Written by: James Schmeling and Kelly McCray
Veteran service members and families have a lot to consider as they separate from service and return to their civilian lives. Due to a lack of emphasis on what comes next for the prospective veteran and family, we offer these 10 questions for transitioning veterans to ask themselves to prepare for what’s next.
1. Where do I go from here?
Remember that both short and long-term decisions need to be made, and utilize all available resources to achieve both goals.
Many veterans think about where they are going to move immediately after their service, and most either remain at their last duty station or return home. Both options can be appealing – returning home to family and friends, moving locally or not at all after separating from service, or having a final move paid for by the government. What veterans often fail to consider, however, is what education and career opportunities are available in the places they choose to make their new homes. Consider using terminal leave not only to return home to visit family and friends, but also to scout career and education opportunities in the area.
You Should Know: The top 100 metro areas in the country are home to 2/3 of the population, and responsible for 75% of the gross domestic product according to Jennifer Bradly of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute. In “The New Geography of Jobs,” the author reports that wages are significantly higher in some places than others, often based on population, the types of business and industry in those locations, and the education levels of the population. Wage levels tend to be higher in areas with high education levels overall, even for those without equivalent education. Education programs also vary across geographic areas, as each may have education and training programs that are ideally suited to the businesses and industries that have cultivated within that particular area. States offer differing education benefits for veterans and families, and residency before, during, or immediately after military service may determine eligibility. See theFast Track Jobs Map to learn more about areas with economic opportunities for you.
2. Do I need training, vocational education or higher education?
Knowing whether education or training is desired before separating from service allows veterans to consider where they may most successfully pursue their next steps.
Veterans have a variety of options when it comes to obtaining education and training. States offer tuition waivers for veterans who are, or will become, residents of their states; several colleges and universities offer scholarships to veterans; some workforce development regions offer training and education in high-demand, high-growth industries; and some veteran philanthropies and employers offer training in their industry that may lead to a job. Location matters for some of these opportunities, while others are available through distance education (such as the IVMF’s Veteran Career Transition Program). Veterans are entitled to training and education benefits as part of their unemployment compensation for ex-service members. These benefits provide valuable opportunities for career change, training in high-demand and high-growth careers in a particular geographic region, and to consider future career direction with the assistance of vocational counselors.
Note: For veterans with a disability rating, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides access tovocational rehabilitation services that prepare veterans for careers. The G.I. Bill (either Montgomery or post-9/11) provides education benefits for veterans, and the post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits include living stipends, book stipends, and are even transferable to dependents in some cases. Examining all the benefits available will help you make informed choices. The IVMF has produced a guide to “Navigating Government Benefits & Employment” which you may find useful.
3. Will I work in a career similar to, or different from, my military career?
Making this decision early will help refine career options and pathways to future careers.
Some careers make use of specific technical skills gained through military education, training and service. Most careers will make use of the organizational, leadership, team-focused skills, and other characteristics and traits that military veterans bring with them post-service.
Be informed: There is currently a high unemployment rate for the youngest (20-24 years of age) and newest veterans, most likely due to difficulty in initial transition – because veterans don’t know what they can do, or want to do, post-service and businesses don’t recognize the competitive advantage veterans offer, failing to understand how to compare veterans to traditional career applicants. There are many businesses focused on veteran employment, including those participating in the 100,000 Jobs Mission, members of the Get Skills to Work consortium, and members of Hiring Our Heroes, among others.
4. For similar careers, are there different career paths depending on the geographic area?
For careers similar to those in service, veterans should determine if they vary from location to location. Some areas may be more advantageous due to proximity to defense contractors, logistics hubs, manufacturing hot spots, or energy production locations. Finance, accounting and consulting are often clustered in certain regions, while human resources, payroll and many back-office functions are present in most locations, though wages and cost of living will vary.
States have different requirements for licensed and certified professions, and credit military service differently. Some accept military training and education in lieu of civilian requirements, or waive pre-requisites and other requirements.
