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Career Options for Veterans Seeking Civilian Workforce Transition

Career Options for Veterans Seeking Civilian Workforce Transition

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Last Updated January 20, 2021

The process of transitioning from the Armed Forces into a civilian job can be a big change. However, those who served have already acquired skills, both hard and soft, that may help ease the transition to civilian work.

Earning a college degree or professional certificate in a specific functional area may also help individuals considering transition into the corporate world. Advancing your education is something encouraged by the military through programs such as Army Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL).

Also, according to LinkedIn, private business, government agencies and nonprofit organizations value many of the soft skills veterans develop and hone during service, including detail orientation, integrity, leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking and the ability to work well on teams.

In 2019, 18.8 million men and women in the United States were veterans, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). About 4.3 million of those are Gulf War-era II veterans, defined as those who have served since September 2001. 

Importance of Education

Earning a degree has an impact on employment for both those in the military and non-veteran workers. According to 2019 data from the federal government (updated as of May 2020), the median weekly pay for workers based on educational attainment is as follows.

  • Less than a high school diploma – $592
  • High school diploma – $746
  • Associate degree – $887
  • Bachelor’s degree – $1,248
  • Master’s degree – $1,497

The median pay for entry-level workers may be less for each category. Education levels also correlate with unemployment. For example, in 2019, those with a bachelor’s degree had a median unemployment rate of 2.2%, while the unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma was 3.7%.

This is especially important for veterans. About 270,000 veterans are discharged every year, according to Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit that assists transitioning military members, veterans and military spouses with employment searches. However, according to the organization, only 20% of military members have a job lined up when they leave the service.

In an effort to prepare servicemembers for civilian transition, the Veterans Opportunity to Work and Hire Heroes Act of 2011 requires all veterans to go through a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) where they can get information on finding civilian jobs that match their skills and interests.

Career Opportunities For Veterans

The combination of skills learned in the military and further education has made the following careers as potential transition opportunities for veterans. 

Management Occupations

Veterans who possess team leadership, communication and critical thinking skills may transition well to management occupations. About 40% of all veterans are engaged in professional management positions, according to the March 2020 Employment Situation of Veterans News Release from the BLS.

Management occupations are projected to grow by 7% through 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. According to the latest BLS data, the median annual salary of management positions was $105,660 in May 2019, which was the highest annual wage of all the major occupation groups. The median pay for entry-level workers may be less for each category.

Public Agencies

Statistics show employed Gulf War-era II veterans are twice as likely to work in the public sector as non-veterans. According to the BLS news release, in 2019, 15% of Gulf War-era II veterans worked for the federal government.

Transportation Occupations

According to a BLS report showing the 2019 annual averages of employment by occupation for both veterans and non-veterans, production, transportation, and material moving occupations account for 17.1% of all veteran occupations, compared to 11.6% for non-veterans.

Jobs in this area can range from truck drivers to supply chain managers and mechanics. Employment of all transportation and material moving occupations is projected to increase by 3% through 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Engineering, Science and Technical Fields

According to the BLS, thousands of individuals specialize in engineering, science and technical fields. All three translate well into the civilian world, as 16% of all military jobs in 2017 were in these fields, compared to 6% of all civilian jobs. 

Transitioning From a Military to Civilian Career

The U.S. Department of Labor provides a detailed guide and training for active-duty personnel who aspire to transition from the military to a civilian job. The training seeks to teach servicemembers important strategies for seeking employment. They include advice for all those making the transition, including:

  • Conducting job research for selected careers
  • Understanding the civilian work environment 
  • Recognizing basic sections of a resume
  • Identifying network contacts
  • Drafting a headline and summary for a LinkedIn profile
  • Connecting skills and abilities with the needs of an employer

While the transition from military to civilian life may hold certain challenges, veterans should remember that they possess skills and experience that can help them secure a job. Veterans can be especially attractive candidates when skills learned in military service match to those used in civilian jobs. Veterans should accurately highlight all the related experience obtained while actively serving in the Armed Forces.

While the military offers a variety of services to help transitioning veterans, there are also professional résumé writers and career coaches that can help clarify military experience for civilian executives and hiring managers. Earning an online degree or professional certificate may also provide veterans an advantage when seeking a civilian job.

National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Information provided is not intended to represent a complete list of hiring companies or job titles, and program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.

VA Benefit Eligibility: Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Web Enabled Approval Management System (WEAMS) to view which programs of study or courses are currently certified. Benefit certification depends upon your VA determined eligibility, enrollment status and certified program of study.

Information provided as to the availability and eligibility for military or veteran education assistance programs is for general informational use only. Please check with your Education Services Officer or local Department of Veterans Affairs for eligibility, benefit amount and application processes specific to your situation.