Robert W. Moorman explores education, training and employment opportunities available to veterans transitioning to the private sector.

Veterans transitioning to civilian life from a command and control structure of the military face numerous challenges when it comes to education, training and hiring.

Many veterans have never known anything but the military and find it difficult to transfer skills or evaluate the education and job opportunities available. But there are avenues of help from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and associations to colleges and universities and veteran-friendly corporations committed to serve those who served.

“Service members may find it challenging to determine which support services and resources best meet their needs as the number and variety available may be overwhelming,” said Dr. Patrick Dworakowski, assistant director, Oversight & Accountability, VBA Education Service, US Department of Veteran Affairs. “They may also find it challenging to reconcile the reality of post-separation with their expectations and to translate their military experience to meaningful work, particularly those with financial instability or no experience working outside the military.”

The VA collaborates with all service branches through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Inter-agency partners include the Department of Defense (DoD) the Small Business Administration, the Office of Personal Management and others.

In recent years, TAP added Military Life Cycle (MLC) modules: interactive integrated courses that introduce service members to VA benefits and services during their military career. This approach allows service members the time and resources to “bridge their military skills with post-military career goals” before separation, said Dworakowski.

Section 1631 of the National Defense Authorization Act establishes Vocational and Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) benefits and services for severely injured active duty service members. VR&E also provides employment support through Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) and On the Job (OJT) opportunities with various government agencies.

Finding Private Sector Employment

Each branch of the US military has an association to help veterans find employment in the private sector. The Air Force Association (AFA) has an extensive hiring platform designed to recruit military veterans and their families. AFA corporate members can post open jobs on the association’s Air Force for Hire Jobs Board. This benefit is available to the 96,000 AFA members plus the 150,000 veterans from all military branches.

Soldiers receive assistance with the transition into civilian life at the Fort Benning Soldier for Life Transition Summit. Image credit: US Army.
Soldiers receive assistance with the transition into civilian life at the Fort Benning Soldier for Life Transition Summit. Image credit: US Army.

Soldiers receive assistance with the transition into civilian life at the Fort Benning Soldier for Life Transition Summit. Image credit: US Army.

Some US states partner with businesses and organizations on veteran employment programs. Florida, which has strong ties to the aerospace industry, helps veterans in a variety of ways. Enterprise Florida, the principal economic development arm for the State, partners with CareerSource Florida, a workforce policy and investment board that has special programs for veterans. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity hosts an annual event called Paychecks for Patriots, which help veterans find employment.

Among the numerous businesses that hire and train veterans is aerospace and defense technology giant Northrop Grumman, which has multiple screening and hiring programs available to veterans. Twenty percent of Northrop Grumman’s employees are veterans and 26% of recent hires are veterans; some fill jobs in computer science, business management, information technology (IT), cyber security and human resources.

For post-9/11 severely wounded warriors, who are 33% or more disabled, Northrop Grumman provides job counseling through its Operation Impact program. The Network of Champions, seen as an extension of Operation Impact, is made up of veteran-supporting private companies, non-profits and government agencies. In addition, Northrop Grumman participates in the nationally recognized Hire Our Heroes, an innovative corporate fellowship program, which offers a 12-week professional training course to those service members cycling out of the military.

“Northrop Grumman helps service members bridge the gap between their military service and civilian careers, while also gaining access to the naturally recurring pipeline of military talent,” said Kymberlee Dwinell, Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Another noteworthy initiative is Northrop Grumman’s Navigator (or buddy) program. Every new hire veteran has a buddy, who can answer basic questions about their job or job site.

There are numerous US-based companies that support, hire and train veterans. They include: PNC Bank, JP Morgan, Walt Disney Company and Accenture, whose two-month technology training program provides veterans with technical skills needed to be hired by technology and software companies. USAA, the largest insurance company for military personnel and their families, has hired and trained thousands of veterans to work at its San Antonio, Texas headquarters and elsewhere in the US.

A Different Mindset

CAE USA, a leading trainer and training solutions provider for the military, and the largest segment of CAE’s Defence & Security business unit, partners with the transition offices on various military bases where personnel are leaving active service for the private sector.

“Some of the transition offices in the military are eager to work with us, but it is not a consistent approach across the board,” said Marissa Holdorf, director of Human Resources. CAE USA has found somewhat of a disconnect in transitioning military leaders to related posts in the private sector. “It’s a different mindset,” said Holdorf. “Some folks can’t quite get out of the rank-and-file mentality and that becomes a challenge.”

