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June 26, 2020

How IT Training Helps a Texas Workforce Board Transition Army Veterans to Tech Careers

What is a workforce board?


And how does one serve businesses, states, regions or local communities?


In a recent episode of CompTIA’s award-winning Technologist Tales podcast, produced for Creating IT Futures, Leila Melendez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Borderplex, explains how CompTIA Custom Training supports her organization’s mission.


Borderplex is a workforce board operating in El Paso, Texas, and a neighbor of one-million-acre Fort Bliss, the largest U.S. Army training ground in the nation with an estimated impact on the local economy of $1 billion. Thousands of Army personnel live and work at Fort Bliss, with hundreds of these veterans transitioning into civilian life each month through the El Paso community.


CompTIA Custom Training helps Borderplex train many Fort Bliss veterans for IT jobs, such as cybersecurity, and launch new careers as technologists.


How? Melendez tells Technologist Talk host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes the tale in this edited transcript of their conversation:


Leila Melendez: [The Borderplex] mission is to tailor our response and provide employment and training assistance, upskilling assistance to the individuals that need it based on our economy, our region, the things that drive our community. That is different in every community. The foundation is the same, but how we deliver it, how we adapt and provide those services to our citizens, our youth, our job seekers is customized and is tailored to meet the needs of our employers and to those job seekers.


The mission is to be accessible to our community and react and respond and be agile to provide those services in a timely manner. As a government organization, that is difficult to do… to be able to respond quickly and provide those services at a very personal level. But that is our goal… to reach the person and benefit them as an individual and on their needs more so than as a group or as a statistic. Or just as a number that comes through the front door. So, that is what we strive to do, is to enhance the lives and improve the lives of our community, put them first.


The mission is serving our community the way that best benefits them, not serving our community in the way that Austin, Texas tells us to do it, or the way that Washington, D.C. tells us to do it.


…Day to day, what our work is listening to what the needs are. Listening to our employers, listening to our job seekers, listening to our youth that are still in school, listening to our instructors, listening to our leaders, stakeholders, listening to what they want and expect and are demanding of the future.


What kind of future do they want to build for El Paso? Validating that with data, researching, collecting data, sharing that data, engaging in dialogue, and then creating a solution in response to that.


Bob Dirkes: I would imagine that being a government-funded organization, resources are not unlimited.


Leila: That’s correct.


Bob: You have to think about optimizing everything you have.


Leila: Absolutely.


Several years ago, we learned that a student in high school enrolls into specific career technical classes based on their interest. Interest, I have an 18-year-old daughter, her interests change almost weekly. How can we best inform and educate our community that the resources that we will provide, because they are government-funded, are meant to provide them with the best return for themselves?


And so, we do that with backing up that response. So, here's our program, here's the training program or the service that we're providing. And based on what you choose, you can expect this return, or you can expect this outcome from it. So that they understand we're not just spending money for the sake of spending money. We're spending money to return something to them and to the community.


And this program that we developed with CompTIA was really the first time that we ever did something so tailored and so custom. The way to describe it is we built it backwards. We knew what outcome we wanted. And then we said, what is going to be the best mechanism to get us there?


In this case, our outcome was to help transitioning service members get into homeownership as soon as possible. That was the goal. It was getting a good enough job that you can buy a new home. That's not a skill's or just a job's goal, for us, it's a life goal, a sustainable wage, a long-term career. The long-term success of that individual is the goal.


Homeownership, that's big. Okay, well, let's work back from that. We have this population coming out of Fort Bliss that has [certain] fundamental skills. Where can we build from that? And by the way, we have this huge demand in the IT sector for cybersecurity. Do any of those things match? Yes. We have a lot of individuals that are in the IT field, have experience and background in IT. But, also, in security and in protection, military presence, military intelligence…


…Let's marry them together, and let's develop this course… that was done in 12 weeks. And that 12 weeks wasn't just some random number. It came from the leadership on the post that said 12 weeks is our threshold. We really can't do anything longer than 12 weeks. That's the maximum amount of time that we can let these individuals go to training. But they gave us that maximum amount because their goal is immediate employment [too] into a sustainable career.


Bob: Veterans may seem like a niche part of the population, but not so in El Paso. Talk a little bit about the significance of that group of people, military veterans in El Paso, what that means to the community.


Leila: We've always considered the population that is on Fort Bliss as part of our citizen base.


I mean, they are who we are. The entire landmass of Fort Bliss is tremendous. You can actually fit the State of Rhode Island within the boundaries of Fort Bliss. And they've got a large number of active military members, their families, the contractors. I mean, it's a city, it's another city within a city.


Employers in the community have always been ready and willing to accept them into their workforce. The education system, our retail sector, our medical sector, every sector is open and willing to accept our military population into the community.


They are a very diverse population and they come with a unique set of skills, and they're part of the family, and they're part of who we are as a community. They play a tremendous role in the success and the economy and the social fabric of El Paso.


Technologist Tales is produced for Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, as a complement to the award-winning Technologist Talk podcast, featuring conversations with business leaders, workforce professionals and talent developers about shaping the careers of today’s and tomorrow’s technology workers.


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