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Veterans’ Guide to Choosing the Right Vocational or Trade School Advice and Resources for Finding Programs that Aid Veteran Success

It is common knowledge that college is not for everyone. For many veterans that like working with their hands, learning a vocational trade can lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career. But with all the choices of trade and vocations (and schools) to choose from, how does one find the right trade that bet uses their skills and abilities and match it to the right school? In this guide we show veterans how to choose a vocational or trade and the right school for them, along with identifying some resources to use to help further fund their training and find employment after graduating.

Meet the Expert

Ron Kness Supervisor of Military Personnel Services

According to the Hechinger Report, in 2014 community colleges with 100 or more GI Bill® recipients managed to graduate only one in five veteran students.

Student Veterans and Vocational & Trade Schools: Common Questions Answered

Vocational trade programs, also called non-degree programs, encompass several training programs that prepares a student to take a license or certification exam, or receive a certificate of completion in a variety of fields. Completion of some programs can even result in a two-year associate degree depending on the course. Some of the more popular ones include:

  • Skilled Trades (Electrician, Plumber, Pipefitter, Carpenter, Automotive Mechanics, etc.)
  • Cosmetology
  • Healthcare
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Architectural Drafting
  • Computer Sciences
  • Commercial Truck Driving

In all, there are more than 200 different fields across 20-some industries classified as the vocational trades. But often, choosing the trade is the easy part; choosing the right school is harder. Many veterans ask…

“How do I find which vocational or trade schools are covered by the GI Bill®?”

One tool that makes it easier to find a school that honors your benefits is the Weams Institution Search. Each school or training program on the list is approved by the VA and accepts the GI Bill®.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

The Weams Institution Search provides the option of filtering by state to help student veterans find the nearest programs. For student veterans who wish to attend a school-based training program:

  • From the Program Type menu, select Non-College Degree and filter by State

For student veterans who want to learn a trade through on-the-job training or an apprenticeship program:

  • From the Program Type menu, select On-The-Job-Training/Apprenticeship and filter by State

Be aware of the pay rate of each GI Bill, as it differs depending on which GI Bill is used and whether the training is non-degree or OJT/Apprenticeship. Here is a quick breakdown:

TYPE OF GI BILL NON-DEGREE OJT/ Apprenticeship OJT/ Apprenticeship OJT/ Apprenticeship OJT/ Apprenticeship OJT/ Apprenticeship
First Six Months Second Six Months Third Six Months Fourth Six Months Remainder of Training
Post 9/11 Public/Private 100%/$23,671.94 100% MHA 80% MHA 60% MHA 40% MHA 20% MHA
MGIB-AD $1,928 $1,446 $1,060.40 N/A N/A $674.80
MGIB-SR $375 $281.25 $206.25 N/A N/A $131.25

Post 9/11 GI Bill

  • Veteran must be at the 100% tier to get 100% of the tuition paid for at a public school. The private school amount also assumes 100% tier percentage and is a per year maximum amount.
  • Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) is calculated based on full-time student status at the 100% tier and the zip code of the school. It is paid at the E-5-with-dependents rate based on the BAH Calculator. For vocational and trade courses, the VA uses clock hours per week instead of credits to calculate student status. Full-time is at least 18 clock hours per week for classroom training or at least 22 clock hours per week for shop or labs.
  • Book Stipend is paid at the rate of $83 per month assuming full-time student status and at the 100% tier. It is also subject to a $1,000 per year cap.

MGIB-AD

  • Rates quoted are based on having at least three years of qualifying service.
  • The OJT/Apprenticeship program under this GI Bill only covers the first and second six-month periods, along with the remainder of the program.

MGIB-SR

  • This GI Bill differs in that its education entitlement must be used while still serving and does not have any residual benefit remaining after getting out.
  • The OJT/Apprenticeship program under this GI Bill only covers the first and second six-month periods, along with the remainder of the program like the MGIB-AD.

