Corry Station Navy Base, Fla. The president and some members of Congress want tax breaks, expensive studies and even a “reverse boot camp” to tackle the unemployment rate among veterans, which runs higher than the national average. Another option the Navy would like to see: Expand a program that has helped tens of thousands of soon-to-be-ex-sailors get certified to use their skills outside the military — medics leave ready for health care jobs, cooks are trained for restaurant work and so on.
The Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program aims to ensure that expensive military training isn’t mothballed once a sailor hangs up the uniform. More than 45,000 sailors have obtained certifications or licenses paid for by the Navy to help them qualify for jobs as everything from pharmaceutical technicians to welders, police officers or restaurant chefs.
Program leaders say it could be a piece of the solution to curbing alarmingly high unemployment rates, particularly among younger vets. A March report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that more than 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed last year, while the civilian unemployment rate for the same 18-to-24 age group was 17.3 percent. For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of all ages, the unemployment rate last year was 11.5 percent compared with a national jobless rate of 9.4 percent.
With the military drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq and the economy still wobbly, the problem is expected to get worse.
On Friday, President Barack Obama proposed $120 million worth of tax credits to help companies hire the nation’s 1 million out-of-work veterans. He also called on private employers to hire or train 100,000 veterans by the end of 2013.
But often the transition to the civilian workforce gets held up because qualified veterans lack the right paperwork. A Navy corpsman might work in a pharmacy or hospital on a military base or in a war zone, but frequently has to complete extensive outside training courses to do similar civilian jobs.
“A machinist mate can run a nuclear power plant on a ship without any certifications or licensing, but as soon as they get off that ship, they cannot go to the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and run a nuclear power plant,” said Keith Boring, who directs the certification program headquartered at Corry Station near Naval Air Station Pensacola, in the Florida Panhandle.
A veteran with experience on a nuclear sub would be “at the top of the agency’s hiring list,” TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said.
“But that would not streamline any of the training. There may be some things that are redundant but a submarine is a different job than a civilian nuclear plant,” she said.
That’s where the Navy’s program comes in. Launched in 2006, it paid for certification tests for 13,818 sailors last fiscal year at a cost of $3.7 million, getting them a step closer to walking directly into another job.