By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2012 – The Defense Department is working to break down credentialing barriers for service members and veterans preparing to enter the civilian workforce, a DOD official said today.
“The goal … is to help our veterans, and especially our transitioning veterans, … get employed,” Ed Kringer, director of state liaison and educational opportunity for the Pentagon’s office of military community and policy, told an audience gathered for the National Credentialing Summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here.
Speaking on a panel, Kringer described the interagency effort under way to ensure credentialing agencies recognize service members’ extensive training, education and experience.
Many occupations require state licensure, he noted, which affects both service members and their spouses. However, many troops run up against challenges with this, he added, as licensing and credentialing requirements vary from state to state and many credentialing boards are unaware of how military training and education equate to civilian training.
“What we want is for states to make it simpler, and they can do that through regulations and through passing legislation … to make it simpler for service members to take education, training and experience and make it applicable for a license,” Kringer said.
Officials are asking state licensure boards to accept military training and experience if they meet the state’s requirements, he said. He lauded Washington state for what he called its simple, but effective legislation. The state has directed boards to waive training if a military member already has training that’s comparable to the state’s requirement.
“That’s what we want — that transferability of training and experience toward requirements for a state license,” Kringer said.
In some cases, the military helps its troops obtain credentials while still serving, he noted. Some military health care professionals, for example, obtain licenses while in service so they can work part time.
But that license may not apply once the military member separates from service and moves to another state. “We want that state to have an expedited enforcement policy so that member’s current, valid license is more easily transferred,” Kringer said.
Others come into the military with a license, then separate from service and stay in the same state where they obtained their license, but may no longer meet requirements. A solution would be for states to give these service members an opportunity to continue working with a temporary license while they complete the additional requirements, he said.
Kringer acknowledged states’ concerns about the impact of swifter and easier credentialing. “They ask, ‘Are you telling us to lower our standards [or] take unqualified people into our profession?’ The answer is a profound no. We don’t want unqualified people out there, but we don’t want service members to have to repeat what they have,” he said.
Kringer said he’s aware that service members’ training and experience may not always equate to civilian requirements, but even some percentage is better than none. Troops may meet only 50 percent of the requirements, he noted, but then “we’ll show them and help them get the other 50 percent. We don’t want any military member to have to start at ground zero.”
Officials started working with the states on these issues and possible solutions last year, Kringer said.
“Last year, we had six states that either adopted all or significant parts of the legislation,” he said. “This year, we have sponsors identified and in some cases legislation already dropped in 23 states. This is something that is actively moving.”
Along with their state efforts, officials also are working with national credentialing agencies, noted fellow panelist Marion Cain, DOD’s associate director for training readiness and strategy. “About 60 percent of employers don’t understand what military training and education experience [means], how that really relates to their job,” he said. The same is true with national credentialing agencies, he added.
Officials need to ascertain what these agencies are looking for, what information they need and how military training can be matched up with civilian training to facilitate credentialing, Cain explained.
As they ask states and agencies to do their part to help, military officials must step up as well, Kringer said. DOD needs to do a better job at making military training understandable to civilian credentialing agencies, he acknowledged. Most agencies are accustomed to assessing training, he explained, but aren’t well equipped to assess military training.
“The language isn’t the same,” he noted. “We’ve been tasked to do that better. If we’re going to ask them to do something, we need to step up to the plate.”
Military transcripts, for example, need to contain standardized information to ensure they’re meaningful to credentialing agencies, Kringer explained. Toward this end, officials are gathering transcripts to compare what’s in them already and what needs to change.
Three states – Maryland, Washington and Illinois – have agreed to evaluate these transcripts and see how DOD can make them more meaningful to a credentialing agency, he said. They’re also asking credentialing agencies and academic institutions to review these transcripts.
Once that assessment is complete, DOD will report its findings to the services to initiate changes, Kringer said, noting this should be completed within the next month or so.
Kringer also cited the need for more Veterans Affairs Department-approved licensing and certification agencies. Veterans can be reimbursed through VA for the cost of taking approved licensing and credentialing tests. However, veterans often aren’t aware of which agencies are VA-approved, and they don’t have a central repository of agencies they can access. Compounding the issue, many agencies will wait until a military member asks to take the test before asking VA for approval.
“We want to provide veterans more options of agencies approved by the VA so veterans can use their VA benefits,” Kringer said.
VA and the Labor Department are working to build a repository of VA-approved agencies, he said, that will list which agencies are approved for testing. VA officials also will work through states to contact other agencies and request that they ask to be VA-approved in advance of a testing request to expand troops’ options.
Officials also are looking to expand the services’ apprenticeship programs, Cain noted. In these programs, service members in technical trades, such as machinists or lathe operators, are assigned a program of instruction involving class and task completion. Once requirements are fulfilled, the Labor Department issues the service member a certificate.
“This is a huge advantage when getting out and looking to get hired by one of the trade unions,” he said.
The Army and Air Force, however, don’t have apprenticeship programs, Cain noted. Officials are exploring the idea of expanding other services’ programs — which encompass 123 trades and about 58,000 service members — to the Army and Air Force.
“We’re working very closely with our partners at the Department of Labor to make this happen,” he said. “I think we’re going to make a lot of progress here.”
Officials also are in the process of assessing the services’ credentialing programs. Some programs have mapped military occupation codes and credentials to civilian jobs and credentials, Kringer said. But others aren’t as current, he acknowledged. The goal is to develop a common standard for al service members, and then determine what it will take to bring all of the services up to that standard, he explained, so service members “have access to the same kind and level and quality … of information.”
The most complex of actions DOD officials would like to undertake is to close the real or perceived gap between military training and education and civilian credentialing requirements, Kringer noted.
This will involve assessing the match between competencies gained in military occupations with a state’s credentialing requirements, he explained. A military electrician, for example, may have extensive experience, but that must be able to translate to a civilian credentialing and licensing agency’s requirements.
Officials have identified the top 10 largest military occupations from each service, and have “cross-walked” these to 17 civilian occupations, he said. They’ll examine the training for each of these 40 occupations, comparing what’s required for credentials and for licenses, so they can determine any gaps. Once they identify these gaps, officials can look to modify current military training or, if the credentialing isn’t required for all, create a “pocket” of additional training for certain troops.
In some cases, Kringer noted, bridging the gap may require the military to add on additional weeks of training, which may not be financially or logistically feasible. In this case, DOD officials can work to ensure troops know what’s required to fill the gap and what financial resources are available to help, he said.
It’s also important to help troops determine the value of different credentials, Kringer noted. With more than 4,000 different credentials, it can be difficult for a service member or veteran to know which ones are most important to civilian employers.
To help guide service members, the Labor Department is working to identify indicators of a credential’s value, such as industry recognition and accreditation. Once this information is compiled, it will be posted on future credentialing program websites so service members can evaluate these value indicators, Kringer said. Kringer said people should begin to see the positive results of these interagency efforts in the coming months. The goal is more than just about credentialing, he noted. “It’s about employment,” he said.