Onward to Opportunity
The career skills program that’s changing how veteran employment gets done.
If you surveyed the number of veteran employment programs out there, you’d find there are more than 100 “career skills programs” for transitioning servicemembers and military spouses at Department of Defense bases across the country. In fact, the veteran employment approaches of skills translation and job fairs is relatively unchanged over the last 20 years. But there’s one program that’s taking a different approach to bridge the military-to-civilian transition divide and getting some remarkably impactful outcomes.
It’s the Onward to Opportunity-Veterans Career Transition Training Program—or O2O-VCTP—out of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. And it’s showing strong results. In less than two years, it has steadily expanded: to more bases, with more career tracks, and more companies lined up to hire their program’s grads.
How is O2O-VCTP Different?
Most career programs are traditional. Operating on an old model of the workforce, they:
Focus on a single employer, trade union or trade skill
Don’t offer relevant training for corporate employment opportunities, though 40 percent of veterans look for jobs with private companies
Often rely on the servicemember to use their GI Bill benefits
The IVMF knew, based on veteran employment research, that the reality on the ground today calls for a different approach to a career skills program. First, the six- to ten-week career training courses can be taken on-base (at ten bases now and 18 by this time next year) or online, choosing from three main career tracks (Information Technology, Customer Service, Business Management) with 35 sub-specialties.
Second, the course is free and, for participants who complete the curriculum, even testing and certification fees are covered, so GI Bill benefits can be saved. Participants can use their GI Bill dollars to further their education. And the credits earned through the O2O-VCTP program can be credited to a future degree program. That was the case for Malorie Kennedy, a network systems operator maintainer for the Army based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).
After completing a cybersecurity certification through O2O-VCTP at the end of last year, she left the service in February and began a job with Comcast in March. Kennedy is now also going to school full-time on the GI Bill to earn a degree in computer network administration from South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC).
“SPSCC gave me almost a full quarter-worth of course credits based on the career certification classes I took through O2O-VCTP for free. I will now graduate earlier and save money on these additional college credits,” Kennedy said. “The Army is very good about investing in its soldiers, but depending on what unit you’re in, you may not have time to make use of your benefits. This program helps level the playing field in more ways than one.”
Separating servicemembers or military spouses can take the O2O-VCTP courses starting six months prior to separation—for free. This gives them a leg up so that, by the time they leave, they have either landed a job or are well on their way. Like in Kennedy’s example, the goal is to minimize potential periods of unemployment.
Employers are lining up
The program has attracted some of the top employers like Amazon, USAA, Starbucks, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Accenture, and others[M2] . Starting early on during the session, employers are connected to students and they commit to interviewing them for available jobs when they graduate. This guarantee of interviews is something else that sets O2O-VCTP apart from competitors.
“Jobs aren’t one-dimensional, companies are looking for dynamic employees that come on board ready with leadership and technical skills to tackle complex issues,” said IVMF founder and Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, Mike Haynie. “A significant number of veterans are looking for jobs in the private sector, so O2O-VCTP was designed with direct input from corporate partners to ensure we offered the skills training for which they are looking.”
How to Get Started
Here’s how the process goes, start to finish. First, it’s important to complete your required Transition Assistance Program (TAP) courses. Once done, sign up for an O2O-VCTP orientation session, where you’ll learn what civilian jobs or career possibilities available to you. Next step is to complete the program assessment and talk to an O2O-VCTP career counselor, who will help place you in the right industry track and target a professional credential (such as Cisco Certified Network Technician) tied to an in-demand private industry job.
Most course programs (O2O-VCTP calls them “learning pathways”) take 6-10 weeks to complete solely online or with on-base taught by local trainers and business leaders. The first course will be an overview setting up for a successful civilian career. The remaining weeks will be dedicated to training in the foundation of your chosen career and preparing for certification (if your chosen pathway has a certification component to it). About three weeks in, participants are connected to formal career and interview coaching with veteran job placement organizations like Hire Our Heroes USA and Corporate America Supports You. They review career goals and the job search process, including helping you send out job applications and getting ready for interviews with O2O-VCTP employer partners. Some local employer partners even do practice mock interviews with candidates. In the end, about 80 percent of the program’s graduates go on to get hired by partner companies.
According to Fort Drum O2O-VCTP grad, Brandon Griffith, “If you take advantage of the program you will feel twice as confident about your future during your transitioning period. I honestly started off worried about being able to land a decent job and making a decent income. But during my days with the program, my worries diminished.” Griffith was hired by Gower Corporation as a System Administrator in Greenville, South Carolina.
So far 258 of O2O-VCTP grads have been placed at more than 225 companies. This success is fueling the program’s expansion. It is projected to grow from 200-plus students in 2016 to 5,400 in 2019. But results aren’t just calculated in numbers. What matters more are personal impacts... The military spouse who succeeds in securing employment so there are two incomes for the family, not just one. The family who participates in the program is on a path to financial security that will make them better able to pay a mortgage or college tuition.
Find out more about the program and how you can get started before you transition at
onward2opportunity-vctp.org. To learn more about IVMF, visit https://ivmf.syracuse.edu.