Georgia Tech’s Savannah campus is launching a new program for veterans this week. According to Dr. James Wilburn, military academic-program director, the Veterans Education Training and Transition Program ties professional education with job experience by allowing transitioning veterans to partner with employers to receive classroom and on-the-job instruction.
Wilburn, a retired Army aviation officer and former special-forces soldier, talked about the new program July 30 at the Hinesville Rotary Club meeting at the La Quinta Inn.
“We know with all the draw-downs across the military, we’re soon going to have a lot of veterans,” said Wilburn, who has served as course director and instructor at the U.S. Military Academy and program director and instructor at Vanderbilt University. “We know the unemployment rate for veterans is much higher than the state (or national) average. So, we started a program that lets us better equip our men and women who are transitioning from the service to civilian life.”
Wilburn summarized the Department of Defense’s Transition-Assistance Program, which allows service members up to 24 months prior to their separation from service to prepare for the transition. He said the DoD program begins with a pre-separation briefing with their particular branch of service.
Other parts of the DoD program include a military occupational specialty crosswalk, which is an analysis that allows service members to translate military skills into civilian skills. There also is a financial-planning class and two briefings with the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said. The Georgia Tech program builds on the DoD program.
Because each student is partnered with an employer, Wilburn said the four-week VETT course is different than other programs. It includes real-world course content provided by employers and direct feedback from the employers. Also, though the program costs about $2,000, he said service members are paid up to $4,000 by the employer while in the program.
The program can be paid for by the new post-9/11 G.I. Bill. At the end of the program, the veteran could be offered a permanent position with an employer, he said.
Wilburn said the employers sponsoring the veterans benefit from the VETT program by extending the interview process for evaluation of potential new hires. The employers receive the tax benefit of hiring veterans and they know they’re getting reliable employees with proven leadership skills, he said.
“What I did not want was another veterans program that simply takes dollars from veterans,” Wilburn said. “We take no money from a veteran until we can guarantee at least three weeks with an employer. In fact, there’s not a seat in the classroom until there’s a corporate sponsor.”
Wilburn said the first week of the program includes 21 class hours, in which service members become familiar with the differences between the military and civilian-organization structures and human-resource practices. He said the second week includes two hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of on-the-job “entry experience” as a new hire.
The third week also includes two hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of on-the-job training, this time focusing on interpersonal communication models and conflict management. The fourth week follows the same schedule of classroom time and training and allows the service members to refine interview skills and present what they have learned on the job, he said.
Wilburn said retirees and veterans who’ve been separated from the service for some time are welcome to apply for the program. He noted that when senior noncommissioned officers and officers retire, they usually already have contacts that allow them an easier transition into civilian life. He said many of the service members he’s talked with are E-6 or O-3, and may have decided not to stay in until reaching retirement.
These service members already have developed the skill sets necessary for leading others to complete projects, skills that are in high demand in the civilian workforce. Wilburn said some employers also are interested in lower-level enlisted soldiers who’ve proven their dependability and assertiveness for manufacturing jobs.
Although classes could hold up to 40 students, he said the first class probably will contain fewer than 10 veterans. Some employers have even talked about “buying” whole classes to train and prepare potential hires for their specific corporations.
Wilburn said veterans interested in Georgia Tech Savannah’s Veterans Education Training and Transition Programs should go to www.gtpe.gatech.edu/VETT.