the number of participating students and training providers steadily growing since VET TEC’s launch less than a year ago,” Richman said. “VA expects continued growth through 2020 as additional training providers join the program and VA continues to engage and perform outreach to the veteran and tech community on VET TEC.”
As for participation criteria possibly being too stringent, he said, “VA has established standards to ensure veterans attend a quality training program that adequately prepares them for a successful career in IT.”
The VET TEC pilot is funded for five years at $15 million per year. Veterans are evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis, and are therefore encouraged to apply as soon as possible.
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