One of the biggest problems facing veterans leaving the military is the difficulty of finding jobs in the civilian sector. From not being familiar with the civilian job application process to not knowing how to translate experience into something the civilian sector will understand and appreciate, the variety of hurdles veterans face are enormous. These problems have contributed to veteran homelessness for decades. But fortunately, the FMCSA just awarded $1 million in grants to help “train and place veterans in careers as commercial truck and bus drivers,” as part of a larger series of programs to help veterans transition into civilian life.
That veterans often have a tough time finding a new job after leaving the military is ironic considering the high-quality training men and women in uniform receive while serving. Too often, the problem is not that these veterans are under-qualified, but rather that their high-quality skills are not recognized by civilian employers. Add to this the fact that many veterans have been in the military since entering adulthood and don’t have experience searching for jobs, and you can see why finding a regular job is an enormous challenge. When we look specifically at trucking, service members may have spent years driving trucks in a combat environment, through incredibly difficult conditions, only to find that the civilian sector doesn’t formally recognize that experience. The federal government began tackling this problem with the Veterans’ Job Training Act of 1992, and since then laws like the 2009 amendment to the GI bill have helped returning veterans obtain education for future careers. Add to this the 2011 “Joining Forces” campaign which has educated over 380,000 veterans with plans to educate 435,000 more by 2018, and it’s clear the government is putting resources behind these goals. But is it enough? Unfortunately, the unique set of challenges involved with integrating the 2.4 million veterans exiting the military since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan means that significantly more work is needed. Even with more than two decades of laws and the participation of many nonprofits, problems persist.
The contrasts in the trucking industry are staggering. Despite demand for experienced high-skilled workers, the unemployment rate for post 9/11 veterans stands at 10%, almost double the 5.9% national average. One of the biggest examples is the trucking industry, where the need for heavy-vehicle drivers is expected to grow by more than 17% in the coming years, but veterans are still having a hard time transitioning into this field. This situation has prompted people like Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to see that “we can think of none more appropriate to safeguard our highways as commercial vehicle drivers than the thousands of veterans who have already proven they can safely handle large vehicles under extremely stressful circumstances.” To help in this goal, the FMCSA has already instituted programs in all 50 states to allow veterans with relevant experience to waive the skills test portion of the commercial driver’s license application. When combined with the availability of funds to attend training programs, this means it’s becoming easier than ever to take military driving experience and turn it into a civilian career. Even if a veteran has a physical impairment resulting from their time in the military, the FMCSA is working to help them overcome that barrier.
These specific grants, distributed through the FMCSA’s Commercial Motor Vehicle Operator Safety Training (CMV-OST) program, will be given to 9 technical and community colleges around the country from Florida to Minnesota, Nebraska to Virginia. They’re expected to fully cover training in truck driving rules and regulations, safety, logs, defensive driving, cargo handling, personal finances, business, preventative maintenance, emergency equipment and safe operations — all in all, complete truck driver training — for around 400 veterans. So far, the response has been very positive, with veterans like Rob Hampton stating that, “There are a lot of veterans asking about truck-driving programs. There are more than enough [veterans] to keep this going.” The FMCSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Transportation all agree, seeing this as a win-win. By putting truck drivers with high levels of experience on the road, the program will both help to ease problems of joblessness among veterans and help make US highways safer. But don’t think that this is a one-time fix attempt by the FMCSA. The program has been around since 2005, and grant awards have been given to different training schools and institutions throughout the country each year. Next year we’ll surely see another award, which will provide more opportunities to those veterans who still haven’t benefited directly from the program. If you’re interested in applying, the FMCSA encourages you to contact one of their field offices for more information.
Looking at the overall situation, it’s great to see the FMCSA taking this opportunity to turn a negative into a positive by offering these grants to veterans exiting the military. The federal government is trying to introduce a variety of programs which will help pair veterans with relevant experience with high-demand civilian sector jobs like nursing and trucking. What do you think about this grant and the wider problems facing veterans entering civilian life? Let us know in the comments section.
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