I was recently asked how the military Transition Assistance Program could be improved. Having spent literally years working in the military transition and veteran space I have made several observations about the various TAP seminars, which are a few days long and occur just before the servicemember goes on terminal leave. Anyhow, these are some of my impressions about TAP:
1. It is unrealistic to unpack a servicemember’s experience in terms of future employment in three or four days. One of the most difficult part of transition is figuring out what to do next, and it takes time for a person in uniform to really dissemble their skills, talents, and experiences in such a manner that they determine what they want to do after getting out. In my experience, transition courses focus on the technical aspects of transition without addressing the bigger issues. Teaching a servicemember how to write a cover letter and a resume, about elevator speeches, and about interviewing techniques are all incredibly valuable. However, what’s missing is helping the servicemember be able to effectively translate their skills and experiences in such a manner that they are a compelling candidate for a company to hire. The bigger issue in transition is “What value do I present to a company such that they will write me a check to work there?” The fact that a veteran served is not enough, and I would say that if a company hires a veteran just because he or she is a veteran then that vet is not set up for success. Companies hire people who fill a specific job in the company, and those specific jobs require specific skills. Being a veteran is not a skill. It is a tremendous experience, but it is not a skill.
2. I think the narrative is often misguided. Very few transition courses depict the civilian sector the way it really is, and instead teach techniques to pursue employment that are decades out of date. Becoming employable means building yourself as a brand which presents value to the employer – that is the way to find meaningful employment. Presenting yourself as “needing a chance” to show yourself is not compelling to an employer when there are dozens of other candidates with the skills required to get the job. The narrative that somehow the American public owes a veteran a job is damaging and frankly utterly incorrect. Americans paid their taxes and every recent veteran volunteered – Americans will buy you a drink and thank you for your service, but that is a completely different conversation from offering you a job. You, the veteran, must do your part to make yourself as competitive as a civilian who has never served, which means you must retrain if necessary, present your skills in such a manner that they match the needs of a company, and present yourself as a cultural fit for the organization.
3. Transition courses are too little, too late. They are positioned (logically) at the end of the term of service, but unfortunately many of the lessons presented are not really appreciated until the person has hung up their uniform for good. In most cases the transition courses are rushed as the EAS/ETS rapidly approaches, and the veteran does not have a chance to take advantage of the training and mentorship opportunities available. My recommendation would be to conduct transition training in two phases; first, at the six month from EAS mark there should be an initial seminar to help the serviceman or woman learn how to deconstruct their skills and talents in order to understand what value they can present to an employer and then present the traditional TAP/TRS towards the end of their service.
Anyhow, this just my my $0.02.