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By Lizann Lightfoot

Here's the truth behind Warren's military transition speech
(Photo: US Army, Christine Cabalo)

On February 15, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of Massachusetts gave a long pro-military statement at a meeting of the Senate Committee on the Armed Services. With representatives of the Army, Navy, and Air Force present, she said:

“If you can drive a military truck in combat, with hazardous cargo, at night, through a sandstorm, then you can drive a commercial truck on an interstate… If you can dock or anchor a 10,000 ton warship under extreme stress, you can do the same thing for a small commercial ship… We spend hundreds of millions to train our service members to do highly skilled jobs, and they are the best at what they do. But too many still struggle to transition into civilian jobs because they don’t have the right certifications and licenses – even when they’re being hired to do the exact same thing under much less taxing conditions. We’ve made progress on this issue over the last few years, and I don’t want to lower civilian standards – but I don’t believe for one second that these individuals aren’t ready to do the equivalent civilian jobs the day they leave the military. They shouldn’t end up buried in paperwork or dump their money into a shady for-profit college to do it. Let’s fix this problem.”

The video of Warren’s speech has now gone viral, in part because Senator Warren is right. Getting a civilian job is not easy for many military veterans, even when they have had years of military training. Military officers present during her speech agreed with her, saying that there are often license obstacles or certification requirements that must be met before military veterans qualify for civilian jobs.

What Warren’s speech leaves out is that veteran unemployment cannot be solved simply by fixing certification and licensing issues. The problem is much more complex. If certifications were the only obstacle, the problem would have been solved years ago by the US Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP).

What is the US Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP)?

USMAP is used by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. It was developed in 2008 as a method for military service members to translate their service skills into civilian jobs. The program links military training to official licenses and certifications with the US Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.

Since military personnel already complete many hours of annual training just to reach military standards, USMAP offers a method to document those hours and apply them towards civilian certifications. USMAP has registered 180 different occupations and in 2013 had grown to 88,000 apprenticeships annually — one quarter of all apprenticeships in America. In theory, USMAP benefits service members by tracking the training they are already required to complete in the military and applying it towards civilian certifications, with a minimal amount of effort from the service member.

As the Navy officer present during Warren’s speech pointed out, USMAP gives sailors the opportunity to be certified in at least one civilian field before they leave the Navy. However, research shows that only one in four sailors uses USMAP to gain a certification during their service. Only one out of 14 Marines gains a certification from the USMAP program. With such low participation rates in USMAP, it’s no surprise that veteran unemployment is still so high.

Why is USMAP inadequate for solving the problem of veteran employment?

There are several reasons that a certification program like USMAP is unable to solve the problem of veteran unemployment.

First, USMAP is not well understood or promoted effectively to service members. Civilian certifications do not matter in military service, so many service members don’t realize the benefit of the program until they are already out of the military.

Secondly, USMAP offers little assistance to service members in the infantry. A rifleman, a mortarman, or a TOW gunner cannot easily translate their military skills into any civilian field. They may have experience in leadership or management, but their years of specialized weapon training do not matter for civilian licenses.

Finally, USMAP cannot guarantee veteran employment, since some veterans have no desire to repeat a military job in the civilian field. USMAP’s website requires the apprenticeship to be directly related to the service member’s military occupation. However, after serving for four or more years in the military, many service members want to put those memories behind them and pursue a new hobby or unrelated career. It’s not unusual for veterans to choose careers as chefs, teachers, and Crossfit trainers. Choosing an unrelated career means starting from scratch and paying for classes or certifications. (Remember, the GI Bill helps to cover these costs).

There’s more work to be done

Senator Warren was right about the problem of veteran unemployment but seemed to miss the mark when she proposed streamlining licensing programs. In fact, driving a Humvee in combat does not automatically qualify someone to drive an 18-wheeler on the interstate. Service members still need to take the time to train and certify in civilian careers. The military already has the USMAP program, but it doesn’t help enough veterans. Military families look forward to a solution that will improve veterans’ ability to become certified in a variety of civilian jobs.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.

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