CAE USA’s Operation War Fighter Program, an internship initiative for wounded warriors is noteworthy. “The military pays them to intern with us for a specific time,” said Holdorf. Several interns, who started as part of the program, were hired as full-time CAE USA employees.

CAE USA expects to hire additional staff, including veterans. “Right now, we have close to 200 openings,” said Holdorf. “We are in a serious growth mode.” Fifty-five percent of CAE USA’s 2,000 strong workforce are veterans.

Most openings are for engineers and pilot training instructors, who would deliver academic, simulator and live-flying training. CAE also is looking for cyber security, information assurance, IT and intelligence professionals.

In January 2019, CAE USA began participating in the Career Skills Program. A few interns are going through the program presently.

CAE and other companies find veteran talent from job fairs and trade shows, such as the annual Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) and Women in Defense conventions. Air shows, such as the Atlanta Air Show, are also venues for veteran hiring.

Back to School

Universities and colleges and organizations aligned with academia provide transitional pathways for veterans seeking higher education or a job. Most veteran college students are older. Some are married with families and have obligations that their younger counterparts know nothing about. Veterans are experienced. Yet acclimating to a college environment can be tough for them.

“While veterans might have difficulty transitioning to life on campus, they are often our best students,” said Mike Williams, PhD, Dean of the College of Business, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). “Their discipline and experience help them excel.”

Williams, a veteran, is part of a group on campus called Faculty for Veterans, which offer mentoring and support for veterans. One way universities could do a better job, he said, is to recognize that veterans are different and come with challenges of acclimating to civilian life.

Flexibility is key. Jennifer Hinebaugh, PhD, undergraduate program coordinator in the College of Business, ERAU, illustrated the point. One of her students, a parent, was having difficulty securing childcare. Rather than miss class, Hinebaugh, a mom, suggested the veteran bring the child to class. He did. Problem solved.

“We do that kind of thing all the time,” said Hinebaugh. “Life happens. Veterans are non-traditional students. Their stressors are much different than 18-year olds.”

Veterans at ERAU and other institutions of higher learning come in two varieties – those with a college degree seeking a masters and those with a high school diploma seeking a bachelor’s degree. Many veterans take core business courses, such as accounting, finance, economics and human resources. If they track toward the technical side, veterans steer toward math and science courses mainly, said Williams. ERAU offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Maintenance Sciences (AMS). Veterans can receive academic credit from their military MRO experience that would go toward obtaining their technicians certificate.

“If veterans go to the airlines, chances are they will go into management, not to the hangar floor,” said Williams.

One added benefit for veterans who attend ERAU is that the school is well connected to industry. The Board for ERAU’s College of Business includes members from Boeing and the major airlines. The plane maker helps ERAU recruit and train veterans. Boeing also hires student interns, some of whom are later offered full-time jobs.

L3 Commercial Aviation supports veterans through its Florida-based Airline Academy. The company offers a scholarship of up to $10,000 against its approved programs as well as a scholarship of up to $3,000 to obtain a private pilot license. Students are not eligible for a housing allowance or book stipend, according to the VA. The company also is approved to offer a number of VA-approved benefits. Flight training is available to veterans and reservists. L3 Airline Academy is considered to be a “Vocational Training Institution” by the VA.

Concept of the new National Veterans Resource Center at Syracuse University. Image credit: Syracuse University.
Concept of the new National Veterans Resource Center at Syracuse University. Image credit: Syracuse University.

Simulating the Transition

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), an independent, nationally recognized entity based at Syracuse University, developed a Simulated Interaction Models (VET SIMS) pilot program that supports veterans as they transition from military service to college study. VET SIMS is a collaboration between IVMF, the School of Education (SOE) and the Office for Veterans and Military Affairs (OVMA) – all at Syracuse University – along with SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Clinical Skills Center.

The idea for SIMS for veterans came two years ago and bridges work from simulations created for the fields of medicine and the school of education. The team used SIMS to study how future teachers and leaders engage in direct, face-to-face interactions with trained actors, who served as parents, students or colleagues. That SIM model served as the template for the veteran SIMS project.

For the veteran-aimed SIM, the actors impersonate a faculty member, teaching assistant (TA) or college student, who interview veterans. The TA is scripted for the simulation. The veterans are not. The sessions are video taped. After the veterans complete and view their simulations, the whole group gathers for analysis.

The simulations are designed to make the transition to campus life easier for veterans. “Coming to a college campus is a new experience for veterans,” said Benjamin Dotger, PhD, Professor of Teaching and Leadership at the SOE. “We are trying to simulate those challenges veterans will face on campus. And to do it in an environment where they can practice navigating those challenges with other veterans.”

