Switching from a military career to civilian life can be tricky, but making the transition also provides unique opportunities if you know where to look. One such opportunity? Free IT certifications for qualifying veterans. There are several programs you can research to get started including one offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Starting new careers in Information Technology can be intimidating, especially if you feel you have a lack of experience with the advanced features of computers, networks, and systems administration.
But for those who apply for IT certification and/or IT training will find that it pays to explore your options, especially when those options require a time investment, but not a financial one.
What Are IT Certifications?
Getting trained and certified in an Information Technology discipline is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are many facets of IT work including network systems administration, information security, and cybersecurity. Some prefer to go into administration, others want to pursue skills in information security.
The experience level some vets bring with them to this training may be elevated, but even if you have no prior experience, these programs do include screening processes to ensure candidates are academically suited to this kind of training.
At least one program has a math screening test and other testing procedures to determine the math and reasoning aptitude of potential students.
IT certifications vary depending on discipline, may have multiple levels of complexity or authority, and certifications may be required to be re-accomplished on a regular or semi-regular basis. Certification requirements are always subject to change based on federal regulation, changing industry standards, changes in technology, etc.
Some IT certifications also require continuing education. You will need to discuss the disciplines you are interested in with a program representative to see what you can expect once obtaining the credentials you seek.
Free IT Certifications For Veterans: Program Considerations
A quick Google search of the phrase “free IT certification programs for veterans” returns a wide range of results-often a bit confusing, as your search will bring results that are often not free, but targeted at service members and their families.
For the purpose of this article, only free IT training programs for veterans are discussed. Some programs are regional, some may be national but offered only in major cities, and some may be college-specific or location-specific and not available at the national level.
You will need to read the fine print on all offerings carefully to insure you incur no obligation and under what circumstances you may be required to pay or pay back scholarships, tuition vouchers, etc.
Some IT programs may require successful completion in order to be truly cost-free, others may offer students experiencing trouble while taking the coursework an “out” depending on how long they have attended and where. No two programs are identical, so it’s never safe to assume the terms and conditions for one will apply to another, even in the same state or the same specialty.
Free IT Programs For Veterans
The Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedFTE)
FedTFE is run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with Hire Our Heroes to provide U.S. veterans with free cybersecurity training. This program offers more than 60 different classes at all skill levels (beginner to advanced) including:
- Security +
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- 101 Coding
- 101 Critical Infrastructure Protection
- 101 Reverse Engineering
Applicants must register for a FedVTE account to get started. Learn more about this program at the Department of Homeland Security official site.
SANS CyberTalent Immersion Academy
The goal of SANS is to help qualifying students including veterans and military members currently serving within a certain time range before retirement or separation. SANS applicants are first screened to make sure they meet Academy standards.
Those who do are invited to sit for the the SANS CyberTalent Enhanced Assessment test. The results of that test may result in an invitation to apply.
Following the application, candidates are screened further, and those who pass the screening process are invited to an interview.
Eligibility for SANS includes the following:
- Must be a permanent U.S. citizen
- Retiring or separating service members who are not more than six months away from their ETS date, or final out processing date
- Veterans with less than five years out of the service who are not currently employed in information security jobs and do not have past experience in the field
- Active duty spouses with no experience in information security
Preferred experience levels include the following:
- Bachelor’s degree
- At least one year of work experience in information technology, information security, or audit, from the military service, OR
- Associate’s degree and at least 3 years of work experience in information technology, information security, or audit experience from the military
- Applicants who do not have a college degree should have between three and five years of work experience in information technology, information security, or audit preferably from serving in uniform
This program operates on a fast-track training schedule and the program may last between four and six months. The official site says it generally takes about 80 hours of preparation for each certification.
More information is available at the official site.
NPower Tech Fundamentals Program
The NPower Tech Fundamentals program is one of several offerings to veterans and young adults that can help advance IT skills at no cost to the learner.
There are multiple tracks to choose from, but the NPower program does not permit veterans to attend ALL tracks (some seem to be aimed specifically at young adults) and some tracks are offered only on an in-person, regional basis.
What all coursework for this program has in common? There is in-person classroom training expected in addition to any online labs or coursework. Applicants should expect to spend actual in-classroom time working in the program, which is why it is very important to check the regional availability of these programs near you.
The Department of Veterans Affairs VET TEC Program
The VA pilot program Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses offers a unique spin on free IT certification training for veterans. VET TEC offers free tech training through its partners (the VA itself does not conduct the training) in the following areas:
- Information science
- Computer Programming
- Data Processing
- Media Application
The VET TEC programs are quite diverse. There is a sizable list of training partners and your options run from low-impact coursework around 40 hours total to more extensive training environments with class hours above and beyond 600 hours for one type of program.
Unlike some of the programs listed here, you may find that via VET TEC, there is a combination of in-person and online classroom training environments. Some may require a hybrid of traditional classroom instruction and online learning, others may be 100% classroom-only or online-only coursework.
What makes VET TEC unique is that it requires (but does not use entitlement for) a single day of GI Bill benefits eligibility to participate.
Your GI Bill eligibility is not affected by this, but students admitted into VET TEC programs are allowed to receive a housing allowance (BAH) similar to that offered under the GI Bill program.
The allowance is calculated as the BAH paid to an E-5 (Staff Sergeant) at the with-dependents rate, based on the zip code where you physically attend most of your classes. For online-only VET TEC instruction the stipend is half of the monthly BAH for an E-5 at the with-dependents rate Housing stipends are pro-rated for training that does not last a full month.
All applicants for VET TEC must have a completed Application for VA Education Benefits (VA Form 22-1990).
How To Apply For VET TEC
Apply online to start your consideration process for VET TEC courses. The VA will contact you by mail with their decision. Those approved to enter the program will have to select from a list of VA-approved training providers to find the program you want.
Once you find the right program you will need to contact the training partner to learn what it takes to sign up for classes under VET TEC.
VET TEC Is A Pilot Program And Is Subject To Change
In 2019, the VET TEC pilot program was announced, with some $15 million set aside to help pay for the program. Pilot programs are always subject to change, cancellation, revision, or alterations based on federal law or changes to the program guidelines.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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