When considering a job description, Parent says he looked for well-paying, in-demand IT skills that were easy to learn and to train for, that also offered flexibility. The jobs also would be temporary, in that once trainees mastered IT skills, they would begin searching for IT employment elsewhere, leaving room for new veterans to take their place.
"We wanted something entry-level that would be appealing to these veterans, would let them work part-time up to 32 hours per week at $12.50 an hour but would give them greater opportunities," Parent says.
"We don't want them to get locked into this situation, but we want it to be a structured, on-the-job learning program from which they could go onto better things," he says. The answer was right under his nose.
Rush University Medical Center is currently in the middle of implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution, Parent said, and that technology refresh is the perfect opportunity for veterans like the ones the Center will serve, Parent says.
"Right now we're in the middle of a VDI implementation, and we're refreshing 200 systems per month. Over 36 months, that would be 8,000 to 9,000 units, which is very sustainable. I can have vets come in to do this, and even those with only rudimentary skills can learn how to swap these systems out and then, depending on their interests and to some extent, their disabilities, they can graduate to higher-skilled positions within the department and eventually, elsewhere," he says.
This aspect of the program is the hardest to impart, even to the veterans themselves, Parent says. While multinational companies like Wal-Mart are pledging to offer jobs to returning veterans, the lasting benefits of programs like those aren't obvious.
"Wal-Mart's going to hire 50,000 veterans, they say. That's great; doing what? Being cashiers? Greeters? For these veterans, the positions we're talking about aren't about productivity, or how much they can produce. It's about learning and mastering multiple skills so that within sixteen months they are competitive in the IT marketplace and can go start a career somewhere else," Parent says.
"I tell them again and again, 'As much as I love seeing you come in the door, I'm going to love it more when you leave. Because that means the system is working, it is reproducible, it is sustainable, and any healthcare organization can implement the framework of this program," Parent says.
Emphasizing the Family's Role
The Center will employ a psychiatry expert, a number of psychiatrists and psychologists, along with administrative staff to support both veterans and their families, Parent said, which is a component sometimes overlooked by traditional programs aimed at veterans' employment.