The Army is working to give you credit where credit is due — whether you're still in uniform or preparing to re-enter civilian life.
The Army, in an effort led by Training and Doctrine Command, also is working to link credentialing opportunities to every single military occupational specialty in the Army.
"What you do as a soldier has tremendous value for the rest of your life," said Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey. "By making this a focus, the Army is giving soldiers an opportunity to start out their civilian transition equipped with a recognized standard of professional excellence in their chosen field."
The push to expand credentialing opportunities has taken on new urgency as the Army continues to cut tens of thousands of soldiers each year from the active-duty force.
Soldiers can leverage skills gained in the Army to land high-paying jobs after they leave service. Credentials, such as certificates and licenses, help to promote those skills.
Photo Credit: Thomas Cieslak/Army
Earning credentials also helps those soldiers who stay in uniform, by providing promotion points — essential for getting an edge over your peers.
Soldiers competing for promotion to sergeant and staff sergeant can earn 10 points for each technical certification, for a maximum of 50 points.
"This is a win-win for the Army and its soldiers," Dailey said. "What better time than now, when the nation needs an Army of soldiers and leaders with creative and critical thinking skills to accomplish any mission the nation asks of us. We must be able to give them the most educated fighting force in the world."
Credentials already exist for many jobs, such as vehicle operators, but the Army has launched an effort to grant them to every MOS in the Army.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Ryan Matson/Army
"The Army believes that studying for a credential in your field makes you more capable in your field and shows you're a professional," said Susan Schoeppler, an analyst in TRADOC's training integration directorate and the lead action officer for the command's credentialing effort.
Soldiers can earn two types of credentials.
• The first is a non-Defense Department government license, such as a commercial driver's license issued by a state government or a Federal Aviation Administration license.
• The second type is a certification from an independent, industry-recognized agency, such as the American Culinary Federation or the American Welding Society.
The Army's focus on credentials stems from concerns about the high unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Schoeppler said.
In 2014 alone, the Army paid more than $320 million in unemployment compensation, according to data from the Army. During that same period, 61,000 former soldiers applied for unemployment compensation.
The Defense Department is responsible for unemployment compensation for the first 26 weeks; the average recipient receives 21 weeks of unemployment compensation, according to the Labor Department.
There was "some puzzlement " over the unemployment rate for veterans because we feel very strongly about the skills and training they gain from the military," Schoeppler said. "It's widely believed that veterans trying to get jobs have trouble translating their skills from the military in terms civilian employers understand. We believe one of the best ways to translate your military training and skills in terms meaningful to a civilian employer is through a credential."
The challenge will be to link civilian credentials with the Army's almost 150 MOSs.
"Army MOSs are very, very different," Schoeppler said. "We have infantrymen, we have plumbers, we have firefighters, we have information technology guys. The credentials are very different, and we don't set the requirements for the credential. We meet the requirement for the credential."
One of the key specialties TRADOC is working through now is infantry (11B). The Army's largest MOS, along with other combat arms specialties such as armor and field artillery, likely will prove to be the most challenging when it comes to credentials.
Men trained to close with and kill the enemy may not have an immediate civilian equivalent, but TRADOC is looking for additional or different opportunities, said David Paschal, acting deputy for training at TRADOC.
This could include managerial and leadership credentials that would apply to a wider array of Army leaders, officials said.
A young infantry squad leader in charge of six to nine young men has leadership and management skills, Paschal said.
"What about leadership, physical fitness and other opportunities?" said Paschal, who is a retired infantry officer. "The ability to look at problems, develop solutions could translate into some type of credentialing. We have some work to do on it. We don't have all the solutions right now."
The Army has been working with industry, business and academia to ensure soldiers receive the maximum civilian credit available for the work they do in the Army, Dailey said.
"This is about putting some teeth behind the Soldier for Life motto," he said. "I think it's important to establish national legitimacy for the work we do as soldiers in the profession of arms. Our efforts to align MOS and [noncommissioned officer education system] curriculum with civilian industry, business and academia will result in a more educated Army and a population of veteran-citizens with unparalleled, industry-recognized competence, skills, attributes and abilities."
