Every Service member will eventually leave the military. Last fiscal year, more than 21,000 Service members in Virginia left the armed forces. Most of them will pursue careers in the civilian workforce.

DoD SkillBridge and the Army Career Skills Program helps make that transition as seamless as possible, by connecting Service members with valuable civilian work experience. The opportunity offers no-cost training in specific industries, according to a transition services specialist with Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program.

Matthew Passmore, with SFL-TAP, said there are plenty of opportunities in the greater National Capital Region, with companies offering free training, in programs that last from six to 20 weeks, depending on the occupation.

“It’s a fantastic program that is tied into SFL-TAP, and helps them meet all types of endeavors. The nice thing about SkillBridge is they have the opportunity, while still in uniform, to do this on-the-job training, or complete a job-training program, which might set them up for a specific job before even getting out of the service,” he said.

Transitioning Service members must first complete mandatory SFL-TAP programs before they can enroll in any of the available training or internship opportunities. Passmore said completing those programs as early as possible gives people time to be set up for success. For retirees, the soonest they can access internship programs is 24 months before retiring, while the soonest someone separating can participate in SFL-TAP is 18 months.

“The sooner, the better, Passmore said. “Last-minute plans lead to last-minute results and will increase stress levels about what the future has in store.”

Separation Anxiety

Anxiety is understandable for anyone preparing to separate from the military. The Army is, for many, their first job. Or, they’ve been in so long it’s a major part of their identity. There are so many factors that go into the transition process, outside of just employment, and Passmore said the Belvoir’s SFL-TAP office is connected with critical support agencies.

“At Fort Belvoir, our center provides a one-stop shop,” said Passmore. “We’ve got two different Veterans service organizations, AMVETS and VFW, which can provide those Service members with disability claims. We’ve got a team of VA benefit advisers that can assist you with questions about education benefits and housing. We have our Career Skills Program manager that can help out, in addition to job fairs we host. Soldiers here have a leg up because of all the resources we provide.

“We really do push Service members to start preparing as soon as they’re eligible. There’s a lot of people who have to stop and figure out ‘what do I want to do now?’ Reaching the answer takes time, and going through this program early enough, with all the different resources we have to provide, gives them ample time to sketch out Plan A through Plan Z.

It gives them the confidence to begin executing those plans. You get started sooner, as they go through the TAP process, they start to have confidence build in the realization that they have numerous opportunities with CSP,” he said.

Pick your own company

SkillBridge is not limited to particular companies, however. If a separating Service member has a relationship with company, Rahat Mehmood, with the Army Skills Career Program, said they can provide that person with the paperwork for the company to complete. This creates a win-win for both parties.

The transitioning Service member can train for a specific job at no cost to the company, since the Service member is still being paid by the government. According to Mehmood, companies end up hiring more than 90% of Service members who use this arrangement.

For more information, call 703-805-9270.