Transitioning troops and spouses will have more on-base options for obtaining licenses and certification training to enter the civilian job market under a $7.5 million grant last month from the Schultz Family Foundation, run by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and his wife, Sheri.
"With the new grant, we're going to expand the physical footprint of the program and expand the program online," said Dr. Mike Haynie, executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University.
The program is now in operation on 16 military installations nationwide.
The grant will also enable IVMF to work further "upstream" in the transition process to prepare service members for the skills, qualifications and certificates they will need to take advantage of job opportunities, said Haynie, a 14-year Air Force veteran who left as a major and also taught at the Air Force Academy.
"If we can work upstream of transition, we know that we can decrease the period of unemployment between taking the uniform off and then getting your first civilian paycheck," he said.
Haynie cited the example of combat medics, who could have difficulty getting employment on the outside due to a lack of civilian certifications.
"In most states, a trained combat medic is not qualified even to go drive an ambulance, let alone be an [Emergency Medical Technician]," he said.
The IVMF's program, called "Onward to Opportunity (O2O)" and begun in concert with the Schultz Family Foundation in 2016, has focused on creating pathways to civilian careers through training for credentials, licenses and certifications.
"Put that in the hands of veterans, make them significantly more employable," Haynie said.
The $7.5 million grant was announced 10 days before Schultz, who stepped down as Starbucks CEO in 2017 and retired as executive chairman last year, went on CBS' "60 Minutes" program last month to state that he is considering running as an independent for president. But Schultz and his foundation have a history of involvement in veterans' issues.
In 2014, he wrote the book, "For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice."
Also that year, Schultz said he was committing $30 million through the foundation to bring about what he called "a contagion of commitment and an epidemic of understanding" for post-9/11 veterans through job preparation and employment.
In a statement with last month's announcement of the grant, Schultz said, "Our goal at the Schultz Family Foundation is to support these men and women who have worn the cloth of the nation as they transition into civilian life."
"Onward to Opportunity is a win-win," he said. "The program allows our volunteer service members to be recognized for their knowledge, talent, and experience when they return home, and it connects employers to one of the country's deepest pools of workforce-ready talent."
A spokeswoman said Thursday that foundation officials were not immediately available for comment on the latest grant.
By working early in the transition process, "you can dramatically decrease the likelihood that that veteran or that military family is going to end up in a bad situation after they take the uniform off," said Haynie, who also is vice chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at Syracuse University.
He said statistics show that the average military family goes into transition with about $5,000 in savings. "What that translates to is that, if you make one mistake in the context of that transition -- economic mistake, you can find yourself in trouble really, really fast," he said.
For more than seven years, Haynie served as either chairman or a member of the advisory committee on Veterans Employment Training and Outreach at the Labor Department.
"We had a lot of conversations about the impact of credentials, licenses, certifications," he said, "but, honestly, not a lot got done. Finally, we said back here at the Institute, 'Why don't we just do it?'"
The program is aimed at equipping participants with certifications in such fields as information technology (IT) project management, human resources, cybersecurity and other career paths, and thus far has assisted more than 11,000 transitioning service members and spouses in getting jobs, according to IVMF and the Schultz Foundation.
Initially, "We thought an ambitious goal would be about 1,000 a year" in program participants, Haynie said, but they've been enrolling about 1,000 per month.
With the help of the $7.5 million grant, about 25,000 transitioning service members could be accommodated this year, he said.
The most popular field in the IVMF certification program, Haynie said, is that of program management consultant, a management position to help a firm in defining business decisions and coordinating employee teams to reach goals.
"We've found that the difference between having that [certification], and not having that, is about $15,000 annually in salary," he said.
"All of this is free," including the certification exam fee, in the IVMF program, Haynie said. "Our programs are offered without any cost to the veterans whatsoever."
He pointed to his experience working with the George W. Bush Institute on preparing veterans for civilian life.
"One of the things [the former president] wanted to understand is, 'How do you know what good looks like?' In the context of serving veterans at transition, what does good look like? And as a veterans serving community, that's a set of questions that really hasn't been answered yet," Haynie said. "And the group that loses because of that are veterans themselves, because they do sometimes struggle in navigating all these different services and resources.
"So it should be no surprise that when we survey veterans about their transition experience, the number one challenge they cite -- believe it or not -- isn't finding a job, it isn't supporting a family in transition," he said. "The number one transition challenge they cite is navigating all of the services and resources such as they get so that they get to the right place and get what they need rather than trying to sort through all this noise and figure out who's legit, and who's not, and all of that."
Information on the program is available at https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.