Here’s the good news, veterans are finding jobs. After years of above-average rates of unemployment, veterans are now employed at a higher rate than all other members of the workforce.
The bad news is that they still aren’t necessarily finding the right jobs. The transition from military to civilian careers remains a significant challenge for many service members. One of the biggest hurdles that remains — contributing to underemployment and employee turnover — is the difficulty of translating one’s military skills so that they can be clearly understood by civilian employers.
No matter how much time a service member spends perfecting their resume or plugging their military occupational specialty (MOS) into a skills translator, they often find that their experience is misunderstood or discounted because it simply doesn’t fit the mold for what recruiters and hiring managers are trained to prioritize.
While the transition from military to civilian life is never easy, there is a clear action that transitioning service members and veterans can and should take to help create common ground with civilian employers: get certified in their areas of expertise.
There are many popular certifications to consider, such as the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) and the Project Management Professional (PMP). But one often overlooked career field that clearly overlaps with military jobs and relies heavily on certifications is the field of human resources and the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certifications.
Professional certifications are the universal language of the transition process, signaling that a service member has a commonly measured and universally understood level of knowledge and expertise in a specific career field or discipline. Beyond that, they often are among recruiters’ top criteria.
The importance of obtaining certifications is reinforced by the Department of Defense’s Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) program, which advises service members that, “When you transition back to civilian employment, credentials help you translate your military training and experience into something civilian employers can easily recognize. That can help you get hired, get a better job, or promoted sooner!”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, human resources jobs are currently among the fastest growing career fields in the country, which should provide a sense of career security for those considering one of the Professional in Human Resources certifications.
While each military branch has its own form of human resources (HR) specialist, there are other positions throughout the service that teach people HR skills that are widely translatable. HR is all about supporting and managing the administrative functions of small and large organizations, including screening workers, handling training and developing staffing plans.
Now, thanks to a newly launched initiative, service members, veterans and military spouses all have the opportunity to get certified as a human resources professional at no cost. At the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI), the largest provider of HR certifications for the last 40 years, they have decided to do everything possible to remove financial obstacles for the military community to get certified. HRCI wants veterans pursuing careers and excelling as human resources professionals or bringing a high degree of HR competency to related job fields.
Like other certifications, the examination costs for HR certifications are eligible to be covered by active duty tuition assistance or veteran GI Bill funding. But until now, you still had to pay out-of-pocket application fees. That time is over. Application fees are now waived for all members of the military community.
For active-duty service members, HR certification improves their ability to execute human resources practices both in the military and civilian sectors. According to Mark Hickman, development chief at the U.S. Army Adjutant General School, active-duty HR professionals equipped with a better understanding of civilian HR principles will benefit in improved performance in their military careers.
But the greatest benefit of certification comes when a transitioning service member looks to find their first civilian job. Research by HRCI reveals that two out of three HR supervisors preferred certified professionals over similarly qualified candidates, leading those certified to be more likely to secure gainful employment.
Service members aren’t the only ones who benefit; military spouses face unique employment challenges. Among those difficulties are state occupational licensing laws that disproportionately affect military spouses, since 35 percent of spouses work in a field requiring licensing. The country’s patchwork of occupational licensing laws leaves military spouses facing the reality of re-licensing in some fields with each move. HRCI certifications, which are internationally accepted, equip military spouses with the means to enter a quickly growing field with certified skills regardless of their state of residence.
The bottom line is that professional certifications matter, and service members, veterans and spouses should take advantage of every opportunity to get certified in a professional field that aligns with their interests and expertise.
The transition process from the military can be a life-altering experience; however, the cost to transition to the next phase shouldn’t be an obstacle.
David J. Caleb, aPHR, aPHRi, PHR, CSSGB, is a master sergeant in the U.S. Army. From 2016-2017, he served as military outreach relations officer at the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) in the U.S. Army Training with Industry Program. The views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense.