IT Certifications Help Veterans Advance Civilian Careers

by Janet Pinkerton | Jul 05, 2012
Air Force veteran Shawn Cooper and Navy veteran Jeremiah Mane followed different paths to the same point: After serving as IT network administrators while in the military, they turned to New Horizons Computer Learning Centers of Orlando, FL, for IT certification training and job search assistance to launch their civilian IT careers. On the same day in early April, they both began work as technical engineers for Convergys' Orlando, FL, contact center.

"It was a lot harder to look for a job, to find a job than I expected it to be," says Cooper. "Thank goodness New Horizons helped me out."

New Horizons and vet-friendly employers like Convergys are working with CompTIA's Troops to Tech Careers campaign to help qualified vets use their military benefits to build careers in a growing IT industry that desperately needs skilled workers.

Convergys is partnering with New Horizons Orlando to aggressively recruit for a Fortune 100 technical client in Orlando. In addition, Convergys sends its managers to speak to New Horizons students about IT job opportunities and skills that are in demand. In turn, New Horizons' career services department refers qualified students, many of them veterans like Cooper and Mane, to Convergys for job interviews.

"Both (Shawn and Jeremiah) came to us with previous experience serving in the military in positions such as network administrators, which were great lead-ins for this particular role," says Convergys Recruiting Manager Heather Burks.

In the Air Force, Cooper fielded trouble calls, cable installs, maintenance and upgrade on the Lajes Field base in the Azores. Mane, in the Navy, worked trouble-shooting, maintaining communication lines and radio frequencies on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf.

Veterans such as Cooper and Mane contribute important qualities, learned in the military, to Convergys' workforce, says Burks. "Working as part of a team, collaborating and looking out for one another relates directly to the soft skills required for our positions."

Making Their Own Way

Cooper and Mane both found establishing a civilian career to be very different from following pre-configured military career tracks. "Once you get out, you (have to) figure out how to make your own path," Mane says.

Leaving the Navy in 2007, Mane believed employers preferred candidates with both experience and degrees, so he launched himself into earning an associate's degree in computer science at Hillsborough Community College, Brandon, FL, and a bachelor's degree in information systems from Strayer University in Tampa.

By the time Mane finished his degrees, however, his Navy IT experience was growing outdated, and he believed IT employers had shifted their requirements. "Now everyone wanted certifications and the experience," Mane says. So he opted to earn IT certifications, selecting New Horizons of Orlando based on the reviews he read online and the variety of certification paths offered by the center.

For his part, Cooper began training with New Horizons almost immediately after leaving the Air Force in late 2011. He needed job security — fast — to support his four-year-old son.

Before discharge, Cooper began job-hunting online, but although he had network admin experience and a CompTIA Security+ credential (earned in the Air Force), his resume didn't get any bites.

However, New Horizons of Orlando contacted Cooper and invited him to tour its training center, where he was impressed by the quality of its instructors. "At first, I was a little hesitant," recalls Cooper, "but after talking with them one on one, I realized this was actually a very comfortable learning environment."

Building IT and Career Skills

New Horizons not only trained Mane and Cooper for IT certifications, the Orlando center also provided both veterans with career guidance and job placement assistance. Admissions counselors introduced both to the value of earning the CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+. These certifications are options for the Department of Defense's technical and management tracks under Directive 8570, which requires anyone working with DoD computers to hold IT certifications.

At New Horizons Orlando, Mane attained the CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+ and CEH certifications, and is currently pursuing the CompTIA A+, in addition to MCTS, MCITP and CISSP credentials. Cooper, in the center's MCSE program, earned CompTIA A+ and is currently pursuing the CompTIA Network+, CCNA, and MCSE certifications.

Once each student earned a total of two certifications, New Horizons Orlando referred him or her to job coach Lisa Manzi, career advisor of Career Visions. Manzi worked with both Cooper and Mane to fine-tune their interview skills and resumes, and helped them connect to area employers for job interviews. "Shawn and Jeremiah both had the hard work, dedication and drive to go through this program quickly and ultimately found jobs right away," Manzi said.

Once in a verbal skills test in his Convergys job interview, Mane was glad to have all the New Horizons training under his belt. "Everything I was learning at New Horizons just seemed to keep popping, popping and popping up on that skills test interview," he recalls. "I did pretty well on that."

Cooper noted it only took him a matter of weeks between achieving his CompTIA A+ and receiving his job offer from Convergys. "I believe they (his CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Security+ credentials) helped immensely."

Only the Beginning

In early May, Cooper and Mane were settling into their new roles trouble shooting IT problems for Convergys clients. Both were continuing to train for IT certifications at New Horizons while planning for the future.

Cooper aims to become a network administrator and was happy with his current job and how it gave him the time and money he wanted to spend on his son. "I'm able to do things with him and for him," Cooper says. "In other jobs, I may not have been able to."

Mane is relieved to be taking the next steps in his career. He's looking to earn his master's degree and set down roots, for himself, his wife and their daughter, who is nearly a year old. "When I got out of the military, it felt like I was walking along and I had stepped in some gum or something. My shoe was kind of stuck," he says. "(Now) It's like the frustration is behind me. Now I can move forward."

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