Soldiers in the 11 Bravo infantryman MOS and several other military occupational specialties are getting a leg up on translating their skills into civilian roles with the help of a credentialing program. (Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington / Army)
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The Army next year will launch a credentialing program that will enable tens of thousands of soldiers in the 10 largest military occupational specialties to convert Army training and experience into a civilian career and give them a leg up on promotions while they remain in uniform.
The number of soldiers in these MOSs is about half of the enlisted force.
Programs that help soldiers transition from the Army combat uniform to the blue collar are nothing new. But this effort allows soldiers to get civilian certifications and licenses while on active duty — the kind employers are looking for.
"The knowledge, skills and abilities soldiers possess are very valuable and marketable to civilian employers," said Brig. Gen. Pete Utley, deputy chief of staff for operations and training at Training and Doctrine Command. "What we are trying to do is work with civilian credentialing agencies and TRADOC schools to identify credentialing opportunities for more MOSs."
High unemployment rates among young soldiers drove the credentialing initiative. The Army pays half a billion dollars each year in unemployment compensation. That's as much as the rest of the Defense Department. And those payments are likely to increase as the Army cuts its end strength by 80,000 soldiers in the next five years.
But this is not just a money issue, officials said. One-third of Americans ages 18 to 24 are unemployed, but that number doubles for veterans in the same age group, according to the Department of Labor. Most employers have no idea the many skills a former soldier brings to the table. Many soldiers also have more time and training at their job than Johnny on the block, but the soldier lacks the piece of paper to prove it. That's where this program comes in. It is designed to get everyone speaking the same language and to make soldiers more competitive when they enter the civilian job market.
That news is well-received by soldiers such as Sgt. 1st Class Sharon M. Acosta Martinez, who called it a "great idea."
"It will make some justice for those soldiers that are constantly deployed and have not taken the time to get a proper education degree from any accreditable college," Acosta Martinez said. "I have always seen the Army as the perfect career development for those individuals that have chosen to serve the country over his or her personal goals. People out of this career have big amounts of respect from our fellow comrades and, as they trust us on our service, they will trust us as well in the civilian world. Thank you for making justice, those guys deserved it."
The 10 MOSs that will receive primary focus in the coming year are the Army's most populous, including 11B infantryman, 12B combat engineer and 31B military police.
There are credentialing programs for other MOSs. More than 1,200 civilian licenses and certificates have relevant connection to 96 percent of enlisted MOSs, and 91 percent of the Army's 455,000 enlisted soldiers serve in these specialties, according to education officials. Another 370 licenses and certificates are tied to warrant officer MOSs, and both lists continue to grow. For example, the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Va., is developing credentialing programs for 27 of its 57 specialties.
But Training and Doctrine Command is using the aforementioned 10 specialties to lay a foundation on which the program will expand in coming years, said Maj. Neil Wahab, training staff officer at TRADOC. Officials will closely monitor pass rates and how closely Army training meets civilian requirements.
"It's about time civilian credentialing for military members became more widespread in the military as a whole," said 1st Lt. James Sullivan, a construction officer with the New Mexico Army National Guard's 920th Engineer Company (Horizontal Construction). "Why is it only physicians, nurses, lawyers, pilots, aviation mechanics, etc.? Why not engineers, truck drivers, or other publicly licensed occupations, as well? Why not private certifications?"
Sullivan has plenty of experience in this. He has written different resumes for different jobs: Each describes the same skills and experience, but each in different "languages" to be understood by the civilian community.
Sullivan said he is a strong supporter of the credentialing program for a number of reasons. Topping the list is the fact that having these credentials would improve the employability of the individual soldiers after they leave the military. But he also believes it would be beneficial to allow soldiers to attend nonmilitary conventions and training.
"Having soldiers participate in the civilian credentialing process alongside nonmilitary peers would show the public at large the technical and managerial skills that the military develops, which would benefit all service members," he said.
Right now, the plan is to initiate most certifications at advanced individual training. This isn't a matter of taking a quick test and getting a cheesy certificate.
Consider the food service specialist. His path to become a certified culinarian or pastry culinarian in the American Culinary Federation begins at AIT, but requires an additional 4,000 hours of certified training and experience. It may sound like a hassle, but keep in mind he will have far more than 4,000 hours under his belt when his hitch is up regardless.
How to sign up
Getting the ball rolling should begin with the soldier's first-line supervisor, who is responsible for career counseling. Together, they should tailor a plan that fits the soldier's goals, whether that is an Army career or four and out, Wahab said.
Of the MOSs with directly applicable civilian credentials, 10 percent easily can be earned during a soldier's initial tour of service, usually three years, while 43 percent can reasonably be earned during that period. The remaining 47 percent will probably take longer than a soldier's initial enlistment.
Soldiers ready to commit can hit the Army Credentialing Opportunities On-Line website. It provides information on everything from requirements and skill sets to cost and tuition assistance.
The promotion advantage
The benefits of doing so are not confined to the civilian sector. A recent update to the sergeant and staff sergeant promotion system shows professional credentialing and licensure credits are worth promotion points in 23 career management fields and more than 140 MOSs in combat arms, combat support and combat service support. Soldiers will be awarded 10 points for each earned civilian certification, up to a maximum of 50 points, when:
• The certification directly relates to the civilian equivalent of an MOS.
• The certification relates to a skill set acquired through MOS training or experience.
• The certification is remotely related to advanced or specialized skills supporting a soldier's career path as determined by the MOS proponent, typically a branch service school or center.
Certificates also are reflected on the Enlisted Record Brief, the electronic form that documents a soldier's service and professional qualifications. The ERB is a primary source of information for career managers and the boards that select soldiers for promotion to sergeant first class, master sergeant and sergeant major.
Staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Jim Tice contributed to this report.