With schedule flexibility being the main appeal of online training, many veterans considering a trade program wonder if vocational or trade programs can be completed online. The answer is yes: some trade and vocational programs can be completed fully or at least partially online, while others require hands-on training. Here are some of the differences between online and on-campus learning to consider:

  • Financial Differences – If using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the difference is in the amount of MHA each month. If taking a purely online program, the MHA amount is roughly half of what it would be for a veteran taking an on-campus program. Neither MGIB monthly payment is affected regardless of the training venue, online or on-campus.
  • Program Differences – The type of industry or program you want to pursue may restrict your ability to take advantage of a fully online program. The skilled trades and healthcare positions often have lab or fieldwork elements that must be accomplished in-person, but that doesn’t mean some portions of classwork may won’t be offered online. Curriculum is determined on a school-by-school basis.
  • Lifestyle Differences – Veterans are considered non-traditional students, often coming in later in age and with more life and work experience than the average college student. Adjusting to campus life can be a major lifestyle transition. Choosing an online program may make the college transition easier, especially for veterans with families or those who plan to work while attending school.
  • Support Differences – Veterans may find on-campus support systems useful, such as a school’s Veteran Support Center, Veteran’s Housing or Career Counseling services. This can be incredibly helpful for veterans transitioning from military life to college life. These services can also help veterans meet other veterans who share their experiences, and those taking classes online can still participate in on-campus veteran support groups.

There are also other support resources available, such as the Vet Center from the Department of Veterans Affairs. With centers located all over the United States, veterans can enter their zip code and type of service to return a list of locations nearby. They also have a 24/7 confidential hotline for combat veterans at 877-WAR-VETS (927-8387).

Choosing the Right Vocational or Trade School as a Veteran

One of the biggest challenges veterans face when thinking about attending college is finding a school that offers them enough support to earn their degree. In reality, many schools are not as prepared to help veterans as they could be, and student veterans often have to put in extra effort to make sure they succeed.

Sometimes school officials do not have a lot of personnel trained in dealing with the GI Bill. It could be two or three hours trying to get the right answers until everything was situated. By my second year [in school] I knew what to expect, and could walk most people through what I needed from the school to get my GI Bill.

Blair Shiplett, Army Veteran

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A VOCATIONAL OR TRADE PROGRAM AS A VETERAN

Choosing the Right Vocational or Trade Degree as a Veteran

For student veterans researching the industries or occupation they’d like to pursue a career in, it can be helpful to lean on your military experience and training. The skills learned during service can be divided into two categories: soft and hard. Soft skills are learned by everyone who has served and include things like:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Organization
  • Management
  • Communication

Hard skills are specific to their Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) and may or may not relate directly to a student veteran’s chosen vocation or trade. If your MOS included communications or information technology and you decides to pursue a computer programming degree, much of your military training and experiences could cross over.

Degree, Non-Degree and Certificate Programs for Student Veterans

Licenses

Most states have some type of licensing regulations that require people working in certain fields to have a current license in their field before they can work in that state. Obtaining the credential to work usually involves passing a state-approved licensure exam. If practicing in a different state, a license for that state must obtained too.

For example, some fields requiring licensing include many of the jobs in healthcare, personal care and trades, such as Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), cosmetology and electrician, respectively.

These credentials are similar in nature to licenses except that getting one is usually voluntary and not required by a state. However, by having a certification in a career field, it increases the chances of getting hired into that field. An industry that uses certifications extensively is computer technology.

For example, Microsoft offers several certifications aimed to increase expertise when working with certain software and related products.

When graduating from a vocational or trade school, a certificate is issued that serves as evidence of program completion. Much like a certification, a Certificate Program can help increase opportunities to secure a job in that field. Completing a vocational or trade course often prepares a student for a specific career, and to take a licensure or certification test necessary to work within that career.

A broader-level training option that typically requires two years of classroom study within a desired major, or area of focus. Students working towards an associate degree must also take general education credits, like English, math and history courses. Associate degrees prepare students to work in a variety of careers within an area of focus, and are a stepping stone to earning a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, with credits earned often transferring to continuing education programs.

One little known feature of the GI Bill is license or certification reimbursement. The way it works for veterans having GI Bill entitlement left is the student pays for the test(s) out-of-pocket and requests reimbursement from the VA by submitting VA Form 22-0803. The VA pays administrative, registration and actual fees for taking the exam (up to $2,000) and charges the veterans remaining unused GI Bill entitlement based on the type of GI Bill.

For the Post 9/11 GI Bill, most reimbursements reduce entitlement by at least one month regardless of how small the reimbursement might be. For the MGIBs, entitlement is reduced proportionate to the cost of the reimbursement compared to the monthly GI Bill rate. For more complete details on the GI Bill:

MOS-Based Vocational and Trade Careers for Veterans

Here are some MOS-matched career ideas for veterans, as well as other skill and ability-based trade and vocational training suggestions to help student veterans make the most of their military service experience:

Veterans with Aviation Experience

Every branch of the military has either rotary wing, fixed-wing or a combination of both. Veterans with this aviation experience could find success in vocation and trade positions:

Aircraft/Aviation Maintenance
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $61,020

  • What they do – Technicians perform maintenance and alteration tasks on aircraft and associated systems. Tests repaired systems to ensure compliance and records work accomplished.

