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December 9, 2011

Transition from military to civilian careers, licensure and certification of skills

Transition from military to civilian careers, licensure and certification of skills

Written by James Schmeling, IVMF Managing Director & Co-founder

On August 4th President Obama discussed the need to revamp programs that train veterans for the civilian job market. This is an important undertaking, and any such review and reconfiguration of programs must include an examination and response to the issue of certification, at the state and national level, of training which military members have received while in service. The President’s example of Nick Colgin, a combat medic who is recertifying as an EMT before being eligible for employment in Wyoming is illustrative.

However, the answer may not lie with the Federal government and its agencies alone. The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the National Governors Association (NGA) may also have a significant role to play. Licensure and certifications are typically state-level functions. Military service and training are either state-level for Guard members or Federal for Reserve and active duty personnel. Because of this, collaboration between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), as well as the Department of Labor (DoL), and the Department of Education (DoED), and the states will be required. Model legislation and regulations should be prepared by NCSL and NGA which provide a framework in each state for certification to link military skills, training and service to the requirements and opportunities in each state.

As examples, states vary in what duties EMTs, nurses, or psychologists may perform, and states are rightly concerned to ensure each person licensed in their state be well-qualified. Qualifications may be determined from military service records, training certificates, and as necessary, qualifying exams, and comparison of those to state requirements.  It should not be the case that duplicative training or re-certification is required for military members transitioning into civilian life, which disregards their skills and training or their experience gained through service.

Some states have already enacted such bills. Colorado passed in May of 2011, Bill Number HB11-1100, an “Act Concerning the Consideration of Military Experience Towards Qualification for Professional Licensure and Certification”. It directs examining and licensing boards to “accept education, training or service completed by an individual as a member of the armed forces or Reserves of the united states, the national guard of any state, the military reserves of any state, or the naval militia of any State toward the qualifications to receive the license or Certification.” It leaves examining and licensing boards to implement the rules. Other states allow reciprocity for licensure and certification for accompanying spouses during the military member’s stationing in their jurisdiction. This could be extended to those separating and relocating permanently as a method of allowing geographic mobility for families – enhancing the veteran’s ability to find employment.
More than an “employment for veterans” issue, this is an economic development issue. States which adopt such legislation and regulations targeting veterans or family members with needed skills will find themselves drawing highly qualified veterans and their families to their states. Industries currently facing a shortage of well-educated and trained job candidates should readily support states which adopt this type of model legislation, and should focus on evaluating skills in immediate demand. DoD and DVA could identify the training and certifications which are most rigorous and readily transferable, as with the Army and Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) programs. DoL could assist states through the workforce system with identification of necessary skills and knowledge and comparison to military skills and education. Individual states, licensure and certification agencies could adopt these comparisons, making changes as needed to satisfy the state’s interests.

Grass-roots Veteran Serving Organizations (VSOs) providing skills translations from military to civilian occupations have a role to play as well. They may be most familiar with the specific careers, AFSCs, MOS, or other job identifiers and their relationships to jobs, licensing and certifications in their regions. Further, those VSOs engaged in policy advocacy may be best positioned to advocate with local legislator, governors and agencies for policy, legislation, rules, and regulations to impact certification and licensure.
Licensure, certification, education and employment for veterans and their families is currently a barrier, but one that has ready solutions for those states, industries, agencies, and boards willing to address the issues. Solutions already in existence should be quickly identified and cataloged for evaluation and use as models across the U.S., and for the benefit of business and industry, economic development initiatives, and for the veterans and their families who have served their country.

Update – 8/16/2011:
The White House’s Brad Cooper, Executive Director of Joining Forces in the Office of the First Lady just posted a similar discussion at
First Lady Michelle Obama addressed military spouses and their skills in an Op Ed in US News and World Report at

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