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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Assistant Secretary of Labor for Vets Raymond Jefferson

Testimony of Assistant Secretary for Veterans'
Employment and Training Raymond M. Jefferson
before the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
Committee on Veterans Affairs
United States House of Representatives
July 29, 2009

Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear as a witness before the Subcommittee and speak to you on the role of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) in assisting transitioning Service Members and Veterans in translating their military education and experience into licenses and certifications in the private sector.

Every day, we are reminded of the tremendous sacrifices made by our Service Members and by their families. One way that we can honor their sacrifices is by providing them with the best possible services and programs our nation has to offer. Secretary Solis and I believe strongly that Veterans deserve the chance to find good jobs, and VETS works closely with the Departments of Defense (DoD), Homeland Security (DHS), and Veterans Affairs (VA) to help them get there.

VETS proudly serves Veterans and transitioning Service Members by providing resources and expertise to assist and prepare them to obtain meaningful careers, maximize their employment opportunities and protect their employment rights. We do that through four major programs that are an integral part of Secretary Solis's vision of "Good Jobs for Everyone."

  • The Jobs for Veterans State Grants;
  • The Transition Assistance Program Employment Workshops;
  • The Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program; and
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

We have created five aspirations that VETS will pursue during my tenure as Assistant Secretary in order to achieve our desired outcomes:

  1. Providing Veterans and transitioning Service Members a voice in the workplace through serving as the National focal point for Veterans' employment and training.
  2. Creating a path to good jobs for Veterans through increased engagement with employers, with a particular emphasis on the private sector.
  3. Helping Service Members transition seamlessly into meaningful employment and careers while emphasizing success in emerging industries such as green jobs.
  4. Facilitating a return to work for Veterans and protecting vulnerable populations through boosting USERRA's impact by increasing awareness of and commitment to Service Members' employment rights.
  5. Investing in VETS' Federal team members and emphasizing continuous improvement to further develop their potential and better serve our clients. VETS' Federal staff has received training in team building, customer service and networking that will assist in serving our clients.

Today's hearing focuses much needed attention on the ability of transitioning Service Members and Veterans to translate their military experience and education into civilian licenses and certifications. The Department appreciates the Committee's interest in this very important issue for Veterans. The topic is especially relevant for Veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom who need to obtain a license or certificate to pursue a career using a skill set learned in the military.

One of President Obama's promises to Veterans is to provide them with the best possible programs and services. The Federal government is interested in finding ways to ease Veterans' transition through a nationwide licensing and certification program that encompasses many of the more popular careers, and VETS has been supporting this effort in ways that are described below. We have discovered barriers to a national approach, but are making significant efforts to address them and improve the connectivity between military and civilian careers.

Our nation needs an increasingly skilled work force and the Department of Labor recognizes that the skills obtained during an individual's military service can meet or exceed the requirements of the civilian workforce. However, the determination whether to require a certification or license for many professions, such as an electrician or plumber, is made by State and local governments These requirements are often unique and can vary greatly from location to location. This prohibits the creation of a nationwide standard in many of the professional fields that we have identified.

To ensure that we can support the smooth transition of our Service Members into civilian careers, VETS has aggressively focused on educating transitioning Service Members about the requirements for licensing and certification and providing them with the information on how to obtain this. VETS accomplishes this by providing Veterans with information on licensing and certification programs and opportunities through the Transition Assistance Program.

Transition Assistance Program

The primary purpose of the DOL/VETS Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Employment Workshop is to provide transitioning Service Members with a solid foundation of knowledge and tools to assist in their successful transition into the civilian workforce. We are in the process of transforming our TAP employment workshops to make them more engaging, economically relevant and immediately useful. In 2009, over 120,000 transitioning Service Members attended these workshops.

VETS will redesign TAP in 2011 to update and improve the complete TAP Employment Workshop with a particular emphasis on accelerating separating Service Members' transition into meaningful civilian careers. This redesign will encompass the entire curriculum, delivery methods, and student materials. Our goal is to create a world-class program that most effectively meets the needs of transitioning Service Members entering the 21st century workforce.

Several aspects of the redesign will improve the process for transitioning Service Members looking for licensing and credentialing based on their military skills and training. TAP will provide predictive assessments which include online and/or written assessment tools to appraise and provide participants with information on the following:

  • Individual strengths — professional and qualitative
  • Professions for which they are best suited and, based on data, have the highest chances of success

The TAP online curriculum will include a "Skills Appraisal of Transferable Skills" assessment tool; a "Signature Strengths" assessment tool; and a "Work Preferences and Work-Related Values" assessment tool. These tools will enable transitioning Service Members to identify the appropriate certification program that meets their career goals.

Additionally, the TAP redesign will help transitioning Service Members better understand the Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) document. DoD and DHS provide this document to certify job skills and experience acquired while on active duty that may apply to licensing and certification for employment in the civilian sector.

The current TAP workshop helps acquaint transitioning Service Members with licensing and certification resources available through the government. This includes websites such as the Army and Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) sites (www.cool.army.mil, www.cool.navy.mil). Two Department of Labor websites, the Workforce Credentials Information Center and Occupational Information Network (O*NET), provide detailed information on civilian workforce skill requirements and credentials, along with a separate section on military resources.

Registered Apprenticeships

DOL also coordinates with the Department of the Navy to support the United States Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP), which provides over 15,000 active duty Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy service members with the opportunity to complete civilian Registered Apprenticeship requirements while they are on active duty. DOL issues a nationally recognized "Certificate of Completion" to service members who complete their apprenticeship. Many state licensing boards for occupations in the building and construction industry, such as electrician and plumber, often require individuals to demonstrate completion of Registered Apprenticeship to sit for the licensing examination. Additionally, DOL facilitates Veterans and transitioning Service Members' access to Registered Apprenticeship opportunities through coordination with the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO's Helmets to Hardhats (HTH) program. This program enables veterans that do not complete their USMAP apprenticeship to connect with civilian registered apprenticeship programs in the building and construction industry.