For example: Those with experience driving or operating heavy equipment and trucks, or those with medical training and experience as combat medics, emergency medical technicians, ambulance drivers, nurses, physical therapists and others, may be eligible for certification waivers, depending on each state. This may provide for a smooth career transition, so veterans should carefully consider location when preparing to transition.
5. Do licenses and certifications present barriers or opportunities?
Understanding opportunities and barriers before making a move may enhance career opportunities, helping avoid obstacles, career stalls or resets.
This is relevant to both veterans and their spouses. Many spouses are in licensed professions and trades, such as teaching, daycare, law, and health care; therefore, transferability of licensure and certification will impact career paths. Some states focus on economic development and are eager to welcome skilled professionals into their job markets, particularly veterans and their families, while others have maintained barriers that are difficult to overcome without time and money.
6. What skills, characteristics or traits are transferable and important for my career?
Veterans should assess which of their skills, characteristics, and traits are transferable to new careers.
The ability to follow complex rules and regulations in certain military careers may translate well into safety-related careers or other highly regulated fields. Those who have experience training and leading teams may find applicability of those skills in many fields. Leadership and management experience is readily transferable, as well as information technology and cyber-security skills.
Seek Advice: Advice from transition professionals in the workforce development system may help, as can career transition officials in the various military services. Many veteran-serving organizations can also help assess and instruct on how to communicate transferability.
7. What new skills do I need?
When changing careers, it is incumbent on veterans to determine what they will need to learn, and how they will obtain new skills.
Training and education, internships and other first-hand learning opportunities, or taking on additional assignments and duties prior to transition are all options for learning new skills. If launching a new career, veterans may have to start at entry-level positions and advance quickly, or accept “stretch” assignments intended to further develop employees by learning and applying new skills on the job, or in some cases, to demonstrate existing skills and competencies.
Know your options: There are many other programs aimed at helping veterans and their families make the transition. Programs like Get Skills to Work may be perfect fits for veterans who want to make careers in advanced manufacturing; Combat2Claims may provide opportunities for entry into the insurance industry; and SAP’s Warriors to Work program provides entry to database-related positions. Click here for more information about programs designed to equip veterans with skills.
8. What about my spouse? Should he/she be asking similar questions?
Pre-planning for transition is an important component of planning the post-service life course for the entire family.
As mentioned before, licensure and certification are career concerns for family members, and veterans should consider whether careers are available for their spouse in a specific geographic region. If a spouse is trained in consulting but the veteran returns to a rural area, will the spouse be able to find an equivalent career, or will the spouse need to consider alternative careers that build on the skills, characteristics and traits they have obtained? If a lawyer, will the spouse be able to be admitted to a new jurisdiction? Can teaching certifications be transferred, or will they be eligible for accelerated licensure? Another option would be for a spouse to use the transition to pursue additional training and education.
Tip: In some states, involuntary moves and separation are valid reasons for spouses to collect unemployment benefits, and with them, access to training and education opportunities.
9. What about children?
Education for students with disabilities or other education needs should be considered before relocation, or unanticipated financial challenges may occur if minor children have to be enrolled in private schools, have private tutors, or receive other special services that were previously provided by military education facilities.
Consider: Which states have dependent tuition benefits available for veterans who are residents? How will relocation affect these benefits? What are the services and supports available in the new area for children with distinct educational support needs? Are the schools going to support educational goals and outcomes, including extra-curricular activities and athletics? Remember that post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits are transferable to dependents in some cases.
10. What dreams do I have that initially motivated my service?
For many veterans and families, military service is a path to a larger goal or opportunity. Those original goals should be considered when transitioning out of service, ensuring that military service contributed to the goal and was not simply a detour along the way.
Many veterans and families determined what was really important to them during their service, during separations and sacrifice, during difficult duty postings and assignments, and during personal transformations and transitions.
Remember: Those determinations should be carefully weighed in making transition decisions, and those dreams should be pursued with the resources and assets gained through service to the country!
James Schmeling is the managing director and co-founder at the IVMF. Kelly McCray is currently studying public and international relations at Syracuse University’s Newhouse and Maxwell schools, and will enter the U.S. Foreign Service as a diplomacy officer following graduation.