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Vocational College Training for Veterans Resources & Advice for Making the Transition from Active Duty to a Trade

When it’s time to close the chapter on the military portion of your life and start a new chapter in the civilian world, taking that next step requires some thought as far as what you want to do for a civilian career. Depending on your military training, you may want to continue doing that same job or decide now is the time to go in a different direction and do something you have never done before. Learn how to make that jump and provides a path where you can choose to use your military skills and GI Bill to train for a job in the vocational and trades arena.

Written By

Ron Kness Military Personnel Services Expert

Steps to a Vocational Career After Military Service

You’ve made your decision to get out of the military and transition into the civilian world. The next question most service members ask themselves when faced with this situation is “What do I want to do next with my life?” Most people either choose to go to college or train in one of the vocational trades; some will go the entrepreneur route and start their own business. Learning a vocation or trade is a great way to provide a needed service while at the same time work in a rewarding and satisfying career.

Participate in the Transition Assistance Program

A good place to start making the move is by maximizing the transition assistance training offered to military members leaving the service. Within 180 days before getting out, members leaving the military are given information and invited to a three-day workshop that explores careers, shows job-search strategies and provides some job search tools to help the servicemember find the right job for them.

The next step is to identify strengths. Focus on your skill sets and the things you do very well, such as:

  • Working as part of a team
  • Leading
  • Thinking on your feet – especially under pressure
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Being well disciplined
  • Following directions and orders
  • Knowing how to take care of equipment
  • Conservation of resources
  • Loyalty to the organization
  • Planning and organizing
  • Getting along with most types of people
  • Being a self-starter

These are just some of the “soft” skills military members learn while serving and general skills that employers like in the people they hire.

At the micro level, look at the training and experience you have for the job you are doing in the military. These specific skills may or may not play a part in choosing a civilian career depending on if you want to continue doing about the same thing or plan to take your next career in a different direction entirely.

Once strengths and experience have been identified, look for careers in the civilian world that capitalize on these two areas. Once you’ve identified potential careers, identify any additional training you may need to get the job you want in your chosen career field. That could mean getting into an on-the-job or apprenticeship program, going through a trade program at a vocational/technical school, or it could be something as simple as getting a certificate or certification on something you already know. Regardless, in most cases, the GI Bill – Montgomery or Post 9/11 – will help pay for this type of training.

Next, think back on things you did while in the military that made a positive contribution either to the organization or success of your missions. It could be a method you created that improved the efficiency of how something was done, or it could have been rescuing people from a flooded area. Try to relate those military accomplishments in civilian terms as they will become your key selling points when starting to build your online profile/resume.

When creating your online profile or resume, consider eliminating military slang and acronyms. If a potential employer is not familiar with the military, those terms will mean nothing to him/her. As a matter-of-fact, it may turn them off completely, even if you’re a perfect match for the job. Relate everything military in civilian terms. You can use either O*NET Military-to-Civilian Crosswalk or Credentialing Opportunities Online to help convert military MOSs into civilian language.

The last step in this process is to start searching for jobs. Some employers are more military friendly than others, and the ones that are in your field are a good place to start. Job search boards and networking with military friends who are already working in the civilian world are both good sources of employers that have job openings.

The Importance of Career Counseling

When getting out of the military and transitioning into the civilian workplace, many servicemembers try to go it alone when they don’t have to. There are several free sources of career counseling available.

Transition Assistance Program

Available to servicemembers within six months before getting out or up to one year after, this three-day workshop provides personalized counseling and helps explore career paths that may be right for you. Services include:

  • Career Choice

    Aids in the understanding of best career options based on interests and skills

  • Benefits Coaching

    Counsels servicemembers on how to make the most of GI Bill benefits

  • Personalized Support

    Helps identify academic requirements that may need to be met and can help remove any barriers that could impede or prevent veteran from attaining civilian career goals

While most of the information and training follows a specific path in the Transition Goals, Plans and Success (GPS) core curriculum, see how each military branch puts their own twist to the generic version in the links below:

The ultimate goal of Transition GPS is to ensure the departing servicemember meets the DoD’s career readiness standards, regardless of military branch of service, so each one is prepared and ready career-wise to enter the civilian job market and successfully find a challenging and rewarding career. Anything less is considered a failure on the part of the DoD by their own accord.

