This is the first part of interview with Joe Kernan, vice president of business development at SAP National Security Services (SAP NS2), on his company’s non-profit organization NS2 Serves, and its mission to train veterans in information technology and help them gain employment after service.
The second part of Kernan’s interview, where he discusses the structure of the program, how the veterans work together to pass their certifications, and the drivers of its future growth, can be read by clicking here.
What is the mission of NS2 Serves?
If you look at the projections, around 200,000 veterans are going to be released from active duty every year for the next five years. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for veterans, and particularly for post-9/11 veterans between 24 and 35 years old, has ranged between 4.5 to 9 percent higher than the national average over the past five or six years.
The hurdle for veterans is that the skills they bring from their service don’t necessarily transfer directly into their new careers. The idea behind the 3-month training program is to help fill that gap by providing veterans with a valuable information technology skill set and certification as an SAP associate.
One difficulty for employers is to ensure that they hire individuals with the necessary skill sets and qualifications. Veterans bring a considerable amount of skills to the table not obvious in a resume. They are mature and reliable, and they understand that individual success in an organization is often directly related to the success of those around them, so they understand the value of teamwork.
These personal traits are invaluable to an employer. They are leaders, they’re committed to a mission, and they’re team players. These traits are typically inherent in veterans who have served in the military for five years or more. They already have a lot of important workforce skills, and we add to those by providing marketable training and expertise.
So, we’re trying to fill a gap for an employer who looks at a veteran and says, ‘Ok, I see the great value in their experiences and background, now give them some skills that allow them to assimilate more easily into our workforce and address our needs.’
So making these vets more marketable is important. Every organization has some level of I.T. in place to run their business or organization. This includes opportunities in the private sector and organizations that serve national security needs, particularly in the Defense Department and other government agencies.
Having that SAP certification opens many doors since SAP products are used by over 70 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and in DOD and other federal agencies.
This I.T. skill set is the unique part of the program. We are training veterans in something relevant and that meets the needs of many organizations. Our hope is that this translates to many job opportunities. Veterans leaving the Service want to provide for themselves and their families. This program gives them that opportunity.
The best way to describe the individuals in our program is that they are diverse in terms of gender, background, hometown, ethnicity, military experience, and specialty. They really are a reflection of the military and the country. Stepping into the classroom with them is really inspiring. You notice immediately that the group has bonded as a team and are clearly committed to each other’s success.
Some students have work in I.T.-centric areas, but others were infantry, aviation, and intelligence. Our goal was to bring in individuals from all the services with different backgrounds. What’s important to remember about veterans is that they are accustomed to learning new skills constantly. They can be trained and learn a different set of skills unrelated to their previous work. They are completely committed to the program and know how to focus and succeed.
We interviewed 60 veterans for the program, and there now are 17 participating in this inaugural class. It’s a very difficult and demanding course that requires 10 hours a day of work. They organized – on their own volition – study groups that sometimes spends an additional 12 hours working on the weekend. That’s a reflection of the commitment that veterans generally bring to whatever they do. Failure at any task is typically not an option, so these vets are focused on succeeding in the course.
The program was actually developed by NS2’s parent, SAP, for implementation in the Middle East and North Africa. The concept of the program was to train college graduates with new skill sets so that they could have a substantive career, provide for their families, and keep them away from other less desirable paths.
That was the prototype for the program here. In business terms, the skills are focused primarily on enterprise resource management areas. The trainees learn about SAP products that are useful in HR management, financial management, supply chain management, procurement – those areas where SAP products can help a company operate in a very efficient and effective way.
The students also learn briefing and communication skills, and then we try to help assimilate them into the social and business environment. They will graduate with a basic understanding of I.T. and how it facilitates a business. They could very well succeed in I.T. environments where technology is important to a business’s success, even where SAP products aren’t necessarily used.