The time after his six-year Royal Australian Navy career was tumultuous for Pablo Quintana, who had served as a Communications and Information Systems Sailor but discharged into an uncertain future.

“I really struggled to find my footing and transition out of the Australian Defence Force (ADF)”, he told Information Age.

“I really did not know what to do with my life, and I was trying to find myself.”

That saw him taking up a range of odd jobs as a cook, janitor and house painter – part of an ongoing job search in which “I definitely sent out close to 500, a thousand CVs”.

Although his military training involved technology and systems, by the time he was in the open job market those skills were outdated – limiting the options he could present to potential employers.

“I like to think of myself as very motivated, and I can learn quickly,” he said, but the job market proved to be “very difficult, and not everyone gave me a shot. Rejection became a very normal thing for me.”

After meeting his wife in 2014, he started thinking about setting up his future – but continued working odd jobs until 2018, when that he found the thing that would finally give him new direction.

That thing was WithYouWithMe, a recruitment and retraining organisation that has been posting strong results on its mission to help veterans transition back into civilian life with jobs in the ICT industry.

Having already partnered with banking and ICT firms including Deloitte, PwC, Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank, WithYouWithMe has just launched a Tech Traineeships program leveraging its relationship with Accenture to offer 75 tech-related jobs for veterans.

Quintana is one of them: after completing three months of certification training late last year, he has segued into a role as a certified systems architect and certified business architect for Accenture partner, Pega.

Tapping the hidden talent spring

WithYouWithMe’s success in engaging with retired servicemen and servicewomen has proven the viability of strategies to plug Australia’s yawning IT skills gap by extending the traditional job search into new areas.

A similar program, called SkillsBuild, emerged from a partnership between IBM and Soldier On – a similar ADF-backed effort that was launched as a pilot program in 2016 – to engage over 3,000 former Defence force personnel.

The programs are contributing to an upswing in ICT jobs, with nearly 33,000 industry jobs created in the three years after programs like WithYouWithMe and Soldier On were created.

ICT roles are particularly well-suited to the skill sets of former ADF personnel, for whom situation analysis and procedural problem-solving is a fundamental and well-honed skill.

“Our data shows that 67 per cent of veterans have the aptitude for software development,” WithYouWithMe co-founder Luke Rix explained, “but lack the pathways to make it happen.”

Recognition of similar traits in many other professionals drove this week’s launch of the Institute of Data (IoD) Economic Recovery Scholarship program, which has partnered the IoD with universities like UTS and RMIT to reskill former professionals in cybersecurity positions.

The opportunity was perfect for commercial pilot Dominique Cotte, who was made redundant last September but subsequently retrained and is now working as a cybersecurity risk consultant with QBE in London.

“I thought it was a great transition from aviation,” she said, “especially due to my experiences in risk management, threat and error management, and critical thinking ability.”

For Quintana, building a solid career around Pega’s AI-powered customer relationship management solutions has been a career path he never imagined.

The process has been a “massive relief” after so many years in the jobs wilderness, he said.

“Just being able to have that foot in the door, and a position waiting for me, was unreal,” he explained, noting that some of his ex-military friends had also applied for jobs at Accenture “and got nothing interesting”.

“Being an architect is one of the hottest tickets going around,” Quintana said, “and I’ve got it.

“It’s the first time in 10 years that I feel 100 per cent comfortable in my career choice and its future.”