(Re)boot camp: How IBM vets are helping other vets get good tech jobs

By | 3 minute read | November 10, 2020

It’s Veteran’s Day, when we honor and support those who have served in the armed forces. So, it feels like the right time to share an experience we had, when military veterans were able to help fellow vets, not just for one day, but year ’round.

It seems like a million years ago, but there was actually a time when people routinely worked with one another in person. That’s what a team of we IBMers did this past February, when six IBM volunteers who also happen to be military veterans — Brian FitzPatrick, Jan Van Hoomissen, Pamela Vance, Scott Berentsen and Ray Adamsall — gathered in Austin, TX. We were there to help make career readiness coursework publicly available to service members transitioning the private sector. The team was a part of IBM’s Service Corps, which deploys teams of IBM volunteers on projects to improve society. With the blessing of IBM and our families, we put our day jobs on hold for six weeks to help members of the armed forces, a community that remains near and dear to us.

We worked with Corporate America Supports You (CASY) to make a special version of IBM’s free SkillsBuild online career readiness curricula accessible to job seekers with military backgrouds. In general, CASY brings military and veteran job seekers together with employers who are looking to hire, and has provided free job placement assistance to more than 100,000 military service members and veterans. IBM has teamed up with CASY for years. For instance, IBM facilitates monthly instruction and certification on cybersecurity software. Meanwhile, CASY works with students to explore job opening possibilities and plan their career paths. And now, we were asked to make training available to even more vets as part of comprehensive career counseling.


Our IBM Service Corps team wanted to broaden the range of skills offered to vets, so that anyone, anywhere could complete self-paced, interactive coursework, assessments and certifications on both technical and professional workplace topics. We helped curate IBM online coursework and assessment tests designed to be particularly relevant to learners who didn’t have much exposure to “soft,” professional skills in a private sector workplace, and to job seekers who want to hone their technical skills for commercial purposes.

Jobs in practically all industries now have a technology aspect. As a result, subjects covered in IBM SkillsBuild coursework for vets include data management, artificial intelligence, web development, cloud administration, customer support, and cybersecurity. The self-paced courses not only focus on in-demand technology skills, but also proficiencies needed for the modern workplace like remote team collaboration, time management and presentation skills, and for job seeking skills like networking and interviewing. The unusually engaging coursework online includes assessments and certifications confirming learners’ mastery of the subject.

We tested the selection material with focus groups of former and current service members, including those at Fort Hood, Texas. It was a hit! The coursework went live in May, and by September, 1,000 learners had enrolled via Corporate America Supports You (CASY)’s VetJobs division, and the USO. The resource has been particularly popular during COVID-19, when in-person courses are rare, and when people are thinking about re-skilling or up-skilling in the wake of economic disruption.

We were honored to complete this project as an IBM Service Corps team, which has a storied history. Since its launch in 2008, more than 6,750 IBM employees like us have completed projects in 44 countries designed to improve education, health, economic development and community resiliency. The pandemic didn’t slow the program down, although most of the work this year was virtual. By the end 2020, about 2,000 IBMers will have participated in about 71 IBM Service Corps pro bono consulting projects involving government and not-for-profits in 24 countries.

Days after our pro bono work was completed, the country went into lockdown and in-person collaboration ceased taking place. But our work was done, and now, any service member seeking their next professional tour of duty, in the private sector, is ready for battle in the best possible way.