Will the New Reverse Boot Camp Reverse the Trend in Military Unemployment?

The Capitol Dome is seen between two U.S. Army Band buses, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/
The Capitol Dome is seen between two U.S. Army Band buses, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama recently announced the establishment of a "reverse boot camp" program aimed at providing more personal and in-depth transition assistance to service members separating from the military. This new program is a reinvention of TAP (transition assistance program), a 3-day "one size fits all" course introduced in 1990.

Specific details about the reverse boot camp (RBC) have yet to be released, but it appears that much-needed improvements will be implemented. RBC will be a mandatory, five-day program with a more structured, standardized approach to transition training which includes modules in financial planning and military skills translation. Service members can also elect to receive supplementary training on topics specific to their desired post-military path (education, employment or entrepreneurship) as well as individualized transition plans based on their goals.

Is the Reverse Boot Camp the Silver Bullet to Combat Veteran Unemployment?

Probably not by itself. As military service members transition into the civilian workforce, they face complex challenges -- too complex for a single, "silver bullet" solution. Modernizing TAP into a more individualized, structured, program is certainly an improvement, but to achieve optimal results and significantly mitigate the high veteran unemployment rate, challenges with command-level support, TAP's decentralized structure and corporate hiring practices must be overcome.

Command-Level Support

The TAP reinvention must be complemented by top-down support from the military services and driven at the command level. Commands must emphasize the importance of transition preparation and provide service members with the flexibility to manage their military obligations and new career preparation. Most veterans juggle day-to-day military responsibilities while coordinating a geographic move, handling family matters, and searching for a new job. This balancing act makes it very difficult for service members to thoroughly reflect about their next steps.

Structural Challenges

The decentralized structure of TAP makes it difficult for the military to forge strong partnerships with employers across the country in a scalable way. TAP offices are located around the world and number -- well, too many to count. Career fairs are one solution to this problem, but service members and veterans unable to travel outside their region may find it difficult to attend multiple events. Many veterans relocate after separating from the military and cannot take advantage of their TAP office's relationships with local employers. On the other hand, many employers struggle to connect with veterans who have the right skill sets because there is no centralized (or even regionally-focused) office that serves as an entry point or "career traffic cop" to direct employers to certain TAP offices with a pool of candidates possessing the desired skill set. A more centralized TAP model with formal employer partnerships may enable scalable hiring practices, connecting veterans with employers through the single transition channel for ALL service members.

Translating Skills

One of the most significant hurdles veterans face when applying for jobs is translating their military skills into civilian language. Although the RBC will take a more active role in assisting service members with resume revision, this problem goes beyond resume tweaks, formatting and simple skill translation. Effective skill translation requires a two-step approach: (1) Translating the resume from military language to civilian equivalent and (2) Translating the civilian language to specific industry or company terms. The latter point is not emphasized enough, but according to Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, it could be a barrier preventing great candidates from being hired. In his most recent book, Why Good People Can't Get Jobs, Cappelli explains that employers often write job descriptions with an impossible number of requirements that often can only be met by individuals with the exact job experience. Additionally, companies increasingly rely on sophisticated software to screen thousands of applications. If your resume does not have the precise key words that align with the job description, it will likely get filtered out of the resume pool. What does this mean for vets? Developing a civilian equivalent resume is only half the battle. Vets must further tailor their resumes to particular job postings and industries.

Bottom Line: The Reverse Boot Camp will be an improvement upon the existing TAP course. However, to achieve greater results, three steps must be taken: (1) Commands must support their separating personnel and provide them with the flexibility to properly prepare; (2) A central office should serve as a matchmaker between employers and vets; (3) Veterans must learn to fully translate their skills to specific industries.

Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick are founders of Switch, a career transition blog for veterans by veterans. For more articles on the military to civilian transition as well as resources for veterans, visit: http://SwitchStarter.wordpress.com.