Avionics Technician
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $62,650

  • What they do – Repair and maintain an aircraft’s electronic instruments including navigation, communication and radar systems.

Airfield Operations Specialist
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $52,360

  • What they do – Implement airfield safety procedures, assist in aircraft emergencies, manage wildlife on airport property and coordinate airfield construction.

Without personnel, administration and human resources, the military could not fully function. Veterans with service experience in these fields could quickly transition into trade or vocational positions like:

Accountant
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $39,340

  • What they do – Prepare, analyze and examine accounting records, financial statements and other financial reports for accuracy, completeness and conformity using computerized accounting systems.

Medical Secretary
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $37,870

  • What they do – Schedule and confirm patient appointments, surgeries and medical consultations. Operate in an office environment using standard office equipment, such as computers, copiers and phone and messaging systems.

Library Technician
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $24,820

  • What they do – Maintain library materials, books publications, etc. Help patrons find resources, reference materials and answer routine questions either in person or telephone. Process new publications for inclusion into collections.

Much of the military’s high-tech equipment requires understanding of computers and computer networks. Some natural vocational and trade programs to transition into include:

Computer Network Support
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $62,340

  • What they do – Technicians manage computer networks to include controlling access and permissions, configure security settings, analyze and report attempted or actual breaches of the network, as well as test software and associated equipment.

Computer Programming
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $82,240

  • What they do – Write code and develop software programs and other computer applications that provide everyday functions, entertainment and more to businesses and consumers. Most programmers specialize in certain programming languages.

Web Development
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $66,130

  • What they do – Write supporting code for computer programs, design, build and maintain websites, write website content, select programming languages, design tools and applications.

Veterans that did construction work while serving can easily transition into various building-based jobs. This includes vocational training in fields like:

Plumbing
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $52,590

  • What they do – Install and repair plumbing fixtures, along with water, sewer, gas and other piping systems in homes, businesses and factories.

Architectural Drafting
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $48,165

  • What they do – Produce designs, charts, forms, drawings and blueprints of residential and commercial buildings using a variety of Computer-Assisted Drafting (CAD) devices in conjunction with various building codes as guidance.

Carpentry
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $45,170

  • What they do – Build residential and commercial buildings according to blueprints, sketches and plans, while following all applicable safety and building codes in force at the time.

Construction Management
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $71,841

  • What they do – Meet with personnel, owners, contractors and design professionals to discuss work procedures and construction processes. Plan, schedule construction projects to meet deadlines and budget constraints, while ensuring compliance with all local, state and federal regulations and codes in force at the time.

Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may find success in vocations and trades that are less high-stress, are quiet and have natural lighting, and are done in less crowded locations with less spontaneous interaction. Some vocational training programs where veterans with PTSD could excel include:

Landscape Design & Architecture
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $65,760

  • What they do – Design and develop landscaping projects for residential and commercial spaces. Work with computer programs to construct functional and ornamental horticulture projects.

Nursery or Greenhouse Management
  • Training – Associate degree

  • Pay – $69,620

  • What they do – Use techniques and procedures to grow horticultural plants for sale to customers. Identify diseases, pests and weeds that could affect the health of plants. Assign work schedules to employees and supervise their work.

Truck Driving
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate/Class A Commercial Driver’s License

  • Pay – $42,480

  • What they do – Perform maintenance and checks on equipment, inspect loads and maintain log of hours driven in support of local, state or federal regulations. Job can entail long haul coast-to-coast driving or in a local area and home every night.

Situational awareness is a skill all military personnel are trained in, but those who also specialized in security or surveillance during their service could excel in vocational training programs to become:

Security Systems Technicians
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $44,330

  • What they do – Install, repair and maintain security systems in homes, businesses and factories to include wiring, control panels and sensors. Also demonstrate the use of systems to customers.

Municipal Firefighters
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $49,080

  • What they do – Assess fires and situations, fight fires, search and rescue victims from burning buildings, accident sites and water hazards.

Police Officers
  • Training – Post-secondary certificate

  • Pay – $62,690

  • What they do – Identify, pursue and arrest suspects and criminals, while providing public safety, maintaining order, responding to emergencies, and protecting people and property, while enhancing community relations.