Career Scope

This is a counseling service provided by the VA that helps identify areas of interest and aptitude assessment. Based on the outcome in these two areas, a list of career recommendations is provided to the individual that would be a good match for them and the necessary training to bridge the current gap and get a job in each of the identified careers. Career Scope can be used not only by servicemembers and veterans, but also dependents eligible to receive VA education benefits. This would be the case of a spouse or dependent child being a recipient of a Post 9/11 GI Bill Transfer of Benefits. Timing as to when to use the service is the same as it is with TAP.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment

VR&E is a personalized counseling and support system that helps veterans and servicemembers with training, resume development, job seeking skills, job coaching, and if disabled, employment accommodations. Departing servicemembers who decide to start their own business instead of working for someone else, can find help doing that also.

Onward to Opportunity

Part of the Veterans Career Transition Program, this organization provides comprehensive training, certification and employment assistance in 30 industry-recognized career tracks and direct access to over 400 employers that favor hiring veterans. The program starts with a skills and interest assessment to identify a possible training plan. From there it offers both classroom and web-based training in three career areas: customer service excellence, information technology and business management. Once training is completed, they help coach the individual into specific job opportunities matching their skills, interests and recently completed training in one of the three areas.

COOL

Credentialing Opportunities Online helps military personnel find information on civilian certifications and licenses that relate to their military training, experience and MOS. In many cases, credentials can bridge the gap when vying for a civilian job. Not only does hiring an individual having a specific credential save an employer money by not having to pay for the training, it also saves time by getting the new employee into the job sooner. Most branches of the military each have their own credentialing site, except the Coast Guard. Those personnel can use either the Navy COOL site or the Career Onestop to find credentials matching their military job:

In many cases an individual will qualify for some type of credential and not even be aware of it, so it is worth looking into, especially if that credential is key to getting a specific job. If choosing between two otherwise equal applicants, an employer would most likely choose the one having the required credential over the one with none.

Vocational Careers to Consider and How to Get There

Many vocational careers match up well with training and experience gained from serving in the military. Some of the skills required are of a general nature and learned by almost everyone serving, while other skills may pertain to a specific military job. Here is a list of ten careers showing the military branch and job title, civilian job match, further education and how to get it, and three skills beneficial for that civilian career and the matching military skills. Note that these are just a few ideas to get you started, and there are dozens of other jobs that can be translated from the military to the civilian workplace.

Army: Patient Administration Specialist Civilian: Medical Records and Health Information Technician

