Turn Your Military Skills and into a Civilian Career
The popular GI Bills® like the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, Montgomery GI Bill® and Vocational Rehabilitation are all programs veterans can use to learn a vocational skill. Skilled trades like automotive repair and truck driving or building trades such as carpentry, plumbing and electrical are just some of the popular trades selected by veterans. Attention-to-detail and the ability to work independently or on a team are just examples of the many skills learned in the military that adapt well to the trade industry. This guide outlines options for veterans to learn a vocation using a GI Bill®, along with scholarships, resources and a directory of transferable skills.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
From Troops to Trade: Transferable Skills
Veterans learn a host of skills from military service that translate well in the civilian workplace. Employers like to hire veterans because they have a blend of real-world experience in leadership, teamwork, diversity, integrity and global awareness. Having these skills complements vocational training programs ranging from commercial truck driving, to construction trades, to computer network maintenance. The following graphic provides a sample listing of military jobs from each branch matched with civilian vocational occupations that hire workers with similar skills, training and interests. Use this as a starting point for translating your military skills into a civilian career.
Works in an air field traffic control tower checking flight plans, weather conditions and managing take-offs and landings on runways, along with managing incoming and outgoing flights on taxiways via communications with pilots.
- 1. Airfield Operations Specialist
Ensures the safe takeoff and landing of commercial and military aircraft through the use of weather information, communication and navigational equipment and following safety procedures.
- 2. Communications Specialist (911 Operator)
Receives and routes calls using radiotelephone equipment in accordance with local, state and federal government regulations.
Aerospace Ground Equipment Maintainer
Services, inspects, troubleshoots, repairs and perform preventive maintenance on generator sets, air conditioners, hydraulic test stands, air compressors, heaters and other similar aviation support equipment.
- 1. Refrigeration Mechanics and Installer
Installs and repairs industrial-type and commercial refrigeration systems.
- 2. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Mechanic and Installer
Installs, services, or repairs heating, air handling and air conditioning systems in residences or commercial buildings.
- 3. Avionics Technician
Installs, inspects, tests, adjusts, or repairs instruments found on aircraft, such as radar, radio, navigation and measurement gages.
Aerospace Propulsion Mechanic
Includes removal of aircraft engines, inspection, repair or replacement of defective components as required and reinstallation.
- 1. Aircraft Mechanic and Service Technician
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls aircraft engines and assemblies, such as hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Includes helicopter and fixed-wing engine specialists.
- 2. Non-Destructive Testing Specialist
Uses x-ray, ultrasound and fiber optic equipment to test the safety of vehicles, vessels or structures.
- 3. Power Plant Operators
Controls, operates, and maintains machinery used to generate electric power, including auxiliary equipment.
Heavy Construction Equipment Operator
Uses bulldozers, front-end loaders, graders and other heavy equipment to construct airfields, roads, dams and clear areas for buildings.
- 1. Heavy Road Machinery Operator
Operates power construction equipment, such as motor graders, bulldozers, scrapers, tractors, or front-end loaders to excavate, move, and grade earth.
- 2. Heavy Tractor-Trailer Driver
Drives semi tractor-trailer with a capacity over 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). Must be able to pass commercial drivers' license test.
- 3. Farm Equipment Mechanics and Service Technician
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls farm machinery, such as tractors and combines.
Types letters, reports, orders, awards and training schedules in a unit or higher administrative section. Also responsible for recording, storing, organizing and file maintenance.
- 1. Office Clerk
Performs clerical duties in accordance with specific office procedures, including answering telephones, typing or word processing, office machine operation, and filing.
- 2. Medical Assistant
Administrative duties include scheduling appointments, maintaining medical records, billing, and coding information for insurance purposes. Clinical duties may include taking and recording vital signs and medical histories, preparing patients for examination and drawing blood.
- 3. Training and Development Specialist
Designs and conducts training and education programs aimed at improving individual and organizational performance.
Track Vehicle Repairer
Performs scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on fuel, electrical, suspension and power train systems on a variety of track-laying and wheeled vehicles, material handling equipment, and power generation equipment.
- 1. Bus and Truck Mechanic
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls diesel and gas engines, along with suspension, steering and powertrain systems.
- 2. Heavy Equipment Mechanic
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls mobile mechanical, hydraulic, and pneumatic equipment, such as cranes, bulldozers, graders, and conveyors, used in construction, logging, and surface mining.
