The “Hard” (Skills) Truth: Do Veterans Have the Technical Skills You Need?

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As an employer, when a high-quality applicant identifies themself as a veteran, what images come to mind? Movies and pop culture sell a specific narrative about veterans, and the story tends to have the same, recurring themes:

  • Veterans are tough! 
  • They’re fighters!
  • All Veterans are drill instructors!
  • They’ll make my employees do push-ups in the break room! (which, let’s be honest…might not be a bad thing).

Unfortunately, this is a common misperception. It’s everywhere, and it’s not accurate. The truth of the matter is: There is no neat mold that every veteran can be placed into.

Military service doesn’t look the same for everyone, and that’s especially true when it comes to the skills and work experiences each veteran brings to the civilian sector. It’s important to understand that veterans bring a wide variety of skills to the table. As we covered in 5 Veteran Hiring Myths Exposed, every job that exists in the civilian world also exists in the military domain. Dental technician, network manager, logistics specialist… You name it, and there’s a service member doing it right now.

What Are Hard and Soft Skills?

You may have heard about the current skills gap in the workforce. There is a shortage of both “hard” and “soft” skills. It’s important to understand the difference between the two. 

Our partner organization, Coursera, defines “hard” skills as technical skills. Technical skills represent the specialized knowledge a person brings to a particular role. 

“Soft” skills, on the other hand, refer to workplace skills. Workplace skills represent how a person approaches their work. 

  • What type of demeanor does a person bring to the table? 
  • Are they calm under pressure? 
  • How do they communicate with team members? 

These are the more intangible skills that are proving so hard to find in today’s market. 

Simply put, the ability to write computer code or lay telephone cables are hard skills. Attributes like work ethic, time management, and communication are soft skills. 

Employers typically have a good idea of the “soft” skills veteran candidates bring to the workplace environment. Until recently, there has been less emphasis put on veterans regarding the “hard” skills they possess. 

There are plenty of examples in the media that perpetuate the belief that veterans are only suited for criminology work or private security. In truth, those occupations don’t even come close to scratching the surface of the variety of “hard” skills the veteran talent pool includes!

Real Talk: Military Occupations

Let’s break it down. Each component of the armed services has its own unique mission set and rank structure. 

Members from each branch serve as either officers or enlisted personnel. Everyone in the military will work to earn qualifications in specialized career fields based on interest and aptitude. 

In the next few sections, we’ll be looking at Army-specific designations. (Other branches have a similar organizational structure, but for now, we’re going to talk Army).

It’s important to unpack some of the terminology around military careers. In the Army, each soldier wears two professional “hats” (at a minimum!). The first “hat” is made up of the traditional skills attributed to battlefield leadership and warfare. The second “hat” is individual to each soldier, and is determined by their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

A soldier’s MOS is represented by an alphanumeric combination. For smart employers, it’s important to understand that a veteran’s job title defines their position broadly and that to really understand what they did, you have to dig a little deeper. 

Let’s take a look at a few different Army MOSs, and how these soldiers can integrate into your workplace.

17A: Cyber Warfare Officer

So with that in mind, what is a Cyber Warfare Officer? 

Cyber Warfare Officers are commissioned officers. They are college graduates with a four-year degree who occupy leadership positions. Junior Military Officers (JMOs) primarily manage teams of 5 to 30 personnel, while senior officers are responsible for larger elements. 

What does the Cyber Warfare portion of it mean?

Cyber Warfare involves building and managing network security. It also includes preventing breaches through extensive penetration testing. 

Every vet with “cyber warfare” on their resume has completed an intensive 37 weeks of training in network management, scripting, and operating systems (like Windows or Unix). 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most Cyber Warfare Officers pick up a number of other skills and certifications through on-the-job experience. Some common certifications that Cyber Warfare Officers may have are: 

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

There are up to 27 MORE nationally recognized certifications that soldiers in this field can earn, according to

Civilian Jobs for the 17A MOS include:

  • IT Specialist
  • Software Security Analyst
  • Cyber Security Specialist 

35T: Military Intelligence Systems Maintainer / Integrator

Unlike the 17A (now that you are an expert in speaking Army MOS), 35T is held by enlisted personnel. 

So no leadership experience, right? Not so much! 

In many cases, enlisted personnel end up with more leadership experience than their officer counterparts. Almost from the moment someone enlists, they’re charged with responsibility over their peers or more junior soldiers. 

Well, what about college? People with college experience don’t enlist, right? 

You’d be surprised! This is a common misperception! 

While it’s not required for this position, there are plenty of enlisted soldiers who have at least some level of college experience. The Institute for Defense Analyses estimates about 17% of all enlisted personnel had college experience, up from 6% in 1980. 

And even those without college experience have at minimum 42 weeks of extensive training in their field. These soldiers will end up with more experience in leadership positions than most other entry-level roles. 

So what does that 42 weeks of training account for?

To call a Systems Maintainer a “jack of all trades” is underselling the position. Veterans who have 35T on their resumes have experience with:

  • Server administration
  • Network administration
  • Satellite communication systems
  • Cable running
  • Cable repair
  • Power planning.

That’s just to name a few of their skillsets. They also have backgrounds in wave theory, which gives them a foundation in all radio communications. Systems Maintainers are an easy fit for a variety of positions, as their overarching understanding of the hardware, software, and theory behind the tech allows them to very easily slot into a niche and narrow their focus. 

Civilian positions for 35Ts include:

  • IT Systems Manager
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Field Service Technicians

70H: Health Services Plans, Operations Intelligence Security and Training

We’ve already discussed what an officer’s qualifications and leadership responsibilities are, so what are the specifics for this position? 

Health Services Officers are health administrators. They oversee the logistical and personnel needs of clinics and specific aid efforts, some of which may be familiar to everyone.

Remember the pop-up clinics that sprang up overnight at the beginning of the pandemic? There was a health administrator behind the scenes crunching the numbers for what that clinic needed to operate, what services it would be able to provide, and how to cycle people through to ensure smooth shift transitions and non-stop coverage. 

Beyond that, these vets are well accustomed to overseeing the operations in emergency rooms or other urgent care services. 

Despite not being medical doctors themselves, they are integral in the management of healthcare facilities. If their experience alone isn’t enticing enough, they are frequently credentialed. Some of what’s available to them in their military service are: 

  • Fundamentals of Global Health Engagements
  • Joint Humanitarian Operations Course (JHOC)

These soldiers are also able to earn up to 15 other nationally recognized certifications, according to

Civilian Jobs for 70H soldiers:

  • Clinic or Urgent Care Administrator
  • Emergency Room Administrator 
  • Strategic Planner

So What’s The Truth?

In conclusion, these case studies reveal the honest truth about high-quality veteran candidates. They undoubtedly have the technical skills needed to fill a variety of roles. 

From cyber security to a communications jack-of-all-trades to a health administrator, veterans are ready and able to compete in the civilian workforce.

Although the focus of this article has been on the “hard” skills that veterans possess, it is worth mentioning that the “soft” skills vets obtain through their military experience cannot be overstated. From the newest private to the master sergeant with twenty years in service, every veteran will end up with extensive experience in management, leadership, collaboration, and communication. 

These skills are hard-won, and they are critical in any workplace.

So with both the hard and soft skills for the job, veterans are definitely up to specs for any position. 

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