DOL Websites

O*NET (www. online.onetcenter.org) is a database of occupational requirements and worker attributes. It describes occupations in terms of the skills, knowledge, work tasks and activities, and other requirements. Using O*NET OnLine, Veterans and transitioning Service Members can learn about the requirements of civilian occupations and build skill-based resumes by searching for occupations that use designated skills or by using crosswalks from military classifications or apprenticeship programs and link to other online information resources such as employment outlook and wages.

DOL also maintains the Workforce Credentials Information Center (www.careeronestop.org/CREDENTIALING/CredentialingHomeReadMore.asp). This site provides detailed information and guidance on how a Veteran or transitioning Service Member can translate military skills and experience into credentials. This includes a Certification Finder and Licensed Occupations database, which can be searched by occupation, industry, or keyword; licenses can also be searched by state or Federal agency.

Collaboration with Job Corps

VETS recognizes that leveraging and improving existing programs does not go far enough in facilitating the transition to civilian credentials and licensing programs. VETS and the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration's (ETA) Office of Job Corps launched a demonstration project last month that will allow Veterans 20-24 years old to obtain training at no cost, leading to an industry-recognized certification or state licensure, assistance with job placement, and up to 21 months of support for program graduates.

VETS and ETA Job Corps will participate in a demonstration project to allow eligible Veterans to participate in Job Corps at three selected Job Corps sites. VETS TAP facilitators and Job Corps counselors will conduct outreach sessions with TAP participants to promote participation. Once a participant has been identified and accepted into the program, he/she will be given the opportunity to select one of the three Job Corps training centers. A Veteran will be advised that he or she may attend other Job Corps centers, but such participation will be outside the scope of the demonstration project.

The demonstration project will accommodate up to 300 transitioning Service Members who require employment and training services to help them transition from the military to the civilian workforce. While Job Corps has set aside 300 slots for the demonstration project, the actual participation during the year may exceed that number due to Job Corps' model of continuous enrollment.

The demonstration project is specifically designed to provide unique skill and education training in a variety of trades and professions that is appropriate for Veterans who have developed many of these skills during their time in the military. The Job Corps program is self-paced and some Veterans will be able to accelerate through tracks based on their experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many of these training tracks will prepare participants for careers in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. Upon graduation, the Veteran may earn an industry-recognized certification and begin the 21 month Career Transition track, which includes 9 months of placement services and 12 months of follow-up services.

Increased Engagement with Employers

Often times, an employer will assist in providing a new employee with the required licensing and certification to perform their work duties. VETS intends to promote this opportunity by increasing engagement with employers to increase the hiring of Veterans and transitioning Service Members. This will involve communicating the value proposition for hiring Veterans more effectively; making the hiring process more convenient and efficient; and developing hiring partnerships with national and local employers who provide licensing and certification to their new employees.

VETS is developing new relationships with major private sector organizations to enlist their advice and support to increase Veterans' hiring. A major initiative is a partnership we are developing with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to allow access to their affiliated Chambers around the nation. We will begin with a pilot project involving 12 states. Through this partnership, VETS state directors (DVETs) will be invited to address CEOs and senior executives at Chamber breakfasts and lunches to explain the value proposition of hiring Veterans and how to hire Veterans within their city or state.

The Federal Hiring Initiative

A pathway to licensing and credentialing goes beyond the private sector and involves transition into civilian government jobs. To ensure that Veterans have priority, access to, and the qualification to make this transition, VETS is partnering with the VA, DoD, DHS, and the Office of Personnel Management to lead the effort to implement Executive Order 13518 Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which President Obama signed on November 9, 2009. This order establishes a Council on Veterans' Employment co-chaired by Secretaries Shinseki and Solis with Director Barry serving as Vice Chair. The overall goal is to increase the number of Veterans in the Federal workforce. Additionally, agencies are required to establish a Veterans' Employment Program office, or designate an agency officer or employee with full-time responsibility for its Veterans' Employment Program. A new web site has been created www.fedshirevets.gov.

The Council has published the Government-wide Veterans' Recruitment and Employment Strategic Plan for FY 2010-FY 2012. One of the plan's strategic goals is to align Veterans' and transitioning Service Members' skills and career aspirations to Federal employment opportunities. While this is not strictly a licensing and certification effort, it is a related initiative that allows the Federal government to leverage the considerable investment that the country has made in military training and experience.

This initiative will match Veterans' skills with Federal career opportunities by developing an interactive program to translate military skills to Federal civilian occupations. It will produce a document for Veterans and transitioning Service Members outlining potential Federal careers based on their military experience. Finally, it will also develop resume banks/skills inventories for a transitioning Service Members, so hiring officials are able to easily search and identify Veterans with skills to meet staffing needs

Conclusion

VETS understands the need to provide a clear pathway for Veterans to transfer the significant experience they gain in the military towards good jobs in the civilian economy. DOL and VETS are facilitating this transition through innovative programs, and collaborative engagement with public, private and nonprofit sector organizations that can accelerate the licensing and certification of our nation's Veterans. As we move forward, we will continue to look for better and more effective ways to inform and enable transitioning Service Members and Veterans of opportunities to receive licenses and credentials. During this time of economic uncertainty, it's especially important that we ensure those who have served this country have every opportunity available to leverage their skills and training, when they complete their military service, to create meaningful civilian careers.

I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today, and look forward to working with the Subcommittee on this important topic.