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Spring 2007 Vol. 51, Number 1

Military training for civilian careers
(Or: How to gain practical experience while serving your country)

The inaugural Occupational Outlook Handbook provided
career guidance for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Harking back to those origins, this article highlights the
career value of military service.

by C. Hall Dillon


Career prep, military style

The military trains you to be technically proficient in whatever occupation you are assigned. But you’ll also learn teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and other skills widely applicable in the civilian workforce. In fact, some employers looking for workers with specific qualifications, such as security clearances, often seek out former military personnel.

Most armed-services jobs have a direct civilian counterpart. If you learn how to repair and maintain vehicles, for example, you might later use these skills as a mechanic in the civilian world. If you’re trained to cook for a battalion, you could be well on your way to becoming a chef. And if you learn to maintain military computer systems, you might find civilian work as a computer specialist.

In the military, you’ll earn career credentials. You’ll also have a chance to further your education while you serve—and afterward.

Occupational specialties

Enlisted personnel fill more than four-fifths of the military jobs available. Officers, who are not the focus of this article, fill the remaining portion in jobs like nurse, pilot, and lawyer. (For more information about officer training programs, including Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and military schools, see the "Learn more" section at the end of the article.)

The military has more than 140 occupational specialties, most of which relate to civilian jobs. Not all of these are available in every branch of the military. Your preferences will be considered, but the specialty you are assigned will depend on your aptitude and the needs of the armed services at the time you enlist.

The following are some examples of military occupational specialties.

Aviation. Workers in aviation, including air traffic controllers, air crew, and mechanics, often get their start in the armed services. Most people earn licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration as part of their training—and those are licenses that they can later use as civilians.

Combat operations. Enlisted servicemembers in combat operations have jobs that are among the most specific to the military: infantry, armored vehicle operation, artillery and missile crew, and Special Forces. Although these specialties do not relate closely to civilian occupations, they teach skills that civilian employers value. Among the skills servicemembers learn are how to lead others, how to operate complex equipment, and how to perform under pressure.

Computers. Servicemembers in computer specialties learn to set up and troubleshoot computer networks and systems for the military. They also learn computer security: protecting computer systems from natural disasters and defending them from hackers and other threats. And some specialists earn widely accepted certifications. Computer specialists in the armed services are often prepared for civilian jobs as computer network and systems administrators, computer support technicians, and computer programmers.

Construction. To raise buildings and construct barricades and other structures, the military trains construction specialists. These servicemembers perform a range of tasks, including carpentry, plumbing, and masonry. They also train as cabinetmakers and surveying technicians. Some complete registered apprenticeships to become journeyworkers.

Food services. Fortunately for hungry service personnel, the military trains food service specialists to order, inspect, prepare, and serve healthy food. These specialists learn about many topics, including cooking methods, food storage, and, of course, cleanup. The skills are transferable to civilian jobs in restaurants, bakeries, hospitals, and other facilities that have their own food preparation services.

Healthcare. Healthcare practitioners and technicians of all types receive training in the military. Some do laboratory tests or provide dental care, for example, and others assist physical therapists or work as x-ray or other types of technicians. Still others perform tasks similar to those of paramedics and give medical care in emergencies and in the absence of doctors. Many healthcare workers learn more than one occupation. All are either partially or fully trained for civilian healthcare jobs.

Law enforcement. Many servicemembers train in police, security, and investigative jobs. Like civilian police, they learn tasks such as collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and performing riot control. Servicemembers in this specialty are prepared for civilian jobs as police officers, security guards, and intelligence analysts.

Maintenance. In the armed services, people learn to fix all types of equipment. Automotive and heavy equipment repairers, for example, learn to fix cars and trucks, and they might also maintain tanks and bulldozers. Because of this wide-ranging experience, servicemembers trained in maintenance may qualify for complex civilian repair jobs.

Manufacturing and power plant operation. The military trains machinists, who create metal parts; welders; tool and die makers; and other manufacturing workers. And because the armed services need power for their bases and ships, they also train power plant electricians and power plant operators—who might later work in civilian power plants or as boiler operators.

Media and the arts. Training in media and the arts available to servicemembers includes graphic arts, broadcasting, and photography. The military’s audio and broadcast technicians, for example, help to produce movies, television shows, and radio programs. The skills gained in these military jobs relate to civilian opportunities as commercial artists, musicians, and photojournalists, among others.

The military student

Perhaps you’ve heard that the military will pay for your college education, either in whole or in part, while you’re serving and after—even retroactively. That’s true; many of the same educational benefits that are available for veterans are offered to active-duty servicemembers and reservists. But you’ll need to sort through the facts to learn how to become eligible.

Regardless of whether you go to college, however, you receive training and education while you serve.

Class time for all. If you join the military, you’ll spend at least some time in a classroom. The subjects you take will depend on your occupational specialty. For example, quartermasters and boat operators receive instruction in navigational mathematics. Finance specialists learn bookkeeping and basic accounting. Pharmacy technicians are taught biology, chemistry, and the names and uses of medications.

This classroom instruction, plus on-the-job training, qualifies you for licenses, certifications, and college credit—all of which will be useful when you return to the civilian world as a jobseeker. Servicemembers in healthcare and aviation occupations, for example, often earn licenses required in civilian jobs, although they might need additional training.

The military provides formal training in some technical occupations, including those in construction, manufacturing, and repair. Servicemembers who successfully complete registered apprenticeship programs earn a journeyworker certificate, recognized by civilian employers nationwide.

Also, armed-services class time and training are recognized by some professional associations as a way to qualify for occupational certifications. Each military branch offers servicemembers information about turning armed-services training into private certifications.

Classroom training could continue throughout your military career, as you gain expertise in your occupation or train for others. And your specialty might require new skills, such as speaking a foreign language, to prepare for a mission.

College options. You might be able to turn your military training into a college degree. For example, the U.S. Air Force runs its own community college, where servicemembers can earn an associate degree; the Navy’s Program for Afloat College Education provides instruction for sailors at sea.

Attending a local civilian college or university might be another option. And the proliferation of online instruction and distance learning has broadened the possibilities for servicemembers stationed all over the world.

You might be able to get college credit without taking additional courses, based on your armed-services experience. Some servicemembers take equivalency exams to get college credit for what they’ve learned on the job. Others receive credit based on recommendations from the American Council on Education, an organization that certifies qualified training as equivalent to college coursework.

Other education benefits for active-duty servicemembers include tuition assistance, scholarships, loans, and grants for vocational and college training during or after service.

In addition, each military branch offers its own education benefits for career development. If it’s important to you to get an education while you’re in the service, be sure to compare programs when choosing a branch for enlistment.



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Last Updated: February 15, 2007