This is the second 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 IT and help them gain employment after service.
Kernan previously caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss the structural and personal challenges veterans face when entering the workforce and how to bridge the gap between employer and veteran. Click here to read that conversation.
What is the structure of NS2 Serves?
We’re funding the program in its entirety, and it costs around $50,000 to put each student through the program. That’s a significant investment, but Mark Testoni was committed to providing this opportunity to deserving veterans.
Training takes place at the Bolger Conference Center, an open 20-acre facility with college-like dorm rooms, classrooms, fitness, and dining facilities. The students are required to live at Bolger during the work week. The goal is to keep them focused on the program with few distractions.
Most of the trainees remain at the center on the weekends. They left families and lives in their hometowns. Some of these vets have been jobless for many months. We give them a stipend that is enough for them to live on while attending the course and is in addition to their room and board.
As their learning proceeds, they attain interim certifications. For instance, many just completed a certification for the supply chain management and were provided a monetary incentive for doing so. I surmise that much of what they earn goes back to their families.
It is a very structured, difficult course and a few people didn’t pass the first certification test. For those who did not, the rest of the class committed to helping them pass. The hope is to get everybody through the course. Despite the fact that they’ve never met each other before, they immediately started working together very closely to ensure class success.
The instructor is also a veteran. He’s a terrific teacher with more than 20 years’ experience and serves as a mentor to the trainees. Every time I am out at Bolger, even in the evening, he’s often engaging and encouraging them. It’s really an environment that’s conducive to success.
From a personal perspective, after being around them, I’m reminded why I spent 35 years in the military. It’s because of those young men and women who decided to be public servants to their country in a time of conflict. I’m motivated every day by their commitment and dedication to succeeding in another phase of their lives.
Now we’re trying to give something back to them. Their stories are compelling and each has a different reason why they are participating and why it’s so important to be successful in this course. It is inspiring and each has assumed an important role within the classroom that contributes to the group success.
What are your plans for the future?
Everybody in the NS2 organization is committed to the program. I was expecting it, but it certainly confirmed how important and valuable this program is and how meaningful work is to veterans who just want to be successful and have an opportunity to lead a normal life and provide for their families.
We’re positioned to expand the program to other federal employees from different organizations that have served in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. We also intend to expand it to include spouses of those who have served. We’d like to conduct three courses a year and see graduates in the triple digits. Ideally, we’d like to grow the program as much as possible.
The ultimate key to the success of the program is the employment of the graduates. In all of our minds, if we don’t find these young men and women employment, we have failed them.
We’re going to hire a number of them at NS2, and we’re looking for partners to hire the graduates. We’re hosting an open house on the 23rd of April so potential employers can meet these bright, success-oriented veterans.
It’s expensive to run the course, so we’ll also look for partners to provide the financial resources that can help us continue to conduct this important training.
NS2 Serves is a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of the District of Columbia. I’m confident we’re going to be on the five-star list for those organizations that are the best non-profits around the country.
Again, the key to success is to find them jobs, and hopefully companies will recognize the value of veterans as employees and how we’ve tried to prepare them for success. NS2 will continue to invest and sponsor the course, but additional resources will be needed.
As far as course maturation, we’ll adapt as necessary to meet the demands and needs of the employment marketplace—we are happy to adjust if it supports our employment objectives.
We’ll plan to solicit feedback on the success of the course. We’re going to stay in touch with all the graduates, and we’re going to ask the alumni to come back and talk to future classes. We’ll track the experiences and successes of each.
And, we have a stellar list of honorary co-chairs — Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina and Representatives Mike Rogers from Michigan and Dutch Ruppersberger from Maryland. They are all strong advocates for our program, despite their very busy schedules and the importance of their selectivity in supporting programs of this nature.
Their association is hopefully a reflection of the value and the potential of the program, and it’s quite gratifying to have these congressional members involved in the program. We hope they can visit the class at some point.
Fran Townsend, CNN Online Contributor and former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Bush, addressed the class a few weeks ago. Fran serves as chairwoman of SAP NS2. As she commented, and as is the case for most of us, she gained more personally from her time with the veterans than they likely gained from her.