Further education and how acquired:
  • An associate degree in healthcare information technology and post-secondary certificate as a registered health information technician (RHIT)
  • Community college or vocational school and pass the RHIT certification test
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Attention to detail
    • knowing the importance of being accurate and precise with numbers and codes
    • trained to understand orders and follow them as instructed
  • Critical thinking
    • using logic and reason to solve problems
    • fast decision making when faced with an unexpected problem
  • Deductive reasoning
    • applying general rules to problems and coming up with logical solutions
    • The ability to lead in the absence of a designated leader
Further education and how acquired:
  • Professional travel and event
  • Community colleges, vocational schools, and industry associations offer technical training or continuing education classes in professional travel and event planning
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Active listening
    • giving full attention to the person asking questions and asking coaching or clarifying questions as necessary and when appropriate
    • performing as a team leader or member of a team.
  • Service oriented
    • actively looking for ways to help people
    • being a member of a team or squad
  • Social perceptiveness
    • trained to get along with others in a mixed gender and culture organization
    • training and experience based on the diverse nature and cultural mix of military members
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Certified survey technician credential
  • Successfully passing the Certified Survey Technician exam monitored by an National Society of Professional Surveyors-approved proctor
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Communication skills
    • the ability to both speak and write as the individual frequently interacts with employees in the workplace and writes up reports
    • Trained to work as a member of a team. At the supervisory level, led a team and wrote up performance reports.
  • Ability to use technology
    • frequently uses complex computerized testing equipment
    • Most military jobs today require at least a base knowledge of computers with certain ones like computer networking requiring more advanced computer skills.
  • Problem-solving
    • have the ability to identify problems with workplace processes and to make suggested changes to improve the safety of workers
    • Trained to think on one’s feet to overcome obstacles often without supervision
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Associate degree in occupational health and safety and/or OHST certificate from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals
  • Community college for the associate degree and/or take and pass the OHST exam through Pearson VUE for certificate issuance
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Detail-oriented
    • the ability to do precise work
    • Sharp attention to detail
  • Physical Stamina
    • have the ability to work under adverse weather conditions and carry equipment over rough terrain
    • rigorous and consistent physical training
  • Problem-solving
    • have the ability to identify problems with equipment and fix them
    • Trained to think on one’s feet to overcome obstacles often without supervision
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Associate degree in mortuary science
  • Community college
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Compassion
    • the ability to treat clients with care and sympathy during their time of loss
    • Trained to treat fellow military members with respect and compassion during their medical treatment
  • Time management
    • have the ability to plan details of a funeral service; sometimes several services on the same day
    • Trained to manage a workload of several patients at a time
  • Business skills
    • be able to run a funeral home efficiently and profitably
    • Trained to track, dispense and manage resources in a hospital or field facility
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Post-secondary training and voluntary certification from the Society of Broadcast Engineers
  • Associate’s degree from community college and passing one of the SBE’s broadcast engineer certification exams
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Computer skills
    • the ability to set-up and operate computerized technical broadcast equipment
    • Training and experience with equipment used by Mass Communication Specialist
  • Manual Dexterity
    • can adjust knobs, sliders and dials both in the set up and during a broadcast
    • Familiarity with much of the same equipment used both in the civilian and military broadcasting worlds
  • Problem-solving
    • must have a variety of skills in setting up, operating and trouble-shooting equipment problems that arise
    • Trained and experienced to think on one’s feet to overcome technical obstacles often under time constraints and without supervision
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Passing exams for the Merchant Mariner Credential/Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping endorsement for open water travel
  • Both available at U.S. Coast Guard Regional Examination Centers
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Hand and eye coordination
    • operate controls while at the same time staying aware of surroundings
    • Training and experience operating shipboard equipment as a Boatswain’s Mate
  • Physical Strength
    • have the ability to lift heavy loads while at sea on a moving vessel
    • rigorous and consistent physical training along with performing many of the same lifting tasks while assigned as a Coast Guard member on a ship or boat
  • Mechanical skills
    • have the knowledge and ability to keep complex machinery working
    • Familiarity with and experience on the same family of equipment found on Coast Guard vessels
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Vocational degree in welding /certified welder certification
  • Vocational or technical institute/passing the certified welder exam offered by the American Welding Society
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Spatial-orientation
    • the ability to interpret two and three-dimensional diagrams
    • Training in the reading of boat systems diagrams and blueprints
  • Technical skills
    • have the ability to operate manual and semi-automatic welding equipment
    • Trained in the operation of various onboard boat damage control and repair equipment
  • Detail-oriented
    • be able to cut straight edges with minimal flaws
    • Trained in the repair of minor damage back to its original structural integrity
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Word processing and office procedure training
  • Vocational school training or associate degree from a community college
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Decision-making skills
    • the ability to prioritize tasks and make decisions
    • Having the ability to make decisions while underway and frequently without direct and immediate supervision
  • Organization skills
    • have the ability to file work in folders (manual and electronic) and maintain schedules
    • Trained in the organization of equipment and time while onboard a LAV
  • Interpersonal skills
    • be able to interact with clients and other office personnel
    • Trained to function as a member of a team onboard a LAV and the Marines they transport
Possible further education and how acquired:
  • Electrician training program/apprenticeship up to 5 years
  • Vocational or technical school/on-the-job training in an approved apprenticeship program
Skills needed for civilian job & skills acquired in the military from the position held:
  • Critical thinking
    • the ability logically diagnose electrical problems
    • Trained to diagnose and repair faulty computers and associated equipment in a network
  • Communication skills
    • be able to interact with employees and customers in a friendly and helpful manner
    • Trained to interact and effectively communicate as a member of a team
  • Physical strength
    • have the ability to lift heavy components up to 50 pounds or more
    • rigorous physical training program all Marines participate in during their terms of service

Financial Aid & Scholarships for Veterans

Even though the GI Bill can help offset the cost of going to school to learn a vocation or trade, sometimes it is still not enough to pay all of the education-related costs of going to school today. However, between using the GI Bill and applying for financial aid in the form of scholarships, out-of-pocket costs can be kept to a minimum or in some cases zero.

Post 9/11 GI Bill

  • Non-College Degree Program

    Pays the instate tuition rate at vocational/technical training schools. Also pays the veteran for the monthly housing allowance (MHA) based on the zip code of the school and up to $83 per month for books and supplies.

