Veterans' Licensing and Certification Demonstration

Natalie Howard
July 25, 2016

A recently released report describes best practices for states to develop and implement policies that facilitate the transition of veterans into civilian work, including the use of data to identify in-demand occupations and track veterans’ education and career milestones.

In 2011, the Veterans’ Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act authorized a project to identify the most efficient process for transitioning veterans into the civilian workforce. The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices carried out this 18-month project, selecting six states to participate in a demonstration project.

While in the military, servicemembers gain valuable training and experience in specialties that should translate to civilian jobs. Unfortunately, many veterans do not have the licenses or credentials employers require, and face lengthy processes to obtain them.

The federal government has tried to make it easier for veterans to get licenses and certifications they need to find good jobs. However, states are the ultimate authority for controlling entry into most licensed professions. While states are responding through executive orders and legislation, these steps can only go so far.

This project aimed to address this issue by identifying best practices for states to improve pathways for veterans entering the workforce. Throughout the project, states learned many lessons and identified many challenges related specifically to data collection and usage. As the report outlines, states discovered that many steps in their processes could be enhanced or facilitated by – or required – the use of data. State best practices include:

  • Prioritize occupations that are high-demand using labor market information and federal data to focus on occupations with reliable potential to offer pathways to employment.
  • Obtain current and accurate information on veteran populations. In order to understand which occupations veterans would have experience in and transition to, states sought to measure how many veterans held various military occupational specialties or codes (MOC). Some information was scattered across federal and state agencies, and states found that the military did not make available state-level information on the number of servicemembers holding a specific MOC. After some effort, states obtained data from the Department of Defense’s Defense Manpower Data Center, which they used to illuminate potential demand for certain credentials.
  • Enhance use of data collected by veteran-serving agencies.  Official DD214 files, which contain veterans’ military training and experience, were not reaching the appropriate states and were largely paper-based, making large scale analysis challenging. Several states launched efforts to enhance access and use of DD214s, including Wisconsin, which formed a data sharing agreement between the Wisconsin Departments of Veterans Affairs and Workforce Development.
  • Use data to assist with outreach, by identifying and recruiting veterans to participate in training programs. States used data for more targeted outreach and created mechanisms for cross-agency sharing, supplementing unreliable address information from DD214s with information from the Department of Revenue.
  • Research labor market opportunities. States found that some veterans had expectations for their salaries, benefits, and career advancement that were sometimes inconsistent with what was available in the civilian workforce. The report concluded that policymakers would benefit from understanding the extent to which careers will support a standard of living consistent with veterans’ expectations.

As states work to design and implement strategies for transitioning veterans, data collection capacity is critical to assessing progress and identifying need for adjustment or improvements. This demonstration project highlighted the fact that no single agency has the full range of information and capacity to establish accelerated pathways for veterans. Establishing data collection partnerships, initiating cross-agency data sharing agreements, and formalizing reporting requirements are necessary.

The project also included a policy academy, where states received technical assistance, peer learning opportunities, and access to national experts to inform their plans, including a session with WDQC. In 2014 WDQC facilitated a session with the six participating states, encouraging states to think creatively about utilizing data to measure outcomes of their demonstration strategies. WDQC encourages states to use data systems to answer broader policy questions about veterans programs.