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Apprenticeship program helps ease transitions

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:41PM August 15th, 2013

With an estimated 1.5 million service members separating from active duty the next five years and veterans’ unemployment rates reaching nearly 7 percent in 2012, transitioning to the civilian workforce continues to be a high priority among federal, state, community and military leaders.

The latest collaborative outreach efforts to provide enhanced employment assistance to separating service members include two pilot apprenticeship programs, part of the VOW (Veterans Opportunity to Work) to Hire Heroes Act, currently being tested at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

During a briefing Aug. 7 at Stone Education Center on Lewis Main, JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. discussed the implementing VOW to Hire Heroes Act at JBLM with Sen. Patty Murray and senior JBLM transition specialists.

Hodges said his vision is to create a seamless, successful transition for service members. “This is not an Army problem, this is not an Air Force problem; this is a universal, a DOD problem,” Hodges said. “This has got to be a synchronized, collaborative effort.”

As part of the overall effort to create an integrated outreach strategy to enhance job opportunities for veterans and provide more efficient transition support, JBLM has combined the Army Career and Alumni Program with the Air Force Career and Alumni Program, and partnered with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to formalize the Washington state military transition council and the state/DOD data share agreement.

“It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy at all,” Hodges saod. but now, everyone is behind this.”

Murray authored the VOW to Hire Heroes Act that created the program in 2011. It was intended to lower unemployment among U.S. veterans, expand education/ training, improve the Transition Assistance Program and translate military skills and experience into civilian language. A key initiative within the VOW to Hire Heroes Act allows service members to participate in apprenticeship programs while still on active duty.

JBLM was selected as the first installation in the U.S. to pilot the apprenticeship programs, Veterans in Piping and Software Engineering Academy.

“We want to get them before they become veterans,” said Amy Moorash, Chief, Advising Branch, David L. Stone & John D. “Bud” Hawk Education Centers, at JBLM. The VIP and SEA programs offer transitioning service members 18 and 16 weeks of training respectively, at no charge. Upon program completion, service members are placed into jobs nationwide.

“This eliminates (service members’) need to draw unemployment while providing them with a well-paid job and full benefits,” Moorash said. “The program has been very successful with everyone getting a job at the end of the training track.”

The first VIP pilot apprenticeship class graduated May 23 at JBLM. All participants were placed directly into paid apprenticeship positions throughout the U.S.

Another program under testing at JBLM is SEA. JBLM partnered with St. Martin’s University in Lacey and Direct Technology of Bellevue to offer software engineering training to service members interested in the technology sector. Service members are placed in a 16-week track program that becomes their place of duty. The full-time program is free to transitioning service members.

“When they graduate they are guaranteed jobs,” Moorash said. “We always have more interest than what we can accommodate.”

The JBLM pilot programs and other redesigned transition assistance support services aim to set the standard for helping veterans transition to the civilian workforce and provide skilled workers for high-demand industries like information technology and construction. Expansion of the VIP program is scheduled for Oct. 2013 to Fort Carson, Colo., with additional sites Armywide in the coming year.

Of the 300,000 service members separating from the Department of Defense per year, 13,000 are projected to make Washington state their permanent residence. According to Murray’s office, 90 percent of transitioning service members from JBLM are taking advantage of programs mandated by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.

“I am impressed that JBLM is so far along the way in making this happen,” Murray said to a class of Army and Air Force transitioning service members before the Aug. 7 briefing.

For more information on these and other programs available to transitioning service members, contact AACAP at 253-967-3258 or Stone Education Center at 253-967-7295.