If you're looking to land a job in the private sector, the Air Force will pay up to $4,500 for you to earn professional certifications.
The Air Force Credentialing Opportunities On-Line, or Air Force COOL, pays to cover the costs of books, coursework and exams for more than 767 professional certifications, officials said. Enlisted airmen in 190 career fields are eligible for the program.
"We pay on behalf of the member, like tuition assistance does," Jason Smith, director of credentialing programs at the Community College of the Air Force, said.
Air Force COOL is meant to bridge the gap between the training airmen receive in the Air Force and the requirements for civilian credentials, Smith told Air Force Times on Nov. 3. In its first seven months, the program has paid $186,000 for airmen's credentials, he said.
"Credentialing has two purposes," Smith said. "First, it continues to professionalize the enlisted force by providing up-to-date industry-recognized credentials in an airman's job. Second, it provides a way for airmen to prepare for civilian life by ensuring they are ready for work in the civilian sector. There are many aspects to credentialing including certifications and licenses."
The program will pay for certifications that are at least 80 percent related to an airman's duties for his or her primary Air Force specialty code, Smith said. A contractor working for CCAF conducts an analysis that compares an airman's technical training, career development courses and training plans to the objectives for the credential exam to see if all meet Air Force COOL's criteria, he said. Experts at CCAF then verify the analysis.
The most sought certifications include the Federal Aviation Administration's Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic Certificate, Certified Manager, Project Management Professional, Certified Information Systems Security Professional and Professional in Human Resources.
The Air Force Virtual Education Center's COOL page has a "search credentials" option that allows airmen to see the professional certifications related to their AFSC for which they are eligible under the program.
"Anything that says 'Air Force COOL eligible' we will pay for — unlimited," Smith said. "We will pay for unlimited credentials up to the $4,500 cap."
Airmen must be in good standing with the Air Force to be eligible for the program, he said. That means they must have passed their physical fitness tests, they can't have a referral report, they can't be on a control roster and they can't have an Unfavorable Information File.
Right now, airmen can earn credit toward their CCAF degrees by obtaining 50 of the credentials and licensures that Air Force COOL will help them obtain, Smith said.
"That will eventually grow," Smith said. "We're doing this mapping to each degree program to see what credential matches each degree program — and which ones are being sought after most by industry and airmen — so that we can better offer better credit for these credentials."