- 3. Automotive Service Technician
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls systems associated with automotive vehicles and light trucks, including powertrain, suspension and steering components.
Army National Guard
Inspects, repairs and provides maintenance as needed on crucial AH-64 Apache Attack and UH-60 Blackhawk Utility helicopter systems, including rotors, landing gears, electrical and fuel systems.
- 1. Airframe Technician
Assembles, fits, fastens, and installs parts on airplanes, such as tails, wings, fuselage, bulkheads and stabilizers.
- 2. Aircraft Mechanic
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft engines and assemblies, including hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
Food Service Operations
Prepares and serves food as part of a unit Food Service Section located in either a field or garrison environment.
- 1. Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria
Prepares and cooks food in large quantities, such as in schools, hospitals, or cafeterias.
- 2. Chefs and Head Cooks
Directs the preparation, seasoning and cooking of salads, soups, fish, meats, vegetables, desserts, or other foods.
- 3. Restaurant Manager
Directly supervises and coordinates the activities of workers engaged in preparing and serving food in commercial food settings.
Provides law and order, security and corrections operations either on post, correctional facility or field environment.
- 1. Police and Sheriff Patrol Officer
Protects life and property by enforcing local, tribal, State, or Federal laws and ordinances. Duties can include patrolling a specific area; directing traffic; issuing traffic summonses; investigating accidents; apprehending and arresting suspects, or serving legal papers.
- 2. Correctional Officers and Jailers
Guards inmates in penal, jails or rehabilitative institutions in accordance with established regulations and procedures. May include guarding prisoners in transit between jail, courtroom, medical treatment, prison, or other points.
- 3. Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Conducts investigations related to suspected violations of Federal, State, Tribal or local laws to prevent or solve crimes.
Performs a variety of tasks in connection with deck maintenance, small boat operations, navigation and personnel supervision assigned to a boat or ship.
- 1. Vessel Master
Supervises and coordinates activities of crew aboard ships, boats, barges, or dredges.
Prepares payroll, military travel orders and correspondence, along with maintaining files and administrative records when stationed either on land or aboard a vessel.
- 1. Water Vessel Pilot
Commands or supervises operations of ships and water vessels, such as tugboats, ferryboats or tourist recreational vessels.
- 2. Human Resources Assistant
Prepares personnel and company reports such as employment, absences, sales and production. May also include filing and file maintenance along with data retrieval.
- 3. Executive Secretary
Performs routine clerical and administrative functions in support of a company executive, such as drafting correspondence, scheduling appointments, organizing and maintaining paper and electronic files, or providing information to callers.
Knowledgeable in the operation and maintenance of internal combustion engines including turbines. Areas of expertise include, environmental support systems (heating/ventilation/air conditioning), hydraulics, basic electricity and hazardous material/waste management.
- 1. Ship Engineer
Supervise the operation and maintenance of engines, boilers, deck machinery, electrical, sanitary, and refrigeration equipment aboard a ship or other large water vessel.
Responsible for acquiring, storing and distribution of a variety of material, along with the movement of personnel.
- 1. Logistics Coordinator
Controls the movement and routing of incoming and outgoing cargo and freight shipments in airline, train, trucking terminals, and shipping docks.
- 2. Logistics Manager
Controls the receiving, storage, and issuing of materials, equipment, and other items from stockroom, warehouse, or storage yard.
Legal Service Specialist
Provides operational, managerial and clerical law services as required for a Legal Services Support Section, Law Center, or Office of a Staff Judge Advocate.
- 1. Paralegal
Investigates facts, prepares legal documents, or researches legal precedent for lawyers. Supports a legal proceeding, formulates a defense, or initiates legal action by conducting research.
- 2. Court Reporter
Captures, stores, retrieves, and transcribes pretrial and trial proceedings using verbatim methods and equipment.
- 3. Legal Assistant
Prepares legal papers and correspondence, such as summonses, complaints, motions, and subpoenas in a law office or for a law firm.
Navigation and Enlist Flight Crew
Plans and executes inflight refueling and assault support operations, performs navigational duties, and loads and unloads equipment and material in aircraft.
- 1. Aviation Inspector
Inspects aircraft, maintenance procedures, air navigational aids and communications equipment to ensure conformance with Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) safety regulations.
