Just in time for Veteran's Day, service members and their families in Pierce County who are looking for a leg up in the civilian job market can enroll in this Open Lab program that offers Microsoft IT training classes and certification exams — all free of charge.

Share story

Finding meaningful work can be an arduous journey, even in today’s improving economy, but the task is often even more difficult for military veterans who are transitioning back into civilian life. In honor of Veteran’s Day this week, I wanted to bring attention to a program being offered by the Pierce County Library System that has been able to help hundreds of veterans gain the skills they need to find high-paying jobs in today’s increasingly technical work environment.

For many years, Microsoft IT Academy has offered free computer training classes for all residents of Washington state, through a partnership between Microsoft and the Washington State Library System. However, in Pierce County, which has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the state, the county’s library system has gone a step further by picking up the tab for veterans who want to take Microsoft’s IT certification exams, which usually cost $150.

Jaime Prothro, customer experience manager for the Pierce County Library System (PCLS), says the library’s Open Lab program provides self-paced, online videos for active military service members, veterans and their families. The program also provides access to trained library staff who will help enroll participants, guide them through the process of selecting the most appropriate videos for their goals, provide study tips and facilitate the certification exams — all free of charge.

“The certifications may or may not equate to helping an individual get a job, but it helps set them apart from other candidates, and the certifications are recognized in most industries,” Prothro says.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The program offers certifications for Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) and Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA). The MTA exam is a requirement for military service members who participate in the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) program. Microsoft certifications are recognized in the military for Professional Development Units, Continuing Education Units, and Promotion Points, in addition fulfilling some basic requirements for college credits.

To date, 720 people are enrolled in the Open Lab program since it launched in March 2015, and 275 people have received their certification, Prothro says. PCLS has funding for the program through March 2016, she says, adding that the library hopes to renew funding through December 2016.

“It’s been an awesome journey,” said Sgt. First Class Trent Lyles of the Washington National Guard, who took part in the Open Lab program. After earning four certifications, Lyles has since had job interviews with the U.S. EPA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government positions.

“More than ever, certifications are the standard for hiring new people into IT. In many cases, I’ve found, certifications and experience has trumped having a degree,” Lyles said. “It looks really great on a resume and shows the hard work you’ve put in.”

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.