How Veterans' Own Job Stereotypes Keep Them From Finding More Career Opportunities

career
Photo via DoD

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.


Military veterans have a higher unemployment rate than nonveterans, according to federal statistics. One reason may be that when veterans seek civilian jobs, they often face stereotypes from hiring managers. But another set of stereotypes may come into play as well: Veterans fall prey to their own preconceptions about certain types of jobs, and miss out on promising opportunities.

Research I conducted with K.D. Joshi from Washington State University found that many veterans are well-qualified for work in the information technology sector – a wide and diverse range of computer- and communications-related jobs. But large numbers of veterans hold stereotypes that discourage them from seeking IT employment, depriving companies of skilled employees and veterans of meaningful and rewarding work.

Fortunately, this problem can be corrected, and relatively easily, if veterans and those who serve them work together.

Veterans have the skills

We wanted to understand what influenced the decisions of military veterans with various types of disabilities about whether to pursue IT careers in civilian life after their time in uniform. To begin, with the help of retired Marine lieutenant colonel Kimberly Graham, now a job-training consultant, and veterans affairs offices at four universities, we asked 297 military service members and veterans, all with disabilities, a series of open-ended questions about post-military careers. Some of them were searching for work, while others were either still in the service or in college – but would be looking for jobs upon completion.

Our questions included whether they had ever considered a career in information technology, and their thoughts about how their disabilities affect their interest in pursuing an IT career. We also asked them how they thought their military training and experiences might help or hinder their success if they did get an IT-related job.

We learned that these veterans had many skills and abilities that would serve them well in various IT fields. The military is good at teaching people about leadership, management, problem solving, teamwork and handling stressful situations.

Some positive views

But we also found that they had stereotypes about what kinds of jobs were available. Some of the respondents were interested in IT work, either since their youth or as a result of their military experience. For example, one told us, “I am currently working in military intelligence. I plan to work in cyber intelligence after leaving the military.”

Still others had begun to consider a career in IT as a result of their disabilities, telling us, “It is a good field for people with hearing disability,” “I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder with panic. It is easier to interact with a computer than with people,” and “It is less strenuous than [my former job of] being a construction electrician.”

Many negative views

Many of the people we questioned revealed stereotypes about IT work. “I would rather work with people,” one respondent told us. This reflects the misconception that IT professionals sit in front of computer screens all day and do not interact with people. That is true of some jobs, but not all of them.

Many IT workers interact with customers to understand their needs, help people with research questions and technology malfunctions, or design systems to enhance user experiences.

Another respondent told us, “It is not something I consider myself gifted enough at to pursue.” This represents a common theme running through research about groups of people who are underrepresented in IT fields, like women, African-Americans and people with disabilities. Many people told us they thought they needed to have a lot of formal education or be a technical whiz or possess some other sort of superstar qualities to work in IT. That simply isn’t true. The wide variety of IT jobs means there’s work for people of almost any interest and ability.

Others told us they thought IT work required long hours or skills with complex computer-programming languages – or even that they worried IT jobs would be outsourced or sent overseas, putting American workers back on the job search. Those are real concerns, but neither exclusive to IT work nor applicable to all jobs in the field.

Other misconceptions

Several respondents didn’t know they could have IT careers in the business world. One told us, for example, “I worked in supply chain for 10 years and have business courses; I would have to get a different education to enter the IT field.”

My own university, Penn State, among many others, offers courses in project management and enterprise architecture. Those are IT-related subjects that respondents didn’t identify with IT work. Many American business schools, again including Penn State’s, have information systems departments that teach supply chain management.

Beyond their stereotypes and misconceptions, some of the people we interviewed did not recognize that much of their knowledge and experience from military service would transfer well to IT. “I would enjoy an IT career but I have too much experience in leadership and management to switch a career to IT,” one person told us, apparently not realizing almost every field needs people who can lead and manage others.

What to do now?

For more than 30 years, I’ve been studying what effects technological advances have on the skills and knowledge needed by IT workers. It pains me to see stereotypes standing in the way of rewarding careers in IT. Fortunately, this problem is relatively easy to address, if different units in a university work together.

Veterans and disabilities offices need to make sure that military service members and veterans with disabilities are aware of the range of career opportunities available to them, including in IT. University career counselors need to help these students identify their transferable skills. Of course, that assumes the advisers and counselors know enough about the IT field themselves.

That is where academics come in. Information technology professors need to educate their students, but also their colleagues across their universities. In particular, faculty need to share their knowledge of marketable skills and career opportunities as widely as they can. Through a coordinated effort, we can break down barriers to IT careers one stereotype at a time.

Eileen Trauth is a professor of Information Sciences & Technology and Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

WATCH NEXT:

The Conversation

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less