Education and Transition

Increasing recognition of military-based learning in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

The quick spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has resulted in vast changes to the global economy. The Labor Department released statistics in late April which reported that over 30 million workers in the U.S. are now jobless, with 3.8 million workers having filed claims for unemployment benefits in the last week of April alone.

The economic impact on transitioning service members and veterans is even worse. Underemployment is a major issue facing this population as a recent study by ZipRecruiter found that nearly one-third of veterans reported underemployment, which is a rate of 15.6 percent higher than non-veterans.

Enlisted service members, most without college degrees, receive high quality skill-based training in the military. However, they are often pushed into low-skill jobs after service. Their military training may qualify them for higher paying positions, but the primary barrier they face is that they do not have a civilian credential that represents what they know and can do.

What insights can be learned from historical periods of veteran unemployment that might guide or improve the response effort in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis? After the 2008 recession, there was a major surge in programs and funding focused on veteran hiring initiatives. While these programs did succeed in more companies hiring veterans, the retention rate became very low and numbers of veterans experiencing underemployment in the following decade skyrocketed.

How could a positive strategy result in such negative outcomes? Well, too often, service members are unable to use current military training and existing credentials. For many, their military training and experience is often misunderstood and undervalued by civilian employers and higher education institutions, causing service members and veterans to have to retrain, re-qualify, or start over in entry level or lower skill jobs.

The economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis is revealing just how necessary it is to recognize the high-quality training service members receive. Hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with patients as we write this blog, highlighting the shortage of health care workers across the country. Yet, many highly qualified service members and veterans who have served for years in a variety of medical specialties are unable to use their substantial training and experience to practice in civilian hospitals during this exceptional time of global need because it is not accepted as validated competency.

While several academic programs offer credentialing pathways to physician assistant and nursing degrees, prior service members still need significant coursework, licensure prep and testing to obtain state licensing certifications.

Even though they have significant field experience treating patients, most of these qualified veterans are unable to administer care in health-care settings like the tent hospitals cropping up daily in cities across the U.S. If there was a system in place to recognize the high-quality learning gained in service and count it toward a civilian credentialing pathway, it would increase the number of critically needed health-care professionals able to serve in the civilian sector during a crisis.

Fred Wellman, Army veteran and Chief of Staff of Ryan F. Larkin Field Hospital in New York City has seen their work firsthand. “Today dozens of former military special operations medics are providing care for COVID-19 patients in our hospital under the supervision of nurses and doctors in leveraging the emergency decree issued by Governor Andew Cuomo.” Wellman adds, “with minimal training, they are able to provide critically needed medical support in this historic pandemic and this operation clearly shows the possibility for offering clearer credentialing pathways for military trained medical personnel.”

Veterans deserve to have pathways that lead to civilian credentials, resulting in gainful employment and long-term careers after service.

Leaders in higher education and veteran advocacy, including the Lumina Foundation and the American Legion, have made it their mission together to determine the best solution. To that end, the new Military Credentialing Advancement Initiative (MCAI) will ensure that the high-quality learning that is gained by service members can be fully recognized, counted toward a credential and scaled at a national level — something that is now more important than ever in serving this population post-crisis.

The MCAI will publish a report in December 2020 offering recommendations to key stakeholders for principles and guidelines necessary to ensure military-based learning can count toward high-quality, stackable civilian credentials. These recommendations will be critical to ensuring service members are able to obtain meaningful jobs and careers as they transition into the civilian workforce post-service.

Service members and veterans are a rich source of talent, leadership, experience, and expertise; they’re a vital part of today’s workforce. Failure to act on this important issue will lead to continued “learning loss” — the valuable knowledge, skills and abilities gained through military training are often lost due to out of date recognition and transfer practices.

Lauren Runco is strategy officer for military-based learning at the Lumina Foundation.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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