- 2. Aircraft Mechanic
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls aircraft engines and assemblies, such as hydraulic and pneumatic systems.
Dental Hygiene Technician
Performs duties associated with the prevention and treatment of oral disease, and assists dental care professionals as needed on a variety of dental tasks.
- 1. Dental Hygienist
Cleans teeth and examines the mouth for signs of oral disease, takes and develops x rays, or applies fluoride or sealants. Also includes instructing patients on brushing and other oral hygiene tasks.
Information Systems Technician
Operates and maintains global satellite telecommunications systems, mainframe computers, local and wide area networks, and microcomputer systems used on bases or afloat on ships.
- 1. Computer Network Support Specialists
Analyzes, tests, troubleshoots, and evaluates existing network systems, such as local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), and computer systems. Performs network maintenance to ensure connectivity with minimal interruption.
- 2. Computer Systems Analysts
Analyzes the hardware and software used in computer systems to solve problems and improve functionality. Analyzes computer system capabilities, workflow, and scheduling limitations.
- 3. Information Security Analysts
Monitors computer network security measures to safeguard against breaches and viruses. Plans, implements, and upgrades security measures to protect digital files and vital electronic infrastructure.
Aviation Machinist Mate
Responsible for the maintenance of aircraft power plants and related systems, armament and ordnance systems, and aircraft ground support equipment.
- 1. Aircraft Mechanic and Service Technicians
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls aircraft engines and assemblies, such as hydraulic and pneumatic systems of both helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft.
- 2. Diesel Mechanic
Diagnoses, adjusts, repairs, or overhauls buses and trucks, including any type of diesel engine including marine.
- 3. Automotive Instructor Vocational Education
Teaches or instructs students how to repair, disassemble and reassemble parts including gasoline and diesel engines in a postsecondary school environment.
For veterans who are unsure of what vocational field to enter, the Vocation Rehabilitation and Employment program through the VA offers education and career counseling that can help sort out a career path. These services point veterans in the right direction to find the best way to use their skills and education benefits to reach a career goal.
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Vocational Training: A Top Choice for Veterans
44.1 percent of veterans earn an associate's or less-than-two-year degree. Of that, 9 percent complete a certificate, certification or licensure program. The rest earn either a diploma or two-year degree.
On average, it takes veterans 3.3 years to complete a vocational program—well within the four-years of GI Bill benefits available.
Veterans with remaining unused GI Bill benefits can get reimbursed for the cost of licensure or certification tests up to $2,000 per test, in addition to getting their vocational training paid.
According to the Occupational Information Network, all of the trades have projected job growths of 14 percent or more and each will have at least 100,000 job openings between 2014 and 2024.
Many Military Occupational Classifications (MOCs) have a counterpart in the civilian employment world. Mechanics, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, clerical workers, military police, and logisticians, to name a few, all translate and transition very easily to the civilian sector with minimal additional training needed. A vocational or technical education that awards a diploma and familiarizes veterans with the way things are done in the civilian world is all that is usually needed.
Bob Boone, Education Expert
Understanding Your GI Bill Benefits
Most service members come out of the military with at least one, and many with two or more, GI Bills. Yet since 2009, only 51.7 percent have used their GI Bills to get a degree or certificate. Many veterans don't use their GI Bill benefits at all once back in civilian life; instead they choose to let them expire.
GI Bill benefits not only can be used for degree-producing programs, but also for non-degree programs, such as vocational or technical career training. Most programs of this nature can be completed in two years or less and will prepare students for rewarding and successful careers in skilled trades.
- 1. Who Is Eligible?
Anyone serving on a Title 10 order (active duty) for 90 days or more after September 10, 2001 will have 36 months of entitlement with a percentage of coverage based on time served. Individuals serving the minimum period will have coverage at the 40 percent tier; individuals serving for at least three years will have 100 percent coverage. Coverage between is pro-rated and increases 10 percent per each six months of service until it peaks at three years.
- 2. What Are the Benefits?
Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit in three ways. First, the VA pays their tuition directly to the school. Public schools are covered at the tier percentage up to 100 percent; private schools are covered up to maximum of $21,084 per year multiplied by the tier percentage. Non-degree students also receive up to $83 per month in book stipend money along with a monthly housing allowance based on the zip code of the school, both subject to the tier percentage; the national housing allowance average is $1,300 per month. Education benefits expire 15 years from the date of discharge. The Buy-Up program cannot be used with the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
- 3. What Types of Training Are Approved?
