By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2012 – The Defense Department is conducting pilot classes of a new program designed to better prepare service members transitioning out of the military to civilian life.
Transition Goals Plans Success, known simply as Transition GPS, replaces the 20-year-old Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. In a sweeping overhaul of the 20-year-old TAP, as part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act passed in 2011, Transition GPS takes military members through a week-long class, compared to the original TAP’s mandatory two to four hours of separation counseling, said Susan Kelly, the Defense Department’s deputy director for the newly formed Transition to Veterans Program Office.
“The Defense Department wants our service members to succeed when they become civilians,” Kelly said during an American Forces Press Service interview.
“Separating from the military lifestyle is a major life change,” she said, pointing out that there are some things that veterans can’t control during the transition process, but there are others that they can. “And that’s exactly what the Transition GPS helps you do. It’s going to walk you through a set of modules, help you build your skills, and takes you through what you need to consider … [through] deliberate planning that makes you more open to the success you want to be in the civilian work force.”
Naval Station Norfolk is one of seven installations now conducting pilot classes of the new five-day Transition GPS workshop. Full use of the program is expected to be in place by the end of 2013, according to a White House release.
Kelly said senior leaders from the Defense Department, the military services, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, the Education Department and the Office of Personnel Management met regularly for a year as the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force to develop the new program.
“It was President Obama’s mandate to DOD and VA to establish the joint Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force,” Kelly explained, “that brought all the partners together in a very structured and very goal-oriented way. It was the major impetus for bringing all those lessons learned together and helping us develop a very comprehensive curriculum for our service members.”
She said representatives of the agencies contributed in multiple ways to develop Transition GPS, which, she added “we hope will eventually evolve into the military lifecycle transition assistance program.”
Transition GPS will be mandatory for service members, Kelly said, including reservists and national guardsmen, with some exceptions. A key part of the weeklong program is a three-day Labor Department Employment Workshop, which is mandated by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act to be in place by Nov. 21.
“Between the mandatory DOL employment workshop, plus the core curriculum for Transition GPS, there is a holistic view that starts with looking at the challenges of transition, and preparing military members to meet those challenges, including family considerations. It also helps plan for the financial changes they’ll face as they become civilians,” she said.
Kelly said the DOL employment workshop introduces challenges a service member might confront, and how to deal with such stressors. Staff members help them determine what’s most important to them in a job — salary, advancement, stability and other considerations.
The workshop takes service members through job searches using up-to-date technology, and has them look at whether their skills are in demand in the civilian sector, where the best opportunities exist, and whether moving is a consideration. The DOL wants military members to develop a second plan if the first one doesn’t pan out.
“They might look at what skills are in demand and how they can fill that gap,” Kelly said. “There are some very serious questions to look at.”
“There are specific pieces of the new curriculum that give them the information they need to make very well-thought out decisions as well as skills building to help them succeed in whatever pathway they chose,” Kelly added.
In the course of five days, about 50 students develop an individual transition plan that maps out financial planning and a budget to follow the first 12 months after separating from the military. It also covers how to write a resume and how to interview for a job, along with exploring how military skills can be carried over into the civilian work force. In addition to the DOL workshop, a Veterans Affairs representative goes over benefits.
If certain skills are not transferrable, service members’ personal goals are identified for the type of employment they want to pursue, the education they want to gain from college or technical training schools, or to start their own business, she said.
Optional two-day tracks, to be piloted in the coming months, will include help for those who want to pursue a college degree, or technical training.
“We found that military members weren’t making the best of their post-911 GI Bill,” Kelly said. “So we are getting them the information to help them choose wisely.”
The new GI Bill, she said, is a generous benefit. “Make it work for you, and choose wisely,” Kelly suggested.
The Small Business Administration will also offer an optional two-day curriculum to put new veterans on the path to start up small businesses, Kelly said. “The SBA is very passionate about our military members being very innovative, [being] creative, and self-initiating … and they’re going to help them build [business] skills.”
The SBA also developed an eight-week online course to help new veterans build a solid business plan, she added. It also assigns a mentor to each military member, who will see them through their small-business startup, sustaining the business, and remain a long-term mentor.
Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Peter Adams is one such small business candidate. He wants to go into film and video production and start his own company. He said Transition GPS has allowed him to look at reinventing himself.
“The class has given me ways to take my leadership and organization skills and [others] I never would have thought of and how to market them for myself,” he said. “It gives me the confidence on my resume and in an interview to say, ‘This is what I can do for you,’” Adams said.
Navy Machinist Mate 1st Class Jason Christian has worked in cryogenics throughout his military career, and his goal is to stay in his field in the civilian sector.
He had previously attended the original TAP, and he says the new pilot program is more interactive.
“The technology made everything change significantly,” Christian said. Aside from the major companies in his field, he said he found others he didn’t know existed. “I plan on coming back and bringing my spouse so she can be involved in this. [We need] to look at housing, the cost of living, what traffic is like, the crime rate and what the schools are like for my children — things I never took into account.”