In honor of Veterans Day in the US, we’re taking a look at how Open Badges are being used to help transitioning veterans find opportunities in the civilian workforce, helping to reduce veteran unemployment and connect skilled workers with employers who have positions to fill.
Last month, during the fifth session of the Open Badges MOOC and on the October 2 Community Call, we were joined by Bob Sparkman, Eric Burg and Randy Taylor, who gave a brief presentation on Badges for Vets, a DML Badges for Lifelong Learning competition grantee project developed by veterans, for veterans, to address the connected issues of veteran unemployment and unfilled jobs.
Despite the technical, leadership and entrepreneurial skills a veteran gains in service, new veterans today are facing unemployment rates that are on average much higher than their civilian peers. According to a March 2013 TIME report, the unemployment rate for new veterans aged 18-24 averaged 20.4% in 2012, more than five percentage points higher than the average among non-veterans of the same age.
Though a period of unemployment is often a natural part of the transition from military service to a civilian career, an IAVA survey of TIME’s membership showed that, of more than 4,000 new veterans surveyed, 16% were unemployed, and almost 34% of those said they had been unemployed for over a year, and more than 17% had been unemployed for more than two years. This goes beyond a transitional rest period and indicates a real problem with veteran unemployment
For many, the biggest hurdle to gaining civilian employment after military training are systemic challenges, largely rooted in employers’ lack of understanding of military training and what a veteran can offer in any given job.
In a June 2012 report, the Center for a New American Security noted that one of the main barriers to hiring veterans, from the perspective of businesses, is that they struggle to understand how military skills translate to increasing the bottom line.
Young veterans are entering the workforce with far more skills and experience than their civilian peers - and yet are facing months, sometimes years, without finding work. This video from TIME online highlights one veteran’s struggles to find work since returning from Iraq three years ago:
This “translation of skills” is where Badges for Vets comes in. A 2012 article from Inside Higher Ed points to the military as having what is considered to be some of the most standardized, verifiable and quality training programs around.
“It’s training that’s structured,” said Bob Sparkman, VA telecommunications project specialist. “There’s very little variance.”
All soldiers who are qualified by the U.S. Army as diesel mechanics or hydraulic service operators receive the same instruction, said Sparkman. And that designation should count for something in the private sector. Among the well over 1,000 available badges are ones that recognize expertise in supply/logistics, transportation, civil affairs, engineering and communications, with detailed descriptions of specific skills accompanying each badge.
The wealth of information on each set of skills allows employers to place skilled veterans in positions suited to their experience.
Badges for Vets has already registered over 500 veterans, and ran an initial pilot program to assess the value of using digital badges to connect veterans to employers in skilled fields of work.
The Badges for Vets website offers two parallel services: for veterans, it provides the chance to register their military skills and display them as badges, and a job search tool. For employers, the website allows them to search for potential candidates using the badges as representations of desired skills and training, as well as a geographical search component to find qualified candidates locally. Employers can also post relevant job listings on the web site for registered veterans to search through to find available positions.
When an employer finds a veteran with the appropriate skill badges on their profile, they can click through to read detailed information on the training, skills and qualifications held by the candidate. For an example, click here to see Charles’ badges (click continue to see profile).
In their presentation on the Open Badges MOOC, Bob, Eric and Randy discussed their report on the pilot program of Badges for Vets (being published soon) which engaged 47 hiring officials and 257 veterans to explore the value and potential for badges in the workplace. Majorities of both veterans (70%) and employers (74%) reported that they would use, or encourage use of, badges in veterans’ civilian job applications.
Veterans in particular saw the badges as a “vastly superior communication tool” due to the amount of information contained within the badges, and many hiring officials appreciated a service that made military training understandable in a civilian context.
When asked whether they thought having digital badges on their applications would affect a hiring official’s decision, only 40% of employers reported that it would make a difference. This figure can be interpreted in various ways, and Bob speculated that this figure was not a product of employers finding a lack of value in the badges, but instead was a sign that those employers would be likely to hire veterans regardless of whether they had badges or not.
This is very encouraging - both veterans and employers found value in using badges to translate military skills into a format that civilian hiring officials could understand!
Another employment services organization working to connect skilled veterans to civilian job opportunities is The Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The president of the Manufacturing Institute, Jennifer McNelly, joined the fourth session of the Open Badges MOOC to talk about the work they have done with badges and talk about the important role they can play in connecting learners and workers to opportunities.
Jennifer talked about three core groups that the Manufacturing Institute is helping through the use of open badges:
Recognizing work-based [military] experience in a way that civilian employers can understand is, as we’ve seen above, crucial to lowering the hurdles for transitioning veterans. The Manufacturing Institute identified 11 core occupation areas, looked for places where military skills match industry standards, then badged it! So far they have badged almost 4,000 transitioning veterans, and has put together a vast online collection of resources for employers and learners to facilitate connections and opportunities.
It can be incredibly difficult and complicated, said Jennifer, to educate and inform employers. This difficulty goes far beyond just manufacturing - no matter what field or industry, it has been a complicated process getting people to support and adopt open badges as the credential for the modern digital age.
The Open Badges team is hopeful that, as Badges for Vets and organizations like The Manufacturing Institute continue to grow and help skilled workers find opportunities that match their skill level, it will become easier for others to follow suit.