Corporate Social Responsibility

Impact Story: U.S. Veteran Sara Harbaugh

A Mission Critical Career Search for an Air Force Veteran

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In the Air Force, mission is the number one priority; you don’t ask why and you don’t complain, according to Staff Sergeant Sara Harbaugh, 24. When Sara completed her 6 years of service, she applied that mindset to her post-military job search and accomplished her mission. With support of the IT Training and Certification Program, she pursued her Cisco CCNA certification, the credential she needed to prove her expertise to employers.

Missing the Connection and Recognition

Staff Sergeant Sara Harbaugh,
U.S. Air Force.

Sara spent 6 years in the U.S. Air Force, first in radio maintenance and then providing basic system administration on the Air Force’s high frequency global communications system. Sara had worked with Cisco networking equipment for 6 years, but she learned all her skills on the job. “There are a lot of fundamentals that get missed,” she said. “No one was formally trained. We learned from doing it every day. I had a good fundamental understanding of IP and networking in general.”

When Sara began applying for jobs, she realized that she was overqualified for radio maintenance jobs, but lacked the credentials for more advanced, higher-paying IT positions. “To say what you did in the military is very challenging,” she said. “Because we don’t have the formal education or degree, [potential employers] see us as entry level, even though we’ve been doing the job for years.”

Tracking Experience to Civilian Jobs

Sara learned about the IT Training and Certification Program as she was preparing to separate from the Air Force. Launched in April 2013 as part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to help military personnel transition to civilian employment, the program is fast tracking 1000 military personnel with IT experience to in-demand jobs by providing free and reduced-cost access to IT training and certification exams and career matching opportunities.

Once she completed her online profile, a program manager helped Sara identify and enroll in the IT courses that she needed to prepare for the Cisco CCNA exam and pursue her dream job. “They gave us guidance, a track to follow and the funding,” she said. “Without it, I would not have been able to pursue my ultimate goal.”

Sara found the fast-paced Global Knowledge courses to be a source of professional networking as well as technical experience. “I went to courses on site and networked with people with different backgrounds and experiences,” she said. “One class I took, everyone was from an electrical company and told me about how utilities work. I took another class with all types of people with different careers.”

Certifications Improve Negotiating Power

The CCNA certification gave Sara the leverage she needed to obtain the salary she required. Before her certification: “I did a phone interview for another job and the woman asked about my salary. When I told her what I felt my experience was worth, she said ‘there’s no way I can give you that salary because you don’t have a 4-year degree.’” With her CCNA credential, she stood out from other applicants for a civilian Air Force job and became director of training for a $235 million radio system with a Cisco networking backbone. “Having that CCNA certification got me the job. That’s what they looked at.” And she has the salary she demanded.

While many of her peers (military and non-military) remain unemployed, underemployed, or in temporary contract positions, Sara accomplished her mission of obtaining a full-time, secure position with the Air Force. She plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering technology and remove that roadblock to future jobs.

“It was such an awesome program and so beneficial,” she said. “There were no restrictions. They were willing to give you what you wanted. They worked their hearts off to get you in those classes and help you succeed and transition more easily.”

The US IT Pipeline supports transitioning military personnel and the employers searching for their talents. Both job seekers and employers post their information for free, and have the opportunity to participate in hiring events to streamline the interview process. For those who need additional training for certification, Cisco Networking Academy courses are available on and near many military bases.

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“To say what you did in the military is very challenging. Because we don’t have the formal education or degree, [potential employers] see us as entry level, even though we’ve been doing the job for years."
— Sara Harbaugh