In cases where a civilian credential requires something that isn't taught or trained in the Army, the service has been working to find ways to fill those gaps, either through study guides or additional training, Schoeppler said.
The Army also is working with industry and private partners to build these opportunities.
One example is the Army's truck drivers, the 88M soldiers, Schoeppler said.
"The obvious credential is a commercial driver's license, but the biggest obstacle for soldiers is the road test," she said. "Not that they're not highly qualified to pass the road test, but the logistical difficulty in getting the vehicle to take the road test in."
To overcome that, the Army's transportation school worked out agreements with various states to waive the road test requirement if a commander certifies that their soldier is properly trained and experienced, Schoeppler said.
"Once the transportation school approached the states, they were very willing to work with us as long as they're confident the soldiers meet their requirements," she said.
So far, TRADOC has established credentialing opportunities for 66 MOSs, Schoeppler said. They include motor transport operator (88M), wheeled vehicle mechanic (91B), and automated supply specialist and unit supply specialist (92A and 92Y).
Some of these MOSs have multiple credentialing opportunities, and soldiers are given the opportunity to earn those credentials at various points in their careers, she said.
"Our programs are generally school based, and when a soldier gets to the appropriate point in his professional development training, he'll be offered the opportunity to participate in a credentialing program," Schoeppler said.
The directive from McHugh requires all Army training institutions to make information about civilian credentialing opportunities available to soldiers during every stage of MOS training, starting with advanced individual training.
Those schoolhouses also are authorized to incorporate credentialing training programs into their curricula for all soldiers during initial and mid-level training, according to the directive.
The goal is to have credentialing opportunities for every MOS, Schoeppler said.
"We only want high quality, widely recognized, marketable credentials," she said. "We want one that really will help that soldier, and that future veteran get a job."
Soldiers bring more to employers than just their military-earned skills, Paschal said.
"It doesn't matter what MOS you're in, our soldiers bring discipline, leadership and management skills," he said.
In addition to TRADOC's credentialing efforts, the Army's Career Skills Programs also help soldiers prepare for life after the Army.
These vocational and technical training opportunities include credentialing, apprenticeships, job shadowing opportunities and internships.
"What we're trying to do is help soldiers early on identify their transition goals, and, ultimately, their lifetime goals in and out of uniform and give the opportunity to get the technical skills to implement those goals," Herd said.
In many cases, transitioning soldiers can take advantage of these opportunities while they're still on active duty, Herd said.
"It's a huge opportunity for soldiers that they really need to take advantage of," he said. "With transition assistance, soldiers need to start early and go often. The earlier you start and the more often you think about it, the higher your chance of success."
While TRADOC works on MOS-specific credentials, the Army's Credential Opportunities On-Line, or COOL, provides soldiers a vast menu of credentials in just about any field they might be interested in, Herd said.
"There are soldiers who want to have a career that's not correlated in any shape or form with their MOS," he said. "Or it could be their MOS doesn't have a one-for-one exchange in the civilian world, like a machine gunner, for example, or they just don't want to do what they did in the Army."
The Army COOL website shows soldiers what they need in terms of skills, tasks and requirements to earn any number of credentials, Herd said.
"Any credential out there, you can find your way there through COOL, regardless of your MOS," he said.
If a soldier earns a credential through TRADOC, the Army covers all the costs, Herd said.
A soldier working on his own initiative in some cases can use Tuition Assistance to cover some training and preparation costs, but not the cost of the credentialing exam, Herd said.
Sometimes, especially if a soldier is in a transition program, a non-government entity such as a trade union in that field may cover the soldier's credentialing expenses.
"We partner frequently with unions and industry reps who need qualified skilled workers, and they will pay for it," Herd said.
Regardless of why a soldier seeks to earn a credential, he or she will see "huge benefits," Herd said.
"It's always good, as a career step, to have a certified and recognized credential," he said. "Post-transition, you're more prepared if you have a certified and a known, externally-approved credential in almost anything. Our country desperately needs skilled workers. With the value system the Army supports and some credentials, a young transitioning soldier or an old transitioning soldier can do very well for himself."
To learn more about the Army's Career Skills Programs, visit your local education or transition assistance office.
To see what credentials are available to you, visit https://www.cool.army.mil/.