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Rewarding Service

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Rewarding Service

A new federal initiative aims to match veterans with careers in technology and artificial intelligence. November 11, 2021
Economy, finance, and budgets
Technology and Innovation

Veterans increasingly live in cities with less economic vibrance, reducing their employment opportunities, according to our new research. But there’s also good news: the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII) is working to create new tech pathways into federal service for veterans and to help them acquire skills in fields related to technology and AI. Anchored in its research and development infrastructure, the NAII is pioneering artificial-intelligence pilot projects and AI Tech Sprint competitions with external partners in academia and industry.

Veterans have faced recent challenges in the workforce. Despite comparable experience and educational levels, the median net worth of households with veterans between the ages of 55 and 64 is $71,860 less than that of non-veteran households, according to the Census Bureau. Further, 59 percent of male veterans between ages 35 and 44 hold credit-card debt, compared with 47.7 percent of non-veterans. And as of 2018, the labor-force participation rate was just 49.2 percent for veterans, but 65.5 percent for non-veterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These realities reflect changes in the labor market over the past three decades, along with changes in demand for different skill types. At the same time, the process of transitioning servicemembers to the civilian sector has become harder, especially when it comes to matching veterans to jobs at which they will excel. Our research suggests that veterans often earn less than non-veterans even after adjusting for differences in demographic characteristics, industry, and occupation.

The data point to an important silver lining, however: veterans with college degrees and certifications in science, technology, engineering, and math tend to earn 10 percent more than their counterparts with certifications in non-STEM areas. Equipping veterans with in-demand technology and AI skills pays dividends.

That’s where the NAII comes in. It is actively leveraging AI research and development to help match transitioning service members to better employment opportunities and to help veterans who sense that their career has plateaued to learn new skills. The institute is pioneering a cross-government Talent, Education, and Assessment Management System (TEAMS) initiative to identify AI knowledge domains and to introduce an assessment process that not only equips participants with relevant AI knowledge and skills but also publicly signals their competency.

Though TEAMS can be leveraged for all federal employees, the system will put a special focus on veterans. NAII’s analysis of the BLS’s Current Population Survey suggests that veterans are 12 percent more likely to work in the public sector than non-veterans, even after controlling for demographic differences. That finding is especially significant given that 16.3 percent of the working population is in the public sector.

TEAMS will establish a modernized set of criteria for evaluating prospective employees, including transitioning service members, and for enabling continued training and development opportunities among federal employees. The NAII’s AI strategy outlines these commitments.

Modernizing the federal workforce is no easy task in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex economy, but with the right tools it can be done—while simultaneously extending a helping hand to the men and women who have defended our country.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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