10/31/2012 03:05 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

A Shining Light for America's Returning Veterans: "Get Skills to Work"

In these final days leading up to one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in memory, it's refreshing to see a truly collaborative effort take shape -- one that is in stark contrast to the political mudslinging of the campaign season.

The bright spot I'm referencing involves leaders in advanced manufacturing, education and workforce development.

Did you see the announcement on October 15 where Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE, announced a remarkable coalition with the admirable intent of training 100,000 U.S. veterans for jobs in advanced manufacturing by 2015? Joining GE in this coalition -- called Get Skills to Work -- are the Manufacturing Institute, Alcoa, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, supported by numerous organizations and institutions that will play important roles in transitioning our returning warriors to new careers.

Some may question whether this is truly an altruistic gesture for the benefit of America's fighting forces as they transition to the civilian workforce. Skeptics may say that this is just a way for manufacturing giants to "grow" a better workforce that will help employers make more money. That's likely a desired outcome; no question about it. It's an outcome I see as honorable. After all, these manufacturers are faced with thousands of current openings they cannot fill because they can't find workers with the skills to be successful. As a result, they may resort to looking beyond America's borders to fill their requirements. Why not grow their own future talent here at home? And why not honor our returning veterans with fast-track, effective job training programs that also award college credit and the opportunity for career advancement? If the coalition plan works -- and I'm confident it will -- everyone benefits.

The leadership shown by these industry captains is just the kind of roll-up-your-sleeves effort America needs to get our economy back on track. U.S. employers are spending an astounding amount--somewhere in the neighborhood of $485 billion per year--on formal and informal education and training. That's a huge drain on profitability. If they can instead hire individuals who already have essential skills and train them only on the specifics of the job, we can lower that investment in training by a substantial amount.

So how will this coalition attack the problem? Here's an overview from the point of view of a veteran with employment aspirations in advanced manufacturing:
➢ First Step: Assess and translate military skills to those needed in civilian roles
➢ If no training is needed: Qualify for a Military Manufacturing Badge, amplify skills via LinkedIn, and apply for positions
➢ If training is needed: Identify skill gaps, locate Right Skills Now credentialing program at area partner community and technical colleges, take courses and earn industry-recognized certifications, and apply for apprenticeship/internship or job
➢ Goal: Begin a new career in advanced manufacturing and continue to add stackable credentials, additional certifications and degrees for advancement

And from the perspective of a manufacturer with openings for skilled workers:
➢ Become a coalition member in Get Skills to Work
➢ Share best practices for engaging talent with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), a coalition partner organization
➢ Search for veteran applicants on and LinkedIn
➢ Participate in a local Right Skills Now training and hiring program
➢ Interview and hire skilled workers with proven credentials

Note how many partners are embedded in the steps above. It will truly take a village to make this happen. All partners are essential to success, but I particularly want to shine a light on the key role our community and technical colleges will play.

When ACT partnered with the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the Manufacturing Institute and the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) to launch Right Skills Now about a year ago, it could not have been done without the cooperation and progressive thinking of Dunwoody College of Technology and South Central College in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

Right Skills Now allows individuals to earn college credit and national industry certifications in as little as 16 weeks, preparing them for immediate employment in high-quality manufacturing jobs and giving them a solid foundation to advance in higher education and careers.

Many states are looking at instituting their own Right Skills Now programs. In each case, area colleges and employers are collaborating to ensure that graduates with proven skill levels are able to walk into high-paying jobs in local industries. The Get Skills to Work coalition is an ideal adaptation of Right Skills Now geared for veterans -- a segment of our workforce we absolutely must support.