One of the biggest problems military veterans face when returning to civilian life is how to translate the skills they picked up in the service to nonmilitary jobs.
Numerous translation tools have been made available over the years, but now Google—the most ubiquitous search function of all—has stepped up, offering veterans the opportunity to seamlessly match their skills with new jobs.
Google recently launched the feature as a tweak of its Google for Jobs job search technology, based on occupational skills mapping and machine learning.
“Over 250,000 service members transition into the civilian workforce each year, and unfortunately it’s all too hard to find that first job coming out of the military,” said Nick Zakrasek, product manager and co-founder of Google for Jobs.
Veterans’ No. 1 challenge when seeking a job after leaving the military is finding work at the same level as where they were in the military (67 percent), followed by finding jobs that match their skills in the military (63 percent) and translating their military skills to a civilian job (62 percent), according to the 2018 Veterans Hiring Survey conducted by Monster.
A 2017 study conducted by ZipRecruiter and Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit foundation that prepares veterans for civilian work, found that veterans leave their first civilian job post-military at a higher rate than nonveterans. One of the reasons could be the mismatch between their military experience and civilian roles.
“Skills translation is essential for retention because it’s often the first step a veteran takes to understand how their military skills can be leveraged by a civilian employer,” said Sarah Blansett, director of operations and strategic alliances for Military.com, a resource site for service members and veterans with its own well-known military skills translator tool.
“By better understanding the way in which that military experience fits with existing job opportunities, a veteran is more likely to apply for the jobs that will be a good fit and, it stands to reason, stay in that job,” she said.
[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]
The MOS Challenge
Military veterans transition into civilian job seekers with an occupational code that describes the work they did in uniform. Generally referred to as Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes, which are used in the Army and Marines Corps (the Air Force uses Air Force Specialty Codes, and the Navy uses the Navy Enlisted Classification system) these short combinations of letters and numbers identify specific jobs in the military.
For example, an 0311 refers to a rifleman in the Marines, and a 42A is an HR specialist in the Army.
Veterans can simply type “jobs for veterans” and their MOS code into the Google search bar, and a list of local advertised positions that require their skills will appear. Just like any Google jobs search, filters can be used to narrow down results by location, date posted and salary range, among other factors.
“We’ve taken a lot of data about successful transitions service members have made into the civilian workforce and mapped MOS codes to occupations and jobs that are most likely to be a good fit for the unique skills and experiences they gained while serving the country,” Zakrasek said. “Job seekers will see some occupations they may have thought of and others which may be totally new to them. For example, an infantryman might think of working in security but might not think of something like a disaster-preparedness coordinator.”
The veterans job search function is also available to employers and jobs boards using Google’s cloud-based Jobs API, including FedEx, Siemens and CareerBuilder.
Military Transition Is More Complex than Skills Translation
Some veterans’ advocates point out that, while Google’s focus on veteran hiring is appreciated, the skills translator concept is not new and only helps those who already know what career they seek or wish to remain in the same type of job they did in the military.
“There are approximately 200 military specialty occupations, and approximately 85 percent of them have a direct or similar civilian counterpart,” said Evan Guzman, head of marketing and strategic partnerships for Veterati, a mentoring network for military service members and veterans and former global head of military programs and engagement at Verizon.
“However, with almost half of those leaving the military seeking to pursue a different career than what they did in the military, I can see why service members are struggling during their transition. In other words, if you were an aircraft technician but wanted to look for a career in fashion, what would be the point of translating skills you are not planning to pursue?”
Guzman recommended job seekers first determine what they want to do after the military before translating their military skills. “Once you have a target industry or career in mind, you can begin to chart a clearer path that is focused on what you want to do next,” he said. “This makes it a little easier to draw out any relevant experiences or relevant examples from military leadership and skills training.”
Zachary Iscol, CEO and founder of Hirepurpose, a jobs website for veterans, believes that employers should look beyond military occupational specialty codes when assessing talent.
“When employers evaluate military talent, they should be thinking more about how remarkable this talent pool is than about trying to translate how being an infantry Marine equates to a job they’re filling in their company.”
That’s because many—if not most—service members are assigned jobs in the military according to need, not choice. “If the Marine Corps needs truck drivers, you’re going to be a truck driver,” Iscol said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good truck driver, it doesn’t mean you want to be a truck driver, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should be a truck driver when you get out. Rather than try to translate military skills to civilian skills, companies would be better off putting resources into training, internships and fellowships, and educating veterans about their roles.”
Google’s tool is a good resource for finding jobs but does little to help veterans translate skills on a resume or during an interview, Guzman added. “And it certainly does not address the issue related to hiring managers, recruiters and HR professionals failing to understand how military skills translate to their organization.”
The Monster survey found that over half of veterans looking for a job (55 percent) felt recruiters and HR professionals didn’t understand their experience in the military.