How to leverage your expertise to help veterans, build industry Featured

9:53am EDT July 16, 2012

Viddam is founder and president of Halcyon Solutions Inc., an information technology consulting company in Dublin, Ohio.

Since January, my company Halcyon Solutions Inc. has been offering training to veterans to get them the skills for positions in the information technology field. The endeavor is both philanthropic and a way to fill what we view is a widening gap in our Central Ohio region of qualified IT workers.

By providing them with skills that are relevant to the business of commercial software development and helping them find job opportunities, we hope to make a positive impact in a veteran’s life while helping companies fill vacant positions.

The issue of unemployed veterans should be a top concern for the country and businesses as well. The freedoms we enjoy are due to the sacrifices these men and women have made. Yet they run into the most obstacles when transitioning from the armed forces into the civilian work force.

Why is that and what are some considerations an employer must consider before launching into a program with the same goals as Halcyon’s Veterans Workforce Development Program?

• Recognize the veterans’ dilemma: Two pieces of information stood out for us when we began talking two years ago about starting our program. The first was the unemployment rate for veterans. It is higher overall than the national average, and among veterans between the ages of 25 and 34, it is the highest.

Those numbers will only rise as operations overseas wind down. The second piece of information was the difficulty veterans have expressing to potential employers how their military skills are relevant in the civilian workplace. It is equally as vexing on the side of employers who fail to ask the correct type of probing questions to learn the same.

It is important to focus your efforts in what you do best. We provide vets with five weeks of free IT training with the core centered on learning the processes and tools associated with software development. When they graduate, they are ready for jobs in areas like software testing, of which there are plentiful openings.

• Determine if it fits with your mission: Does your business have a commitment to philanthropy? This is important because incorporating any type of training program into a business’ daily routine takes buy-in from the entire staff and a dedication of time and money.

This has probably been the easiest part for us because of my personal belief in social philanthropy that is reflected in our long history of working with and supporting nonprofit ventures through hands-on and monetary support. We constantly work on the balance between growing the for-profit side of our business and social responsibility. As the proverbial flight attendant instruction goes, our first priority is to “put the oxygen mask on first before helping others.” Whether it is delivering meals for LifeCare Alliance through its Meals-on-Wheels program or cooking and feeding homeless people, social outreach has always been part of our composition. I am a grass-roots person and a believer in “what we can do for our country” and not the other way around.

To complement our philosophy, we dedicated an employee to organize and administer the training. Additionally, I hired a CEO to assume daily operations allowing me to pound the pavement, so to speak, and reach out to potential stakeholders who should take interest in what we are doing.

• What’s the value to others: How will your training program add to your ROI or other outlined objective?

From our perspective, this type of training makes sense for a business, the vets and indirectly to us in the larger context.

Because of their military training, veterans tend to be focused, disciplined, task oriented and loyal. There is less turnover and absenteeism, and veterans are good problem solvers. These are traits that employers want in a 21st century work force.

Specific to the IT industry, training U.S. citizens to work IT jobs will reduce the reliance on sending positions overseas, namely software quality assurance, business analysis and project management – skills that are in demand domestically. By strengthening the Central Ohio and U.S. IT industry through job creation means a stronger economy and more opportunities for consulting firms such as ours.

• Evaluate and re-evaluate: Programs must be evaluated constantly and it is no different with a philanthropic endeavor. Some things always work while some need tweaked, which is OK as long as it does not detract from the goal. It has been no different with our efforts.

In the nearly 2 ½ years Halcyon has been developing and running the training program, the biggest lessons we’ve learned include the realization that getting the word out to veterans is more difficult than we originally thought. As a company that for nearly 20 years in operation has relied on word-of-mouth advertising, marketing and public relations efforts have been minimal at best. We have taken steps to change that by implementing a public relations plan and looking for partners for our program.

The second lesson is more of a planning issue. If this grows as we expect, will the existing infrastructure be adequate? Right now, we recruit the veterans, train them, try to set them up with interviews at Central Ohio companies, help them obtain certifications, and will provide them mentoring type of services once they find work. But already we are discussing the option of sourcing turnkey Software Testing projects from local businesses first, and then recruit and train veterans to implement the projects.

The third lesson is a lack of success in obtaining grants to fund our Veterans program.

When we got started on this idea of helping vets, funding was not a priority, although we passively looked for it. Even since the initial class graduated, we continue to pay the expenses. However, as we plan to continue our efforts to train and help veterans, our hope is to get a grant from government or private sources, as it would be difficult to fund it ourselves in the long run.

Assisting others is often the noble and moral route to take. It can also mean good business but requires the support of a company and its staff to make it work.

For more information, contact Mohan Viddam at (614) 552-9090 or via email at mohan@halcyonit.com