Enabling veterans: Rush University Medical Center, IT vendors provide job training for returning vets

Jaime Parent, vice president of IT operations and associate CIO at Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center, knows what it's like to be a military veteran returning to the United States. He knows firsthand the transitional changes veterans go through following overseas deployment, and he wanted to do something to help veterans better market themselves to secure a job when they returned.

"I made a successful transition, and I want to help others do the same," says Mr. Parent, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. "Some of the unemployment statistics out there are pretty daunting."

While unemployment rates for veterans have decreased, there are still hundreds of thousands of veterans without jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for all veterans in 2014 was 5.3 percent. However, the jobless rate for veterans who served active duty any time following September 2011 (called Gulf War-era II veterans) is 7.2 percent.

Mr. Parent decided to begin a program that helps veterans gain necessary skills to be competitive candidates for health IT jobs. The program, called Enabled Veterans, is a 13-week paid program that gives veterans the exposure and experience employers often seek when filling health IT positions. Program participants are paid $12.50 an hour and they work on information systems and technology issues throughout the hospital.

IT vendors have donated software or offer free online training programs to the Enabled Veteran program to give the veterans real-life experience using these systems. Such vendors include, but aren't limited to, Epic, IBM, Cisco, NetApp, Hitachi, Microsoft, Trend Micro and Hewlett-Packard.

While hands-on training and experience with these IT vendors is certainly valuable, Mr. Parent says some of the key issues and obstacles for veterans aren't the technical skills; rather it often comes down to interpersonal skills.

"Some of the military resumes and their job interviewing skills have some gaps, and they were not the best they could be for the competitive civilian workforce," Mr. Parent says. "These men and women are highly skilled — but that's not always well communicated in their resumes."

Enabled Veterans offers participants guidance in three main areas, some of which address this communication gap. First is the experience working at a large academic medical center. Second, participants receive a pro bono resume refresh and mock interviews conducted by consulting firms. Third, the program offers on-the-job training using these systems.

What's more, Rush University Medical Center's program is also open to family members of returning veterans. Mr. Parent says some veterans may have significant issues upon returning to the U.S., whether medical, physical or emotional, and simply aren't ready to enter the civilian workforce again. So, the veterans' spouse or child can go through the Enabled Veterans program to learn the necessary skills to get a job in health IT.

"That's a concept that I don't think anybody is really focused on," Mr. Parent says. "If a military member comes back different from Iraq or Afghanistan, it affects the whole family. Sometimes that military veteran may need prolonged services. In the meantime, if we can train the spouse or adult child with things like mobile apps, that is a career path that they can take and they can be the breadwinner for however long it takes the military veteran to recover."

Mr. Parent says Enabled Veterans has had considerable success since it launched in October 2013. In fact, veterans are leaving the program early because they are being offered jobs before the 13-week program time frame is over, which Mr. Parent says falls directly in line with what the program is trying to do.

"The goal is not to necessarily just finish the program. The goal is to get a job and hopefully begin their career in IT," Mr. Parent says. "If we have veterans that are getting those job offers early, so much the better." To date, all veterans who have successfully completed the program, have found employment in information technology positions in the Chicago area.

Currently, Enabled Veterans is only at Rush University Medical Center, but Mr. Parent hopes the program, or versions of it, will spread across the country. Initial ideas for a more widespread program include building a technology training cloud just for veterans where IT systems and vendors offer online training courses for free, which veterans could access through a veterans' portal.

"Our vendor partners recognize the momentum we have going, and together we are taking this program nationwide," Mr. Parent says. "Together, we are making a difference."

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