“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Some of us remember exactly where we were at the time that President Reagan made that monumental statement during his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It was a momentous occasion for many people, including the millions of Berliners who had been involuntarily separated from each other for 28 years.
What’s that got to do with the Labor Department, you ask? Well, that quote made me think about other walls that must be torn down. They’re not physical walls, like the one that split Berlin, but they still separate a certain group of people from their livelihood in another way.
I’m talking about the arbitrary “walls” that keep our veterans from receiving employment credentials and getting licenses in their fields of expertise once they separate or retire from military service. Employment and training professionals around the nation believe that demolishing these walls would lead to a significant decrease in veteran unemployment. That’s because employers know that service members and veterans have many valuable “soft skills” in areas such as leadership, commitment and a can-do attitude. But what is often missing for our service members and veterans to “get the job” is a required credential or license.
The first step toward tearing down these walls was the passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act in 2011, which required multiple federal agencies to take a hard look at what must be done. To do this, the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration and its Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, along with colleagues from the Department of Defense, have partnered with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices to compare the training and skills required by our service members with those required by state licensing boards. The center is conducting a credentialing demonstration project to help state agencies identify civilian equivalencies in military training, fill gaps where there are additional civilian credentialing requirements, and find ways to accelerate the civilian credentialing process. In addition, the Labor Department is part of a multi-agency task force that the president created to focus solely on this issue.
The good news is that we’re starting to see some significant cracks in these walls all over America. For example, 43 states now offer a military skills test waiver for obtaining a commercial driver’s license. At least seven states are now granting credentialing and/or licensing credit for service members with military emergency medical technician training. And similar efforts are being made by many more states to expedite credentialing and licensing for EMTs as well as licensed practical nurses based upon military training and experience. More updates can be found on the White House’s Joining Forces website.
As the president has stated, “If you can save a life on the battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance. If you can oversee a convoy or millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help manage a supply chain or balance its books here at home.”
We owe our veterans more than just a word of thanks and a pat on the back. At the Labor Department, we aim to thank them by helping them get back to work. It’s time to tear down the walls that keep veterans from the good jobs that they’re qualified for.
Tony Camilli is a strategic outreach specialist in the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, an agency of the Labor Department.