Veterans Needed in Registered Apprenticeships

March 31, 2021 by Victoria Turner

WASHINGTON – If 94% of individuals completing a Registered Apprenticeship program through the Department of Labor are retained by their employers, U.S. Navy Officer Michael Pruitt asked yesterday, why are there not more veterans or transitioning military service members taking advantage of one? 

Only 1% of veterans receiving their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which they can use to pay for job training like apprenticeships or school tuition, are using it for these registered apprenticeships, Pruitt pointed out during an Urban Institute event entitled, “Leveraging Veteran Talent in Registered Apprenticeship.” 

“I think apprenticeships are the best-kept secret that we would like not to be [a secret],” said Meg O’Grady, national veterans’ employment manager at the Labor Department. 

It comes down to a matter of cultural perception and awareness, O’Grady said. The U.S. has traditionally put more emphasis and value on higher education, alongside the idea that apprenticeships are limited to trades such as construction. This is a common misconception, she explained, as “new industries” like cybersecurity, biotechnology, engineering and the likes keep growing. 

More service members, veterans or transitioning, look to four-year degrees or programs at community colleges than apprenticeships, said Pruitt. He is currently at Urban Institute as a SkillBridge intern. The Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program places service members within 180 days of separating from the military with a job or education program to bridge that transition. However, they cannot use their GI Bill benefits for it as they are not yet veterans.

To use your GI Bill towards the apprenticeship, it has to be a state-approved registered apprenticeship program under the DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship, said Janice Fisher, chief of agreements and federal programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Registered apprenticeships are a “win-win” for both military members and employers, O’Grady said. Employers not only get national recognition for their veteran hiring efforts but can save money by making a sound investment in utilizing a talent pool that has remained relatively untapped for registered apprenticeships. 

Service members immediately begin their technical training upon joining the military, O’Grady explained. These are very transferable skills, particularly for tech apprenticeships on the rise.

Transitioning programs, she added, allow service members to see the path they would like to take. As so many have been doing the same job “between four and 30 years,” registered apprenticeships open doors to “many possibilities that folks didn’t even really think about.” 

Aside from the technical skills, they also bring the soft skills that employers are looking for. Paragon Cyber Solutions CEO Courtney Jackson, also a veteran, said that service members “by nature” work well as a team and independently; they are committed, loyal, and are used to working their way up the chain of command. 

“As an employer, we want to retain talent and hire people that will grow and stay with us over time,” Jackson said. 

“[Veterans] also represent America,” she said, “If you’re looking for diversity in your workforce … diversity with a worldview and perspective, a veteran couldn’t be a better candidate for you.” 

The lack of awareness of all the resources out there that O’Grady alluded to is the reason why Urban Institute launched its web-based tool yesterday for both employers and service members alike. 

The DOL actively works on connecting employers who have questions, such as what skills they need to recruit for the jobs they have identified or what state-approved program they can use, with organizations like the Urban Institute or industry associations fostering apprenticeships, O’Grady said. On a regional level, she added, there is a team of six veteran employment coordinators that will “connect the dots” between their hiring needs and underutilized resources from national programs to state-approved and community-based programs.

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