Non-College Degrees, such as Vocational and Technical Diplomas
Independent and Distance Learning
Licensing and Certification Reimbursement
- 1. Who Is Eligible?
Selected Reserve members (including the Reserves of each of the military branches and the National Guard) who enlist for at least six-years after June 30, 1984. Unlike other GI Bills, the education benefits under this GI Bill expire after serving 10 years or upon discharge, so they must be used during the first decade of serving.
- 2. What Are the Benefits?
Eligible service members are entitled to 36 months of education benefits paid at the current rate of $368 per month for a full-time student. Like the MGIB-AD, students are responsible to pay tuition and fees on their own accord. The MGIB-SR may be used in conjunction with other types of financial aid, such as Federal Tuition Assistance (FTA), scholarships, and any education benefit that may be provided to Selected Reserve members by their state.
- 3. What Types of Training Are Approved?
Non-College Degrees, such as Vocational and Technical
Independent and Distance Learning
Licensing and Certification Reimbursement
Spotlight: Vocational Rehabilitation Program
For veterans seeking assistance beyond the financial benefits of their GI Bills, the Department of Veteran Affairs offers the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program. In addition to reemployment counseling, resume help and job training guidance, VocRehab offers special services to those veterans who live with a service-related disability. The program can help veterans with disabilities set up independent living services or make employment accommodations at their civilian jobs.
For more information on the VocRehab program and other resources for people with disabilities pursuing vocational schools and careers, visit our detailed guide on the subject.
What are the Benefits for Non-Degree Programs?
Across the board, vocational and technical training and licensing are the most commonly used and approved GI Bill benefits by the Veterans Affairs office. However, each category is subject to different pay and reimbursement rates. For example, On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeships are paid at a different rate than non-college degree type programs, as are flight training programs.
Non-College Vocational Training
Generally known as non-degree producing programs, this category typically includes training in the trades industry, such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical and automotive/truck repair. Other popular programs include architectural drafting, computer networking, commercial cooking and welding. Students successfully completing a training program usually receive either a diploma or certificate from the school and can go on to obtain a certification or license from the federal government, state or other entity, such as Microsoft or Cisco in the case of computer networking.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
Tuition and Fees: Paid directly to the school by the VA. If at 100 percent tier, tuition and fees at public schools are covered in full; up to $21,084 per year at private schools. At less than 100 percent tier, coverage is multiplied by the tier percentage.
Monthly Housing Allowance: Payment is determined by the school zip code and tier percentage, but averages around $1,300 per month if at the 100 percent tier.
Books and Supplies: Paid at the rate of up to $83 per month.
Tuition and Fees: Under both Montgomery GI Bills, the student is paid a monthly fee and out of that money pays tuition and fees to the school along with buying books. The MGIB-AD pays full-time students $1,789 with three years of service or $1,454 with less than three years. The MGIB-SR pays full-time students $368 per month.
Monthly Housing and Allowance: Both Montgomery GI Bills only pay a flat monthly fee.
Books and Supplies: Both Montgomery GI Bills only pay a flat monthly fee.
On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship
Instead of learning a skill in a formal classroom setting, some veterans learn trades as an apprentice or on the job. At the end of the training period, veterans are either given a certification or journeyman status, either which can be used to obtain employment. Trades that lend themselves well to this type of training include carpenter, electrician, plumber and welder.
Tuition and Fees: Under apprenticeship or on-the-job training, pay is based on a sliding scale. The VA pays some and the employer pays some. As the student's skills increase, the VA pays less and the employer more. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, 100 percent of the monthly housing allowance is paid during the first six months of training by the VA. After that the MHA is reduced by 20 percent every six months until it reaches 20 percent after four six-month periods where it remains for the duration of the training.
Monthly Housing Allowance: May be eligible up to $83 per month.
Monthly Housing Allowance: Under either of the MGIBs, payment starts at 75 percent for the first six months and is reduced 20 percent each of the next two six-month periods where it remains at 35 percent for the rest of the training program. The employer increases the amount it pays whenever the VA reduces its amount, so the student makes at least the same amount, if not more depending on employer, as their skills increase.
Licensing and Certifications
The VA reimburses veterans for licensing and certification test fees related to specific careers such as pharmacy technician certification, automotive ACE tests, real estate licensing, dental hygienist examinations, and network certification, to name a few. The Weam's License and Certification website maintains a searchable list of all eligible licenses and certifications and their costs.
