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Program to teach troops civilian skills before transition

March 17, 2015 (Photo Credit: Army)

The Defense Department will launch a new pilot program this spring to teach commercial skills to troops before they start their transition out of the military, in an effort to better prepare them for civilian life.

The program, called Onward to Opportunity, is a partnership between the Pentagon, Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and the Schultz Family Foundation, founded by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks Corp.

It will launch at five military installations and one city with a high military presence, with the goal of helping up to 10,000 troops and family members in the first year. The locations have not been finalized.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called ensuring a smooth transition for service members "one of our most important national commitments" and praised the pilot program as a way to "bring their experience, talent, and leadership abilities to the private sector."

Organizers said the program will complement military-learned skills and experiences with industry-specific training, certifications, and job placement services.

Individuals targeted will be troops and family members months or years away from separation — not just weeks, like many existing transition programs — and focus on creating a "clearly defined path" from military service to civilian employment. That will include benchmarks for things like certifications, skill development and education requirements.

The initial pilot sessions will focus on customer service and technology careers, with classes designed by corporate officials from such companies as Starbucks, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

"Our service members are dedicated and resilient leaders who have answered their country's call to serve," Schultz said in a statement. "Every business in America should recognize the value that these men and women bring to our companies and communities: integrity, discipline, service, leadership, and a strong sense of mission.

"In most cases, all they need is the boost of job-specific training to excel in the workplace."

The overall veterans unemployment rate has remained below the monthly national average for the last four years, but the rate of transitioning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans has been significantly higher, averaging about 7 percent for the past year.

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