Building the bridge to civilian employment

A few years ago, National Public Radio featured a story in which a retired Army medic vet, Nick Cogin, was interviewed on "Talk of the Nation." When asked about major challenges that veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars faced upon return to civilian life, he expressed his frustration over veterans unemployment. One area Cogin identified as a key deterrent to the hiring of veterans in the private sector was the lack of proper credentials or certifications. This is a typical concern voiced by veterans leaving active duty and seeking employment in civilian life.

A task force was initiated by the Obama administration in late 2012 to review the role of credentialing, certifications and certificate programs for military-to-civilian employment, find ways to expedite credentialing based on professional experience, and explore best practices. One key finding that emerged from the task force report is that, "despite having valuable military experience, veterans frequently find it difficult to obtain formal private-sector recognition of their military training, experiences, and skill sets through civilian certification and licensure."

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, nearly 1 million veterans are either unemployed or still seeking employment. On the other hand, employees continue to lament the lack of skilled workers to draw from the labor pool. The renaissance of manufacturing and emerging technologies in the U.S. holds promise for veterans and their employment outlook (National Governors Association Academy Policy Report, 2013). However, the key is to match employers with potential employees and communicate a common viewpoint about the value of education and credentials for top jobs.

The Skills Translator, available through, allows servicemembers to help match their experience with jobs. In addition, a few of the top jobs in manufacturing and materials science and technology that require a skilled workforce are:

• Heat Treat Operator

• Quality Engineer

• Materials Technician/Engineer

• Metallographic Technician

• Thermal Spray Operators/Industrial Coaters

• Corrosion Technician

• Metallurgic Engineer

• Fabricator/Welder

Beside colleges and universities, there are several resources that professional organizations offer for returning veterans to reinforce their military experience with continuing education, certification and licensing programs:

• ASM International: Provides education and certificate programs in heat-treating, failure analysis, corrosion, metallography and thermal spray. The three-tiered certificate program in metallography provides the student an in-depth course of study in metallographic specimen preparation, micro-structural interpretation, and analytical techniques. The Heat Treating Certificate Program has been endorsed by the International Heat Treating Society. In addition, ASM offers one-on-one coaching on metallographic techniques, which helps integrate experience from the military to civilian labs and protocols.

• National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE): Offers veterans scholarships and provides certifications. NACE International and The Corrosion Society serve nearly 30,000 members in 116 countries, and is recognized globally as the premier authority for corrosion-control solutions. The organization offers technical training and certification programs, conferences, industry standards, reports, publications, technical journals and government relations activities.

• Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME): The SME website states, "SME offers advanced manufacturing certifications, as well as a Lean certification similar to the American Society for Quality’s Lean Six Sigma and Green/Black Belt certifications. Warrant Officer Advanced Course students in the Army’s engineer school at Ft. Leonard Wood are eligible for the SME Certified Manufacturing Technologist program. The engineer school credentialing program is currently in development, and the first class of participants will take their SME tests in 2013."

• American Welding Society (AWS): Offers credentials for certified welder and certified welding inspector. As a result of AWS’s partnership with the Army’s Ordnance Center and School, the soldiers and Marines who graduate each year from the Allied Trades Specialist Advanced Individual Training course will earn the basic welder certification. The first class to participate in this program began their training on Dec. 1, 2012.

Research in adult learning and development increasingly emphasizes that education and training doesn’t just happen in the classroom (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). It is through those unplanned conversations during a professional association chapter meeting that often galvanize learning and experiences from the Armed Forces. Military personnel may want to consider proposing a "military" track for conferences to encourage dialogue about the unique issues that returning veterans face in integrating their experience into civilian labs and workplaces.

In addition, several professional associations offer formal mentoring programs that could potentially provide a returning veteran an opportunity to build strong relationships with civilian employers and professionals. These relationships, if cultivated and supported, can lead to better satisfaction, easier transition to the civilian workplace and life, and pave the way for potential employment opportunities.

While much work needs to be done to elevate the urgency of supporting our servicemembers as they return to civilian life and employment, there have been significant strides forward in policy and services. In addition to the efforts from government task forces, higher education, technical/trade schools, and local/state workforce development hubs, professional associations are dedicated to help build that bridge to jobs in the private sector, so that our brave men and women who return from their tours are supported with opportunities to help realize their American dreams.