Low employment rates for participants

William Hubbard, the vice president for veterans and military policy at the advocacy group Veterans Education Success, played an important role in the creation of the VET-TEC program.

While still a proponent of VET-TEC, Hubbard expressed concerns about gaps in the program’s effectiveness that were revealed during the pilot phase, which he said lawmakers must address as they look to extend the program.

He cited the disparity between graduation and employment rates for veterans who participated in the VET-TEC pilot, noting that 84% of participants graduated from the courses but that employment rates dropped as the program progressed — culminating, he said, in approximately 15% of veterans in the program’s last year receiving employment.

Sawyer would not confirm the figure Hubbard cited but said GAO is “following up with VA on the employment rate trends that we’ve noticed over the 5-year duration of the pilot,” adding that the watchdog wants the department to “explain the reason for that trend we’re seeing.”

Sawyer also pointed to a still open recommendation from GAO’s 2022 report for VA to develop an employment rate calculation that is consistent with government and industry practices. At the time, VA’s calculations pegged the pilot’s employment rate at 66%; GAO said it came up with a 46% employment rate instead.

Hubbard said he believed one reason for the gap between graduation and employment rates is a breakdown in communication between what companies are looking for and the types of courses offered through the program. The number of tech companies laying off workers in current years has also led some firms to change up their hiring approaches.

Boddy agreed, saying “we have to figure out how to get employers and training providers talking to each other.”

Ciscomani’s VET-TEC provision takes steps to enhance the program’s employment rate, including calling for VA to prioritize providers “from which at least 70% of graduates find full-time employment in the field of study of the program during the 180-day period beginning on the date the student graduates from the program.”

The provision also says the VA secretary should develop criteria for approving providers to participate in the program, including taking into account “the job placement rate, in the field of study of a program of education,” for veterans who participate in courses.

Streamlining the program

One proposal Hubbard floated to improve the current VET-TEC renewal provision is to place more of an emphasis on providers receiving VA funding based on participants receiving employment. Currently, providers receive 25% of the cost of providing the courses up front, an additional 25% when veterans complete the program and 50% when veterans receive employment during the allotted post-graduation time frame.

Since VET-TEC is designed to provide veterans with employment in the tech sector, Hubbard said “it should be 25% [paid to participants up front] and then 75% on employment.”

Ciscomani said that accountability measures, such as emphasizing post-training employment rates, will help limit disparities and allow for future iterations of the program to tighten up additional gaps.

“We can make improvements every time that it sunsets, we can make the tweaks that we need, we can increase the accountability in some areas, we can invest more in other areas that are actually working and get the feedback from our own veterans that are going through this as well,” he said.

Read the full column at Nextgov/FCW here.