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Programs may help vets get civilian jobs

Jun. 1, 2012 - 03:15PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 1, 2012 - 03:15PM  |  
President Obama greets a worker at Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions Global Headquarters in Golden Valley, Minn., on June 1. At the factory Obama announced an initiative that could help thousands of separating service members get the credentials they need to qualify for manufacturing jobs.
President Obama greets a worker at Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions Global Headquarters in Golden Valley, Minn., on June 1. At the factory Obama announced an initiative that could help thousands of separating service members get the credentials they need to qualify for manufacturing jobs. (Glen Stubbe / (Minneapolis) Star Tribune via AP)

President Obama has announced an initiative that could help thousands of separating service members get the credentials they need to qualify for manufacturing jobs.

At a Honeywell plant in Minnesota, Obama touted a partnership between the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council and the services to allow some troops to receive industry-recognized credentials in logistics and advanced manufacturing. The effort is part of what the White House is calling the "We Can't Wait" initiative.

Obama argued that it is a waste of time and money to make veterans undergo additional training before letting them do the same jobs in the civilian world that they performed in a war zone.

"If you can save a life on the battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance," he said. "If you can oversee a convoy or millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help manage a supply chain or balance its books here at home. If you can maintain the most advanced weapons in the world if you're an electrician on a Navy ship well, you can manufacture the next generation of technology in our factories."

According to a statement from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, the organization is in the final stages of launching its pilot program with the Army. Soldiers will start taking MSSC assessments in early July. Each service will run its own pilot program for a limited number of uniformed service members.

"Service members participating in the pilot will have the opportunity to earn [industrial] credentials free of charge," the statement adds. "The services will partner with MSSC to explore how opportunities for these credentials can be integrated into the services' existing training programs and expanded to the larger pool of service members with relevant skills and training."

The certification effort will be a pilot program, at no cost to service members, building on existing credentialing programs in skilled manufacturing jobs. For example, it would help a Navy machinist mate receive civilian credentials for his military-learned skills that would be easily recognized in the private sector.

Obama also announced a second partnership between the Army, American Welding Society and National Institute for Metalworking Skills to provide machinist and welding credentials at the Army's Fort Lee, Va., ordnance school. About 20,000 soldiers attend the school each year, and all graduates will receive credentials, White House officials said. That program, expected to start this summer, will provide level-one machinist certifications to soldiers. Later this year, welder certification is expected to be available.

Another partnership announced by Obama is between the Army and Society of Manufacturing Engineers. It will expand certification opportunities for Army engineering students in highly specialized and technical engineering fields. A one-year test program would allow engineer officers and warrant officers to receive SME credentials.

The three partnerships are expected to help up to 130,000 active-duty members get civilian credentials, but it is unclear how many would find post-service jobs as a result of the certification, if they choose to stay in the same field once they leave the military.

White House officials believe there are jobs to be filled because industry surveys show shortages of skilled workers. Obama cited a survey showing that 80 percent of manufacturers have trouble finding people with the abilities they need.

In conjunction with Obama's announcement, Honeywell, an international manufacturing company with more than 120,000 employees, is launching a new effort to hire veterans that will involve accepting some veterans without college degrees.

The three pilot projects are the start of a much bigger effort that will involve many more military occupations, White House officials said. The next step, officials said, is to try to provide civilian certifications for truckers and emergency medical technicians.

The certification programs are the result of a Defense Department task force created to focus on the difficulty of translating military-learned skills into civilian jobs. Even when skills appear similar, there are often differences in training and in practical experience.

The task force is focusing its initial efforts on manufacturing, first responders, health care, information technology, transportation and logistics. In some cases, military training appears to be enough, with some minor tweaks, to receive civilian license or credentials. But in other cases, getting a civilian job could require additional training or a college degree.

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