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SAP, a major business software company, will pay for 1,000 veterans to get training for information technology careers over the next year, company officials announced recently.
The initiative has already started in Texas, and SAP said it will soon expand to California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In addition to addressing veterans' unemployment woes, the program also will help make up for a lack of skilled workers in the IT industry, according to the company.
"In giving back and providing a vehicle for them to train and do new things, we get so much more in return as a company, as an ecosystem and as a country," said Steve Peck, SAP's senior vice president of alliances. "We've got a big ecosystem out there that I know is going to gobble this talent up, no question about it."
Company officials said the initiative is starting as a pilot program that they plan to grow dramatically in coming years. "We're starting small, we're making sure we get the kinks out. Over four years, though, the goal is to train 20,000 veterans," said Diane Fanelli, also a senior vice president with the company.
The cost of training 1,000 veterans in IT will be paid entirely by SAP — $1.5 million for the first year, Fanelli said. She added that the company will work to get the training covered by the GI Bill, so that it can continue indefinitely into the future.
John Moran, deputy assistant secretary for veterans' employment and training at the Department of Labor, attended the announcement and commended SAP. He said federal officials will work to ensure vets know about the program, in part by mentioning it during Transition Assistance Program classes that departing service members attend.
"We're committed to helping you get the word out," Moran told SAP officials.
Fanelli said her industry is simply growing more quickly than existing training programs are creating IT workers. "These are not double-digit growth products — these are triple-digit growth products, year over year. The magnitude of the opportunity in the marketplace we see is really high," she said.
As Iraq vets look for work at home and the war in Afghanistan winds down, a trend of major companies launching veteran training initiatives related to their industries appears to be developing.
Recently, General Electric, Alcoa, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced a joint effort to train 15,000 veterans — and maybe as many as 100,000 — for manufacturing careers. Officials with that project similarly said their industry is badly in need of more trained workers.
SAP officials said their program isn't designed just to train people to come work for them. The company anticipates hiring only 10 percent to 15 percent of program graduates, with the rest likely going to IT companies that SAP partners with and businesses that SAP serves.
The larger goal of the initiative, said SAP Vice President of Government Relations Robert Cresanti, is to help create a critical mass of IT training and trained professionals that will reduce the need to outsource such work in the future.
Using an oceanographic analogy, Cresanti said SAP's initiative is just making the "plankton."
"You need some algae and finally you end up with some whales," he said. "We need to provide the food source, essentially, for these businesses and the capability in the country, and they're hungry to hire."