Creative Ways to Recruit Veterans to Your Workforce Part 2: On-The-Job Training Programs

In this series of blogs I am exploring some creative ways that employers can “test drive” veterans before hiring them and that veterans can explore civilian careers. The first blog addressed internships. This blog reviews on-the-job-training programs.

Every company has certain categories of positions that are in constant need of filling. Whether those positions are computer programmers, help desk technicians, quality assurance inspectors or warehouse and distribution specialists, it becomes frustrating when your company and your company’s competition are both fishing in the same ponds for the same people. How long does it take you to fill these positions? And, do you have to pay more to get these people in order to beat your competition, or are you constantly losing out because you can’t match the salaries offered by your competition? Did you have to bring on workers with H-1B visas to meet the demand? Is there a better way to build a pipeline of qualified applicants to fill the constant demand? Is there a different “pond” you could be fishing in for underutilized talent? There is – read on!

As mentioned in my last blog, more than 80% of the jobs we have in the military have a civilian equivalent. Generally, the main differences between the qualifications of civilian applicants and military applicants doing the same work are that the military applicants:

  • Might not possess a particular certification or required license. This occurs because the military doesn’t require them to have the civilian certification/license in order to do the job in the military.
  • Might not have working knowledge of specific commercial applications used by civilian companies. This is because, given some of the unique requirements we have in the military, many of our military applications have been custom built for us. So, if you ask the veteran with 12 years of human resources experience whether he/she has used Taleo (a talent management system), he/she will say “no”. But he/she will be very familiar with the military’s custom built version of a talent management system, and will have a deep understanding of the full talent management lifecycle.

These surmountable differences leave us with a huge military talent pool every year who have most of the knowledge, skills and aptitudes needed to do a great job for a civilian company. More than 200,000 veterans leave the service each year (due to retirement or end of contract) and most struggle for months to find a job commensurate with their abilities and level of management/supervisory experience. This is a talent pool that is grossly underutilized and that would be a bounty for any savvy employer who was willing to try this idea to recruit veterans.

Consider creating an on-the-job training (OJT) program and market it to veterans. OJT programs can be designed for any kind of job, from human resource specialists to business analysts to security guards to any manner of technical positions. The benefit to the employer is that they can build a pipeline of heavily skilled, easily trainable quality candidates who will be groomed in exactly the way needed for the jobs in highest demand in their organization. The benefit to the veteran is an opportunity to either build on the training he/she has already received in the military or to pursue a new career in the civilian workplace.

So, maybe right now you are thinking that an OJT program could be a good way to tap into that pool of transitioning service members and help build your pipeline, but you are holding off because you know your company’s training budget has been severely reduced. The good news here is that there is a way for employers to recoup much of the costs to produce the training by structuring the training such that it qualifies as an approved education or training program eligible for the GI Bill®. This means that the veteran can use his/her bill benefits to pay to participate in the OJT program, thereby allowing the employer to recoup some of the cost to produce the training (i.e., instructional designer’s fee, facilities rental, material production, etc.)

Here are a few basic things to know about creating an OJT program that qualifies for GI Bill® reimbursement:

• The new Post 9/11 G. Bill® does not cover OJT programs. Earlier versions of the bill (i.e., Montgomery G.I. Bill and Reserve Educational Assistance Program or REAP) do cover OJT programs. View a comparison chart of the types of training covered by different versions of the bills.

• Veterans who are eligible for both the Post 9/11 and one other version of the GI Bill® have to make an irrevocable decision if they want to take advantage of the very generous bill. So, the earlier you market these OJT programs to the military community, the greater likeliness you will find those veterans who have not yet made the irrevocable decision.

• The GI Bill® benefits are paid directly to the veteran, who in turn pays you. They are generally paid one month in arrears. So, for example, if they begin training on September 1st, they will receive their benefit check for the month of September in October. Keep that lag time in mind as you determine your tuition and payment plan.

• In order for your training program to be declared GI Bill®–eligible it must first be approved by your State Approving Agency. State Approving Agencies approve the programs within their borders and determine which programs are appropriate for veterans to enroll in to utilize their VA educational benefits.

• The program must include an employment objective (i.e., “Help Desk Technician” or “Computer Software Engineer” or “Storage and Distribution Manager”)

Hint: go to O*Net Online and type in your position name. It will display a number of related occupational titles with associated Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Systems codes.

• Select the occupational title(s) that most closely resembles the position for which you are designing the OJT program and review the lists of tasks performed and tools used by that occupation.

• Incorporate those tasks and tools into your training design, plus any other specific requirements.

• In order to be classified as an OJT program, the training must be for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 24 months in length. 6 months equals 1,000 hours of training if the OJT program is full time.

• The OJT program must have an associated incremental pay scale. This means that while the costs of the program can be offset by the GI Bill®, the employer is still required to pay a wage to the trainee. The starting wage can be minimum wage (or higher). The ending wage should be equivalent to the hourly wage you would pay if you were hiring someone who was already fully qualified. There should be at least one incremental pay increase between start and finish for a six month program and more if your program is longer than 6 months. Pay increases can be tied to training milestone achievements (i.e., pass this exam or assessment) or to program duration milestones (i.e., every 4 weeks).

• The OJT program must include a detailed training plan. So, for a 6 month training program, what will you cover during the 1,000 hours of training?

Once you submit your training plan for review, the SAA approval can be granted in as little as 2-8 weeks if you’ve met all the criteria and have structured the program correctly. If you would like assistance in designing an OJT program, please contact me. There are minor record-keeping requirements that must be kept on file and also reported so that the veteran will be paid. Your SAA will provide you with those details.

Once you get approval for your GI Bill®–eligible OJT program, you need to market your program to veterans. But where should you promote your program to get the attention of the military member? There are at least a half dozen avenues you can use to get the word out to the veteran community, from military transition centers to social networking sites. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to register for my web seminar entitled “Military Applicant Sourcing Options” (now available on demand).

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at