Tuition and Fees: Reimbursement for licensing and certification test costs are limited to the cost of the test up to $2,000 per test. Any fees associated with obtaining a license or certification, besides the actual cost of the test, are not reimbursable. Entitlement charged is a minimum of per one month of payment up to $1,759, meaning even low cost tests are charged at least one month of entitlement.
Tuition and Fees: Under the MGIB-AD, one month of entitlement per $1,789 reimbursed; the MGIB-SR cannot be used for test reimbursement.
Beyond the GI Bill: Scholarships for Veterans
Depending on how much GI Bill entitlement a veteran has left, it might not be enough to reach a vocational or technical training goal. However, there are hundreds of scholarships for veterans who want to attend a two-year or less-than-two-year school or to get training resulting in a license, certification or certificate. The following is just a sampling of some of the more unique scholarships and grants reserved just for veterans either going to school for the first time or returning to school after getting out.
Sponsoring Organization: Army Women's Foundation
Amount: $1,000 awarded annually to five students
Application Deadline: January 15
Applicant must be a female either serving or having served honorably in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve or Army National Guard. Applicant must be enrolled in either an accredited community college or certificate-granting school and have a high school GPA of at least 2.5.
Sponsoring Organization: AMVETS
Amount: $1,000 each year for up to four years
Application Deadline: April 15
Must be an honorably discharged veteran and U.S. Citizen that can demonstrate financial need. Scholarship must be used within 5 years of awarding at an accredited technical/trade school.
Sponsoring Organization: American Military Retirees Association
Amount: $1,000 awarded annually to five students
Application Deadline: March 1
Scholarships are reserved for members of AMRA or their dependents who are attending a two-year or four-year undergraduate program full time at accredited institution. Applicants will be assessed on their achievements in leadership, academics, character, community service and citizenship.
Sponsoring Organization: Funding Life Corporation
Amount: $5,000 awarded annually to four students
Application Deadline: March 15
Eligibility requirements include being a high school graduate or equivalent, having served as a combat medic, discharged under honorable conditions and been awarded the Combat Medic Badge. An autobiography and 1,200 to 1,500-word essay are required as part of the application process.
Sponsoring Organization: Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation
Application Deadline: March 3
Open to children of honorably discharged U.S. Marine veterans or U.S. Navy Corpsman veterans who served with a Marine unit. Adjusted gross income for 2015 not to exceed $95,000. Must plan to attend career training at an accredited school for the upcoming academic year.
Sponsoring Organization: American Legion Auxiliary
Amount: $2,000 awarded annually to one student
Application Deadline: March 1
American Legion members wanting to go back to school after getting out of the military can apply for this scholarship and use the award to learn a trade at a vocational, technical or school having two-year degree or less programs.
Sponsoring Organization: Wells Fargo
Amount: Award amount varies as it is determined after other sources of financial aid are calculated, including military education benefits. May be renewed up to three years and amounts increase $1,000 each year.
Application Deadline: Last day of February
Must be honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of America (including the Reserves and National Guard), have a high school GPA of at least 2.5 and either plan to enroll or enrolled in an accredited two-year school or vocational-technical school for the full academic year.
Expert Q & A: Advice from the Field
Interview with an Education Expert: Bob Boon
Q. Why can the vocational/technical education route be a better choice than the more traditional four-year degree route for some veterans?
Vocational or technical training can be a better choice, especially for some veterans, because It is less expensive, takes less time to learn a skill and can lead to direct job placement. All of these reasons can make the transition to civilian life easier and faster for veterans. Most of them come out of the military and have families to support, therefore learning a trade is a quicker way to employment so they can maintain the quality of life for their spouse and children.
Q. What kind of veteran would you say is better suited for vocational/technical education?
Veterans, just like other citizens come from every walk of life. Some learn better with hands-on experience. For that group, books, exams and writing papers is not the best method of learning and advancing themselves. These veterans need the opportunity to be successful just like those that are better at traditional academics.
Q. Where could a veteran get some help, direction or guidance in pursuing vocational or technical training opportunities?
Every state has established programs to assist veterans with the transition back to civilian life. Examples of programs are Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and Employment Coordinators who run programs such as Heroes to Hire and Family Assistance Centers.