15 September 2014

Military Transition Training Needs Transformation

The military has transformation down to a science. For hundreds of years, it has transformed our citizen civilians into citizen warriors. The Marine Corps’ Recruit Training program is thirteen weeks, the Army’s basic training program is ten weeks long, and the Navy’s is eight. Newly minted service members then attend training in their primary military occupational specialty (MOS). These schools range from 6 weeks to several months. In fact, from the day I checked into flight school to graduation was 25 months. And I have to admit: my military training was transformational. I’m different for having gone through it.

This training adequately prepares us for our official military duties, but the truth is most of us will work after the military. In fact, the majority of Marines serve less than six years! One would think that significant effort would be put into returning soldiers back to society.

In late 2012, the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) was replaced by Transition GPS. This replaced the mandatory three-day program with a mandatory five-day program. The most successful transitions I witnessed were planned years in advance and took longer than five days to design!  But this five-day period often comes in the last 6-12 months of someone’s service and amounts to “too little, too late.” 

I don’t even want to guess how much the course redesign cost, but we do know a few other cost figures. For Fiscal Year 2014, the DoL budgeted over $250M for veteran transition programs, including $14M for the Transition GPS. Every year about 160,000 service members transition off active duty (not including National Guard or Reserve), so that means the DoL spends about $88 per service member on outbound training! The other $236M is spent fixing the repercussions of a broken transition mindset.

In late 2012, I attended a Transition GPS test session. I can say it misses the mark. Not once during the session did we talk about the “gig” economy or the sharing economy, both of which constitute the new employment landscape. Veterans will quickly learn about this tectonic shift when they are out of the service, but why not start early? 

Beyond that, this is a fertile space for veteran entrepreneurs to innovate and start businesses. There are a myriad of online services that disaggregate a lot of the back office functions that often deter enterprising young people from starting business. 

Employment is just one area where Transition GPS falls short.  Education is yet another. During the transition program, young enlisted were encouraged to join local community colleges then attempt to transfer into full four-year universities. That plan is appropriate for many, but no mention was made of Massive Open, Online Courses, or MOOCs.

Software is changing the way we fight wars and it changes the way we work and educate ourselves, but Transition GPS remains anything but digital or Web 3.0. Transition GPS does not prepare transitioning warriors because its foundations are rooted in 20th century employment and education paradigms.

Ways Ahead

First, senior leaders at EVERY level in every service must acknowledge that most of their troops will work after the military. Transition prep should be a continuous and often addressed issue.  

Second, design a transition program that lives in the digital age. One that spans more than five days and involves in-person training, experiential learning, and online education. 

Third, the DoD and DVA should support and promote a strong alumni network like universities and private firms. Paying for and supporting an online platform would go a long way. These networks can be leveraged to support field based transition experiences and to place transitioning talent into roles that fit.  

These are just first steps. The goal is to change the way that we, in the service, think and talk about “the transition.” That we do so in a way that is rooted in real-time and infused with our values, a way that is as transformational on the way out, as our experiences are on the way in.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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