What are you going to do after college?

During my career in the Army, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job was the time I had to talk with Soldiers about their plans for life after the service. For some, this was several months down the road, for others several years. Regardless, most would say that they wanted to use their GI Bill resources to go back to school. At this point in the conversation I always followed up with, “what are you going to do after college?”

Some answered with a detailed professional plan while most just said they would figure that out when they got there. I’m certain that this conversation occurs everyday across our military services. This means that many of the 10,000 service members transitioning every month plan on going to school but many haven’t decided what to do beyond that.

If I had the same conversation today, I would bring up the opportunity in advanced manufacturing. Just like military service, this is meaningful employment. It’s important to our country and our economy. It’s also a great way to make the transition to civilian life. A young Soldier with three years of service makes over $30,000 per year. Jobs in advanced manufacturing start in the same range or higher and go up quickly with additional training, experience and responsibility. These jobs are in high demand. There are tens of thousands of open jobs in this sector and it is a growth industry.

The trick is figuring out how to bring this opportunity to within reach of service members as they enter into their transition period from the service. This is the project I’m working on now: How to link military installations with local colleges and universities to provide transitioning service members access to the right skills as a pathway to join advanced manufacturing companies in need of great talent.

Through the course of working on this problem several points have emerged as central to success:

First, there needs to be a sustained demand for new hires within advanced manufacturing companies.

Second, these companies need to be able to reach out to transitioning service members. They need to effectively communicate the specifics of the positions available to include locations, pay, and the education and skills required to be competitive.

Third, community colleges and universities near military installations need to build certificate and degree programs that match what’s needed in the advanced manufacturing industry. These curricula need to be current and technologically relevant.

Fourth, numerous government agencies need to continue to be engaged to make this happen. The Departments of Labor, Education, Veterans Affairs, Energy, and the military services all have a hand in supporting this initiative.

As a team of teams, industry, academia, and government can get this done. The result of this collective work will provide a purpose to service members in their post service transition and provide a great answer to the question, “What are you going to do after college?”