Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Military veteran unemployment is declining nationwide, but Rep. Will Hurd believes they need more pathways toward the information technology sector after their service.
Hurd (R-Helotes) met with officials from the nonprofit Project QUEST and Rackspace's Open Cloud Academy on Thursday as those entities aim to increase access and awareness about their programs to military veterans.
Although the unemployment rate for veterans dropped from 4.3 percent in 2016 to 3.7 percent in 2017, the high-demand IT industry appears to be an area where barriers remain, especially for soldiers exiting active duty.
Job search engine Indeed said the most commonly sought positions by veterans in 2016 were in the trades, such as field technicians and maintenance professionals, and law enforcement.
"The first step is how do we make sure ... we get more men and women in the military to become aware that this out there," Hurd said of the Open Cloud Academy and other workforce development programs, such as so-called coding boot camps that train people – most often without computer science degrees – for computing careers.
The Indeed study also found that Gulf War and Vietnam-era veterans are more likely to be employed than civilians in computer and mathematical occupations, likely because the military was then the nexus for attaining such skills. Since the Iraq War and beyond, the private sector has been the source of most of the innovation in the technology industries.
Founded in the 1990s, Project QUEST has pivoted in recent years from focusing primarily on equipping under- and unemployed people for jobs in the health care industry to helping people enter IT and cybersecurity roles thanks, in part, to a U.S. Department of Labor grant.
That grant, however, will expire early next year. The organization's visit with Hurd on Thursday was a followup to a trip officials took in January to Washington, D.C. President and CEO David Zammiello and others from Project QUEST met with Texas delegation lawmakers to create more awareness about the programs the nonprofit offers as well as to seek federal funding opportunities to continue its work in the tech space, Zammiello said.
"For programs like this federal funding is really critical, and you need legislators to help champion some of that," he said.
That visit got the attention of Hurd, who said he is looking at additional federal-level funding opportunities for Project QUEST. The organization's fiscal year 2018 budget was about $6.1 million.
The small nonprofit is on the brink of its capacity, Zammiello said, so more and new sources of funding is critical for it to scale up and extend opportunities to more people. The City of San Antonio provides about 40 percent of the organization's funding and the rest comes from federal and county sources, he said.
In addition to Rackspace's Open Cloud Academy, the organization also places people in IT workforce programs at Alamo Colleges and the downtown private coding academy CodeUp.
Of the 153 men and women, who have received support through Project QUEST, about 12 percent are military veterans, according to the organization.
Hurd said military service members need to be made aware of the available programs earlier on in their transition into civilian life.
"Transitioning out of the military is not uniform across all of [Department of Defense]," he said. "If you're leaving Joint Base San Antonio, you have a different experience than if you're leaving Fort Hood. [We need to make] sure that some of these entities that are providing potential transitioning services get access to the men and women in our military at the right time."