A baker's dozen veterans employment advocates gathered in Indianapolis at The American Legion's national convention to update one another – and an audience of Legionnaires – on their commonly waged campaign to streamline civilian licensing and credentialing of job-seeking servicemembers and veterans.
Members of the Legion's Economic Commission listened intently for nearly five hours to the assembly of federal officials and industry stakeholders, most of whom had participated in a groundbreaking, Legion-led Licensing and Credentialing Summit in Washington this past February. It was that initial two-day conference and recently enacted federal legislation that were cited as primary drivers behind what is being lauded as dramatic progress on the issue of post-service credentialing of appropriately trained and experienced military personnel.
In Late July, President Obama signed into law the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act which directs "the head of each Federal department and agency to treat relevant military training as sufficient to satisfy training or certification requirements for Federal licenses." This primarily affects certifications issued by the federal aviation, communications and maritime agencies. In concert with this legislation is a section of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, signed last November, which directs government study of this concept's other practical applications.
Lisa Lutz, a policy analyst who has been working with the Legion on this issue since the mid-1990s, began the discussion by identifying three key prerequisites a license or certification seeker must complete. The first, she said, was meeting an academic requirement. This can range from completion of relatively short term classroom study and/or hands-on practical work to the longer term earning of a college level degree.
This training requirement, said Lutz, is proving to be the most challenging for servicemembers and veterans to meet. Satisfying a credentialing body's experience requirement is far easier, said Lutz, since relevant military experience is commonly recognized in the civilian world. The passing of a written, oral and/or practical examination is the third requirement for licensing or certification, said Lutz. The taking of many exams requires payment of a fee. With this, Lutz said, GI Bill financial assistance is available. The GI Bill and, in the case of active duty personnel, Department of Defense (DoD) tuition assistance can defray some training costs as well, said Lutz.
In contrast to the not-too-distant past, Lutz said, nearly every military occupation can be directly or indirectly related to civilian credentialing today. These include, according to her, occupations that appear to be military-specific, such as weapons management. Even they often utilize "embedded" skills such as those employed in civilian information technology specialties.
Susan Schoeppler of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, quoted numbers, noting that the services catalog approximately 2,000 discrete military occupational codes, about 1,200 of which are relatable to civilian licenses and certifications.
Her command, which oversees the Army's intramural education, is pursuing congressionally mandated pilot programs in specific occupational areas. Their completion will help in the development of more "across-the-board" policies and procedures for military-to-civilian licensing.
DoD's Marion Cain told of his department's financial stake in streamlining civilian credentialing of veterans. The alarmingly high unemployment rate among young veterans is reflective, in part, of civilian licensing practices that delay or prevent employment of qualified former servicemembers. DoD and, by extension, taxpayers have to pay a portion of unemployment compensation to vets. That cost in 2011 alone was $917-million, said Cain.
Ed Kringer of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) spoke of burdens placed on already licensed and certified military spouses who often lose professional privileges whenever their family moves to another licensing jurisdiction or the pursuit of their occupation is interrupted. This, said Kringer, not only causes personal hardship for the affected spouse, but also threatens retention rates, as disgruntled wives or husbands pressure their spouses to leave the military.
Roundtable participants agreed that the new federal legislation was accelerating their movement at an unprecedented rate. Speaking of the VOW Act, "Junior" Ortiz, acting assistant secretary in charge of the Department of Labor's Veterans Training and Employment Service (VETS), said, "it gave us teeth." Ray Decker of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced a recent, significant increase in the percentage of veterans employed in federal jobs.
Yet,many challenges remain. Lutz reminded listeners that only about 10 percent of all credentialing entities are accredited, thus calling into question the viability and employability of some credentials. Several other roundtable participants identified reasons why credentials should not necessarily be hastily issued to military and former military personnel. Selden Fritschner of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Elizabeth Belcaster of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters raised safety, insurance and bonding concerns that could be created by "rubber stamping" veterans with some civilian licenses.
Dr. Amy Dufrane of the HR (Human Resources) Certification Institute was among those who addressed the fact that technical skills gained in the military were, in many instances, more easily transferable to the civilian workplace than so-called "soft skills." Warren Lupson of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, Tony Molla of the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence, Victory Media's William Offutt and Prudential Financial's Ray Weeks leant their views and expertise to the private sector aspects of the discussion.
Early on, Ed Kringer of OSD told how his office was formulating "model legislation" that would carry a successful military-to-civilian licensing and certification effort to all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Since a significant number, if not the majority, of licenses and employment certifications are granted by states, it is essential, say campaigners, that their message be conveyed to every state house. As it stands, 26 states grant selected license skills test waivers to qualified servicemembers and veterans. Ten states and D.C. are working on legislation to grant such waivers. Yet, 14 states still do not recognize skills gained in the military by license applicants, and in many states not all disciplines requiring certifications have been addressed.
Roundtable participants and Legionnaires attending the session agreed that Legion members have the will and way to mobilize and influence their home legislatures in the licensing the certification campaign. As Lutz said at meeting's end, "Much of the discussion was a really good example of how the Legion can tackle specifically a single issue – in this case state licensure –get that information out to Legionnaires and have them do something collectively, and correctively, about it."