Starting now: Personalized support for your post-service life
The 22-year-old Transition Assistance Program is getting a total makeover, aiming to make the classes and workshops more helpful for troops leaving the military and entering a struggling civilian economy.
The new program, unveiled by President Obama after heavy prodding from Congress and veterans groups, recognizes that troops don’t all have the same needs.
“We are moving away from the old ‘one-size-fits-all’ TAP,” said a senior White House official in a background briefing. “It is going to be a little more personalized, more individualized.”
Troops will choose one of three specialized tracks: one for those planning to attend college, another for aspiring business owners and a third for those who want to use their military training and skills to get a job right away, officials said.
The revamp will ditch instruction on using newspaper job ads and how to prepare a paper résumé in favor of more up-to-date tips on searching for jobs online, filling out electronic résumés and networking on social media to find work.
The revamped core curriculum also includes a financial planning seminar and a lengthy discussion about translating military-learned skills, training and experience into language civilians can understand.
The old program’s infamous 187-slide PowerPoint presentation -- often described by troops as a great cure for insomnia -- will be scrapped in favor of a 49-slide version accompanied by two videos. Participants also will get a 270-page take-home guide to read and refer to later.
The new program will last longer -- five to seven days, beginning with individual counseling to help define a service member’s post-service goals and map out a transition process.
At the end, another counseling session will be aimed at verifying that participants are on the right path and, when appropriate, put them in contact with people outside of the military who can help with the next steps -- the Small Business Administration, for example, for those thinking about starting their own business, or the Veterans Affairs Department for those seeking to go to school on the GI Bill.
Reverse boot camp
The new program will be called Transition GPS, for goals, planning and success, and should be in place across the Defense Department by the end of 2013.
By the end of August, seven installations will test pilot versions of Transition GPS, involving about 1,000 participants.
Obama announced the overhaul July 23 in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev.
Calling the new program “a kind of reverse boot camp” -- a phrase coined by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., when he was the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee -- Obama promised the new Transition GPS will better prepare troops for post-military life.
“Starting this year, they’ll get more personalized assistance as they plan their careers,” Obama said. “We’ll provide the training they need to find that job, or pursue that education, or start that business. And just as they’ve maintained their military readiness, we’ll have new standards of career readiness.” The White House expects the new program to be far more popular with troops, with about 140,000 additional retiring or separating service members taking part -- about twice the current number.
But for that to happen, commanders must be willing to give people time away from normal duties. Since Transition GPS will be longer, that may prove harder than planners anticipate.
‘I do not have my hopes up’
Ted Daywalt, president and chief executive officer of VetJobs.com, one of the largest online veteran job boards, said he is glad to hear TAP is being overhauled.
“I am totally in favor of having TAP revised,” Daywalt said. “The quality of classes varies from base to base, but even the best have antiquated courses.”
That said, however, “I do not have my hopes up” that the revamped program can help troops better translate their military skills into civilian terms, he said.
“It hasn’t worked yet, and I don’t see anything here that is going to change that,” he said.
The one thing that would really make a difference is the economy, Daywalt said. “I don’t go along with the view [that] we are recovering. I don’t see it.”
The unemployment rate for veterans who have left the military since 2001 tends to fluctuate from month to month, but the rate for June, 9.5 percent, was down from 13.3 percent a year earlier.
Vets groups give input
Many of the TAP changes were prompted by specific complaints from veterans groups and other experts about the old training.
IAVA legislative associate Ramsey Sulayman, an Iraq vet, said leveraging government offsets for small veteran-owned businesses requires understanding complex rules.
“IAVA believes that the logical place to begin helping veterans break into federal contracting is through the Transition Assistance Program,” he said. “It is a convenient touch point that will allow for the dissemination of information on federal contracting processes and opportunities, as well as the most basic level of information and training, to the widest possible audience,” Sulayman said.
Similarly, at a September summit on veterans employment hosted by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, Jolene Jeffries of the Direct Employers Association wondered why the military was teaching troops to write old-fashioned paper résumés when large corporations today rely on online application forms and use software to screen applications.
A redesigned TAP should familiarize troops with online application and teach them how to include keywords, she said.
Better counseling for people who plan to attend college or vocational school was another issue raised last year, by Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America. He also suggested that education counseling is needed much earlier than in the last six months of a member’s military service.
“The college application process must begin at least six months before discharge, with the service member preparing for and taking the SATs or other required exams,” Dakduk said in testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in June 2011. “It is essential that TAP offer some kind of tangible education component that allows service members to take the time to prepare for these exams if they need, as well as having the resources to teach them on base.”
Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars described the old TAP as “tired,” and said it was sometimes hard for people to stay awake as briefings droned on with information many troops don’t realize is important until they leave the military.
Being able to take home the new 270-page guidebook could help them discover what they missed once they realize they need more information, he said.
Who gets it first
The new Transition GPS program rolls out first at seven installations:
*Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
*Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.
*Army National Guard site, Utica, N.Y.
*Fort Sill, Okla.
*Fort Hood, Texas.
*Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
*Naval Station Norfolk, Va.
Out: A single training module for all separating service members.
In: Three tracks for individualized needs:
College: Help you pick the right school and major and explain how to get the most from your GI Bill education benefits.
Run a business: Information on how to start a small business and get preferential contracts from the government as a veteran-owned firm.
Professional certification: Advice and instruction on turning military skills training into industry-recognized credentials through short-term training, plus guidance on how and where to find jobs.
Out: Instructions on how to build a paper résumé.
In: Help filling out the electronic résumé forms used by most major companies, with tips on using keywords to exploit automated screening software.
Out: Tips on conducting a job search via newspaper want ads.
In: Advice on hunting for a job online and using social media to network.
Out: 187 PowerPoint slides.
In: 49 PowerPoint slides, plus two videos and a take-home guide.