Vet2Tech is a scholarship program designed to get veterans into technician jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Its unique and innovative program, the product if Ignitor Labs, is completely interactive and game-like. Because of its engaging nature, veterans complete the program more quickly than a traditional vocational school. Furthermore, they are given access to a vast number of resources to connect with employers. Military.com had the chance to speak with Vet2Tech's president, Carol Multack about the program and its successes.
What, roughly, can veterans expect from the program?
They can expect to learn the fundamental skills needed to start on the path to maintain and repair food service equipment. It takes about 30 days to complete, but it's self-paced; they won't have anyone standing over their shoulder. The program is completely online and accessible at any time. There's 24 hours of online content which translates to about 75-80 hours of real hand-on time. How students break that up is completely up to them. I've had people get through it in a week or two. That's a big advantage of online training.
Online training is unique in its own right because it's geared towards a younger audience. The best word to describe it is gamified. It actually looks like a video game and is interactive. You'll see equipment as it really looks. A panel from a piece of equipment can come off, and you have to move the probe to test the equipment. It's very much geared towards a younger audience who are used to online training and interactive environments.
There's a three minute demo that I usually steer veterans to take a look at so they can get an idea of what the training course looks like. There's also a three minute clip from a 20 year veteran of the industry talking about the job and giving candidates a look at some of the things they'll learn. It gives the student fundamental knowledge of the industry itself. It talks about the equipment they'll be working on, the tools they'll be using, the food service industry itself. It gives you a very good idea of what they'll be facing when they get out on the job. But the most important part of this is that every student who finishes the course is guaranteed to sit in front of a hiring company. We've developed a database of 878 hiring companies. That's a pretty powerful tool. Those companies are nationwide. Some areas are very rural and we're still developing them, but for the most part we're covered in almost every state.
When the student finishes the course, they take a proctored exam. It's not any harder than the exam they took online, but it has to be proctored because of the online capabilities and it's a safety thing for the company. They go to the service company, take the exam which is about 45 minutes to an hour, and when they hit submit, the test score immediately pops up on the administrator's computer. He sees the score right then and there. If the score is 70 or better, the exam taker is granted an interview right there on the spot.
What is the benefit of Vet2Tech focusing on vocational jobs?
Skilled labor is where the jobs are. This industry in particular is facing an aging workforce and low visibility. Guys are retiring and they have no way to recruit a new generation of technicians. It's been a real challenge for them. The demand right now is for 15,000 technicians and that's expected to increase 8% in the next five years. Right now I have about 15,000 jobs available and that's not going to go away any time soon. The food service industry is the second largest industry in the United States, and it's growing every year. There's also personal growth potential. When the veterans complete the training course that we offer and pay for, they become an entry level technician. The on-the-job training continues with the education on an ongoing basis. They're going to be continuing that education at every point in their career. The more they train, the better the pay is.
How was this program developed?
Ignitor Labs has been developing technical content for more than 20 years. Both the manufacturing side and the service side of the food equipment industry provided the content for the online program.
Are members of the program taught soft business skills like networking and interviewing?
That is definitely a part of the program. I interview the veterans: we talk about their skills and why they think they'd be good technicians and what kind of skills they had in the military. Even if they didn't have a directly translatable occupation in the military, with a technical aptitude they're usually a pretty good fit. I see aircraft mechanics, submarine mechanics, humvee mechanics, and all other mechanical aptitudes really fit well with the program. The military is also very good at training online, so their experience is very adaptable to the program.
Once I enroll them in the course and accept their scholarship, I hand them over to my partner, Dennis Timko, and he's the one who guides them. One of the requirements of the online training course is touching base with Dennis on a weekly basis. We learned early on that online training is notorious for a high dropout rate. With no one standing over your shoulder to tell you to do the work, sometimes you don't. Part of their commitment is touching base with Dennis and staying on track. We try to keep them on track and have been really successful in doing that. In addition, Dennis is the one who sets them up with a proctor and someone for interviews. It takes an average of 30 days to get through the course, and as soon as they get in, we ask for their resume. We have professional resume writers available, and if their resume just needs a little tweaking, we do that ourselves. We work with an organization called Welcome Home Resumes.
How would you compare the time it takes to complete your program to the time it takes to complete a traditional vocational program?
Ours is certainly shorter. I've heard of other 30-day programs and they're really static. They're a little on the boring side and a little flat. We are not that at all. You really feel like you're on the job. Students absolutely need the 3D portion so they can see it in their hands and fix a piece of equipment, and we don't stop there. Their on-the-job training as an entry level technician usually lasts about a year. If they have a specific skill set or experience, that can be much shorter, but an entry level candidate can expect that they'll be there for about a year. Our students really like their independence. The on-the-job training is paid, and it usually starts at about 15 to 17 dollars an hour. When they complete that, the salaries jump to about 22 to 25 dollars an hour. These are great jobs, and there's a big demand. Once they've submitted their proctored exam, they're instantly given access to employers across the country.
How will you expand the program as time goes on?
Ignitor Labs has a number of additional training programs in development that will lead to in-demand technical career paths. The jobs are in skilled labor and manufacturing, and nobody's really taking the training. Everyone wants to be a doctor or lawyer or MBA, and that's not where the jobs are right now.
It seems like skilled labor isn't valued as much so veterans don't think to go find those types of jobs.
Absolutely. They just don't know that they're out there. Manufacturing and technician jobs both need new employees.
How can veterans prepare for applying to the scholarship?
They can't really prepare. I would say that the only people who are a good fit is anyone with a mechanical aptitude. This program will get you into an entry level position, so there really isn't any prerequisite for it. If you have a mechanical aptitude, you're naturally going to be successful. If it's something that really gets you going, you'll be perfect. Someone who tells me they work on their motorcycle every chance they get will be a good fit for this industry. I'm not looking for the person who couldn't get a job in IT. I want the guy who really enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together.
Is there a wait list or ongoing enrollment?
There is not a wait list. All I need for a scholarship is a copy of their DD-214, and we're trying to target veterans under 40 years old. But, I can work with some guys in their early forties.