This program is getting military veterans into web-design jobs

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Tarsha Weary of SW Design School.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Byron Leighton spent 10 years in the military, focusing on logistics. Living at MCVET, a Jonestown-based organization that helps veterans who are homeless or in need of help, he met Tarsha Weary.

Now he’s going through another boot camp — for digital marketing.

“I’ve always wanted to do this because I love computers, anything tech,” Leighton said.

The program, offered through a partnership between MCVET and Weary’s SW Design School, is teaching four students web and graphic design skills over eight weeks this winter. They learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, WordPress and Scratch.

The veterans also learn “soft skills” that will help in the civilian world of starting their own business and working, such as communication and time management.

Classes are a mix of online and in-person. Weary, who said that she’s tough on the students, also expects results.

“It’s not just teaching them what they have to do, they have to produce that work to show they can do the work,” she said.

When we visited about three weeks in, Leighton’s latest work was a mock-up of a design for a restaurant called Wasabi.

“I realized it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be,” he said.

Byron Leighton. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Byron Leighton. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

That day, he had a chance to meet with Alex Fakeri, the CEO of MOJO Digital Creative. Fakeri, a veteran himself, said he’s planning to let one of the veterans shadow him for a week.

“I was a veteran,” he told the group. “I did get the training. I had challenges just like anybody else. But if you work hard you can get there.”

Weary, who moved to the Baltimore area from Michigan last year, said she’s hoping the program can also help provide more properly-trained folks for business owners. She knows the issue firsthand.

“One of the problems I had was I couldn’t find employable individuals to help me grow my business, so I figured I might as well train my own,” she said.

Compared to corruption-plagued Detroit, Weary said, government officials here were easier to reach. She got backing from Maryland’s Job Driven Emergency National Grant, and received support to train veterans in the state as well as in D.C.

“Being here in Maryland, there are so many opportunities because of the government being around the corner in D.C.,” she said. “It opened up the opportunity for me to help the veteran population.”

Weary said another 25 people are looking to go through the training program. She’s also looking for businesses in need of new talent.