The team in 2018 designed and piloted three SIMS and is examining the veteran-related data presently. If the IVMF pilot is successful, it could serve as a template for veteran transition programs at other colleges or universities.

“The purpose of this pilot program is to help veterans transition into a college environment from a standpoint of campus assimilation and to go on and obtain employment,” said Nicholas Armstrong, PhD, senior director for Research and Evaluation at IVMF. Armstrong said there is the misconception that a veteran’s only job option in civilian life is to mirror what they did in the military.

“We know that at least half those veterans we see are looking to pursue careers other than what they did in the military,” said Armstrong.

Getting veterans to understand what civil career options are available long before they take off the uniform helps. The US government passed legislation not long ago that moved veteran transition assistance programs upstream by 24 months prior to retirement and 12 months prior to separation from active duty.

Another veteran-related program at the IVMF is centered around Entrepreneurship Training, Community Engagement and Career Preparation and Employment, which includes the “Onward to Opportunity Program (O2O).” The O2O program, one of the DoD-approved career skills training programs, is available on 18 military installations and online for distance learning. O20 provides career preparedness and employment training and support for transitioning veterans and military spouses. And it serves as a gateway to employment in over 30 career fields.

“We have found a way to bridge a program that has access to transitioning service members before they exit the military,” said Beth Kubala, JD, senior director for Strategy and Performance, IVMF. “We are fortunate to have aligned with the Department of Defense to locate our employees and the classes for the [O20] program on a number of military installations.”

Skillsoft, an education technology company, has worked with the IVMF, GE Veterans Network and Hire Our Heroes (HOH). “Typically, we work with those organizations to create products that focus on enabling people to achieve some type of professional credential or certification,” said Mark Onisk, chief content officer for Skillsoft. The company produces self-paced courseware in video-based format.

Skillsoft gave HOH access to its Percipio intelligent learning platform, which accelerates learning. Veterans can decide when, where and how to learn through micro-learning courses presented in a user-centric fashion.

Onisk said Skillsoft provides learning content to the US Army and Air Force to allow veterans to pursue technology-related credentials. Embedding this learning practice “is a great way to help those veterans return to civilian life and find jobs,” said Onisk. “Giving the veterans some type of durable credential will help them become marketable.”

Knowing the work environment into which the veteran is transitioning is important too. The civilian world has changed dramatically in the last several years. More millennials are entering the workforce and working for companies, which are more collegial and team oriented as opposed to a hard top-down management style.

Veterans should note: “Today’s civilian workforce is not one in which you are going to be told what to do every day to be successful,” said Onisk. “You need to chart your own path.”

Veterans should develop skills for the future and not necessarily fixate on a skill that may be universally adopted today. Skillsoft launched a curriculum recently on how to become a data scientist, an emerging discipline requiring basic computational and mathematical skills.

“This [occupation] wouldn’t be a huge leap for the men and women in the service to get into,” said Onisk. They key for veterans seeking employment in the private sector is “to position yourself to come in ahead of the curve and be prepared to keep learning.” 

Yes, There’s Still a GI Bill

One valuable, career-enhancing benefit for military veterans transitioning to civilian life is the US government-backed GI bill, which can be used to help pay for an otherwise expensive college education or training program.

The original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, aka the GI Bill, was a law that provided various benefits to World War II veterans. The post-9/11 GI Bill, which replaced the original GI Bill in August 2009, and based on length of active duty service, and is available to service personnel and reservists who served a minimum of 90 consecutive days of active duty after September 10, 2001.

The level of total benefits, which includes tuition, books and a housing stipend, depends upon time served in the military, the school and number of classes taken. Example: veterans who served 36 or more months of continuous active duty are eligible for 100% benefits; 24 months, 80%, 12 months, 60%.

Service members with an on-job related disability, who served 30 or more consecutive days, receive 100% benefits.

The GI bill will pay all or part of tuition at a state school. For veterans choosing a private college or university or foreign school, the US government will pay a maximum of $23,672.

Some US states now provide or are considering additional educational benefits for veterans, not connected to the federal GI Bill. The Wisconsin GI Bill remits full tuition and some fees for eligible veterans and their dependents for up to eight semesters or 128 credits at any University of Wisconsin System school or Wisconsin Technical College School System school. – Robert W. Moorman

Originally published in Issue 2, 2019 of MS&T Magazine.