Over the next three years, as many as 60,000 military members are expected to return to Georgia. Already, 770,000 veterans call Georgia home. In fact, the Peach State is home to the fourth-largest population of veterans nationwide. In addition to those returning to Georgia, more than 10,000 service members will be transitioning from the state’s Army installations — 4,000 from Fort Stewart alone.
If we’re lucky, these veterans will continue to live and work in Georgia and contribute to the area’s economic viability. However, there are some hurdles in their way, such as the post-9/11 unemployment rate for veterans, which persistently is higher than the civilian rate.
Veterans face a higher unemployment rate for a number of reasons, including higher disability rates, a lack of civilian work experience and obstacles for transitioning veterans. That’s precisely why we started a program 16 months ago to translate military values into a successful civilian career.
A recently-issued Department of Defense policy now allows active-duty service members to participate in internship and apprenticeship programs during the last six months of their service. As a result of the new policy, Georgia Tech-Savannah is expanding its Veterans Education Training and Transition (VET2) program to include active military members.
On a basic level, the goal of VET2 is to help veterans find good jobs after leaving the military. While there is no shortage of resources to help ease service members’ transitions, they often tend to be spread out and difficult to access. Georgia Tech can prove to be a one-stop shop for veterans, helping them understand the difference between the military and civilian workplaces and giving them the keys to be successful in their post-military lives.
The VET2 program — among the first of its kind in the nation — is a fully-funded program that is free to service members. The four-week program ties professional education with job experience by partnering active, transitioning and recently separated service members with an employer to receive classroom and online instruction. After completing a first week of academic training, veterans have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a three-week placement opportunity with an employer. At the end of the course, participants will earn a professional certificate from a world-renowned academic institution and will be well-positioned for landing a civilian job.
While the VET2 program is a competitive one — we have a 16 percent selection rate — participating veterans definitely reap the rewards. To date, all of our veterans have been offered employment as a result of the program.
In spite of their higher unemployment rate, veterans bring sought-after characteristics to the civilian workforce, such as “can-do” attitudes, global perspectives, punctuality, the ability to remain calm under pressure and proven leadership skills. In addition, applicants to the VET2 program have skill sets in logistics and transportation, information technology and computing, combat-arms security, human resources and administration, maintenance and repair, and aviation, among others.
Georgia Tech has been providing experiential learning opportunities to students for 100 years, so it only makes sense to bring those unique benefits to both the service member and employer by way of the VET2 program. Service members receive education and experience for their resume and the opportunity to network with cohort members and the employer. The employer gains a decreased cost of hiring and onboarding, an extended interview process, a strategic partnership with Georgia Tech and possibly a reliable and dependable employee.
Patrick Bean, Soldier for Life and Transition Services Manager at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, said the VET2 program is a much-needed one.
“This program will provide additional training, shared experiences and mentorship to service members who are experiencing the culture shock of suddenly finding themselves in a world with corporate colleagues who have completely different expectations,” Bean said. “This program will offer veterans the support they need during the transition period from military to civilian life that is critical to successful employment.”
Wilburn is the military academic program director for Georgia Tech Professional Education in Savannah.