  • On-the-job Training/Apprenticeships

    For trades requiring completion of OJT or an apprenticeship, pays MHA based on a sliding scale according to percent of program completed. The first six months, the MHA is paid at 100%. For each additional six-month period, the amount of MHA drops 20%; if the program lasts longer than two years, it remains at 20% for the duration of the program. The drop in MHA is offset by an increase in wages from the employer so the amount the veteran in training receives remains almost constant. OJT and apprenticeships also get up to $83 per month for books and supplies.

Montgomery GI Bill

  • Non-College Degree Program

    This GI Bill pays the monthly rate up to $1,928 per month to attend vocational training. The student is responsible to pay their own tuition, books and other education-related expenses out of this amount.

  • On-the-Job Training/ Apprenticeships

    For these programs, it pays up to $1,446 per month for the first six months; $1,060.40 for the next six months; $674.80 for the remainder of the training.

Licensing and Certification Reimbursement

  • Under either GI Bill, the cost of taking certain tests can be reimbursed back to the student paying the cost of the exams by submitting VA Form 22-0803 to a local VA Regional Office. The amount of reimbursement varies according to the test, but cannot exceed $2,000 per test. The basic difference between the GI Bills is how they charge entitlement for reimbursement.

    Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, entitlement is charged at a minimum of 1 month per test (as long as the cost per test is under $1902.61). Over that amount and an additional month will be charged.

    Under the MGIB, entitlement is charged based on the actual cost of reimbursement. Being the current rate is $1,928, if reimbursement was for $964, one-half month of entitlement would be charged.

See our other guides for more information.

Making College Affordable for Veterans

Veterans differ from traditional college students in that many have families to support while they are going to school. By making college affordable, it helps provide the family with more disposable income that improves their quality of life.

Maximizing GI Bill Benefits

Even though the Post 9/11 GI Bill is one of the most generous GI Bills since its inception back in 1944, sometimes it is still not enough to cover all the expenses of going to school. However, the Yellow Ribbon Program – a feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill that schools can choose to be a part of – can help reduce the gap between what a school charges and what the New GI Bill pays.

Vocational School Scholarships

By using scholarships to pay for vocational school, more Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits can be allocated to family members having received a Transfer of Benefits while the sponsor was serving, thus reducing their post-secondary education costs.

Expert Advice – Ron Kness

Ron retired with 36 years of military service. His assignment as supervisor of military personnel services (including the education benefits section) provided him with a wealth of knowledge, training and experience with the GI Bills and post-secondary education in general. His last assignment was the 34th Infantry (Red Bull) Division Command Sergeant Major/E-9.

Ron is also a product of vocational education. He used the GI Bill to complete and graduate from the Detroit Lakes Vocational Technical Institute’s Automotive Mechanics course.

Below are some commonly asked questions in regards to vocational training and the GI Bill.

What is the difference between a vocation and a trade?

They are actually the same thing in many ways as a trade can be a vocation. A trade is a skill set that usually involves the use of hands to work the trade. A vocation is a person’s main occupation which of course can be a trade, however, it could also be of a technical, business or professional nature.

How long does it take to complete a vocational course?

Some courses can be completed in a matter of months, whereas others can take as long as two years. The ones that are considered two-year courses are actually two 9-month periods of instruction.

How does a vocational school course differ from a college or university?

In most cases, a vocational course is shorter in length although that is not always the case. Many vocational or trade courses are the same length as what it takes to get an Associate’s degree – two years.

The other major difference is a vocational course is more centered on the area of study. For example, in most vocational courses there is a period of instruction followed by a hands-on application of what was learned during that instruction. Most college courses are more about instruction and less hands-on and they are not as focused on one area, thus they cover a broader range of subjects of which many do not directly apply to chosen area of study.

What types of programs are included in a vocational course of study?

While not inclusive, this will give you an idea of the range of topics that can be studied at a vocational/technical school:

Does it make a difference which GI Bill I use to go to a vocational school?

Yes, it can. The main differences are the amount of payment and use of entitlement. Under the Montgomery GI Bill, entitlement is charged at the rate of one month for each $1,928 paid out (which is the rate per month of school). Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, tuition at the in-state rate is paid directly to the school and the student gets a monthly housing allowance based on the zip code of the school and $83 per month for books and supplies. However, the entitlement charged is equal to the term of the course and is independent of how much is paid out. So, in other words, entitlement is charged at the same rate regardless if going to a vocational school at the cheaper tuition rate or a four-year school at a more expensive tuition rate – one month charged for each month of school.