'Let’s get out there and do it'
The unique employment challenges facing military spouses was discussed at length during day two of the National Credentialing Summit. (Photo by Craig Roberts)

'Let’s get out there and do it'

Success stories, the need for outreach, “turf issues” and the plight of military spouses were major themes of the second day of The American Legion’s National Credentialing Summit in Washington, D.C.

Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion's D.C. office, opened the session by noting the organization’s continued assertive, proactive role in encouraging veterans education and employment through career fairs, legislative lobbying and conferences such as the credentialing summit. He reminded the hundred-plus attendees, however, that, “Words are not enough. This summit must be followed by action.”

Similar to the summit's first day, the summit featured a series of onstage discussion panels from private industry, non-profit organizations, government agencies and the military community. Panelists included experts on credentialing quality assurance, state licensing and regulation, and the role of workforce systems in promoting veterans’ licensure and certification.

A major presentation at midday highlighted successful licensing and partnering efforts pioneered by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. During the 90-minute session, summit attendees learned how the Teamsters/Military Assistance Program, begun in 2007, has brought together veterans employment advocates from the trade union, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Army Guard and Reserve, the Helmets to Hardhats construction industry program and the Pentagon to establish simplified and efficient commercial driver’s license (CDL) acquisition for qualified returning servicemembers without compromising professional standards or public safety. The initiative was touted as a model of cooperation among disparate entities to achieve the common goal of best utilizing veterans’ military-acquired skills and experience.

Another major panel discussion piggybacked on a recently released report from First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, highlighting occupational licensing challenges faced by military spouses.

National Credentialing Summit panelists echoed findings in the report, “Supporting Our Military Families: Best Practices for Streamlining Occupational Licensing Across State Lines,” which noted that because military spouses are often uprooted frequently and their occupational credentials are seldom transferrable from one place to another, their careers are in danger of suspension or even termination.

Among the nearly 50 professions that require state licensure are teachers, nurses, physician assistants, medical technicians, dieticians, dental hygienists, therapists and social workers. A military spouse’s inability to pursue a chosen profession, argue advocates of certification and licensing reform, can lead to financial hardship for the family. The denial of desired work, said panelists, also poses a national security threat since frustrated spouses may pressure their servicemember husband or wife to leave the military.

Nearly half of military community members are married, said the panelists, and the licensing and certification issues affect more than 100,000 military spouses.

Toward the end of summit, American Legion Economic Commission Chairman Dale Barnett presented a certificate of appreciation to one of the session’s key organizers and long-time supporter of the Legion’s employment initiatives. Afterward, award recipient Lisa Lutz, co-founder of northern Virginia consulting firm SOLID (Solutions for Information Design) was asked what she learned from the conference.

“I think the take-away is that there are so many good things going on, and it’s extremely important that everyone’s aware of what they are so (they) can take them back to their constituents and stakeholders and replicate them," Lutz said. "We’re seeing things that are going on in a variety of occupational areas like trucking, health care, utilities – all of which can be replicated in other occupational areas. That’s what needs to happen.

“It’s not going to happen from any one stakeholder. It’s going to have to happen from this consortium. I’ve seen the connections that have been made, and I’ve seen people’s eyes light up and say ‘oh, we can do that!

What is needed now, though is to carry that forward. We’ve got momentum (but) we have to make sure there’s some systematic way of bringing these people back to the table and learning again from what they’re doing.”

During the summit, a lack of outreach by stakeholders in communicating the availability of employment-seeking aids and opportunities was identified as an issue. Lutz addressed that by saying, “Outreach is absolutely key in spreading the information, and that’s one of the things this summit has done a good job of (here). (But external) outreach and information dissemination must be key parts of the effort.”

Another obstacle to military-to-civilian licensing and certification transference is what one attendee called the “turf issue” – agencies and entities protecting their administrative territories.

“The ‘turf element’ is certainly a key issue,” Lutz said. “We’ve seen some turf issues even during the planning (of this event). We need to all look at the ultimate goal here and that is the welfare of the veteran and the spouse and the servicemember.

“Everybody is here because they have some sort of self-interest, But, that’s not a bad thing,” she continued, noting how credentialing and licensing agencies can increase their customer bases hugely by embracing the veteran population. “Clearly they’re in business, and they need to keep bringing in certificants. This is a perfect opportunity.”

Lutz made a similar point about private industry and how it, through changes in credentialing and licensing procedures, can streamline the acquisition of highly qualified and motivated employees from the increasingly vast pool of military veterans. In the end, “hiring a veteran is just good business,” said Lutz.

At the end of the day's 10th hour, closing remarks were offered by U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of the Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program. “If we pledge to scream at the top of our lungs from every rooftop to make this a primary issue, then you need to go back…and talk to anyone who will listen about the importance of this," he said. "The President said in his State of the Union address that there were 2 million jobs in America that needed to be filled and couldn’t be filled because we lacked a trained work force. The president just gave us the perfect platform to make veterans, Guard and reservists, military spouses and active-duty transitioning servicemembers the heart, the core of the supply for those 2 million jobs. So, my call to action is let’s get out there and do it.”

As attendees departed, Barnett reflected cheerfully on the National Credentialing Summit. “The networking here has been tremendous,” he said. “I am very, very happy with what’s been going on, and I’m sure there will be some resolutions coming out of this summit at our (national) convention.”

The Legion's Economic Division has made available PowerPoint presentations from its Credentialing Summit for viewing: