Finding a place in the civilian workforce can present a challenge for some of the 200,000 women and men who separate from the military every year. In October, the unemployment rate among veterans was 4.2%, up from 3.9% the previous month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Julia Pollak, labor economist, ZipRecruiter (Photo: ZipRecruiter)

Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, tells WorkingNation editor-in-chief Ramona Schindelheim that skills learned during military service can absolutely transfer to civilian jobs. As a Navy reservist herself, Pollak says serving in the military equips people with skills that they may not have had before enlisting.

“Young people are not trained to be public speakers. Many of them really lack any kind of poise and professionalism. Boot camp transforms some of them very quickly. To be able to stand up straight, speak loudly and clearly while looking you in the eye, wake up early, make their beds. It is an incredibly transformative experience and important to see how just a little bit of investment in people, a little bit of training, can really allow people to realize their potential.”

“The RAND Corporation has wonderful tools for employers and for transitioning veterans, helping them translate their military courses and experience into civilian skills,” notes Pollak.


From WorkingNation’s digital magazine Inquire Within: Veterans and Work

Determining Transferable Skills

Chaitra Hardison, PhD, senior behavioral scientist, RAND Corporation (Photo: Chaitra Hardison)

The military actively works to develop these non-technical skills, says Chaitra Hardison, Ph.D., a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation.

She explains, “When I’m referring to non-technical skills, I’m referring to skills that are not directly tied to a specific occupation or profession. For example, leadership skills—those are relevant across different kinds of applications, teamwork, communication skills, handling work stress.”

Hardison points out, “This is something that many civilians may not have experienced.”

Hardison led a study on what veterans bring to the civilian workforce. Additionally, specific resources were created for veterans and employers to help both groups see the value of the veterans’ non-technical skillset.

Matching Military-Developed Skills to Civilian Jobs

Exiting service members sometimes have difficulty seeing how military experience translates into civilian life.

“The question becomes, ‘How do you use the skills that you’ve been developing and twist them, repackage them, and put them to use in some other type of occupation?’” asks Jeffrey Wenger, Ph.D., a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation.

Jeffrey Wenger, Ph.D. – senior researcher, RAND Corporation (Photo: RAND Corp.)

Wenger led a research project designed to better identify “military-civilian occupation crosswalks.”

Active service members of the Army were asked their levels of competency in tasks like eye-hand movement, oral communication, peripheral vision.

“We took the average scores for all the people who answered our survey. And we compared their average scores on each of these items to all the civilian jobs in the economy. When the difference between your score and the civilian score is small, that’s a good match,” explains Wenger.

Wenger says the occupation focus was on jobs that are available. “There’s no point in recommending a job where only six people are doing it. We try to find something that’s worth your while to pursue. And it pays a decent amount, and it doesn’t require getting a college degree.”

Currently, RAND is analyzing survey data from the Navy and Air Force. The survey is now being administered to members of the Marine Corps.

Checking Out Available Resources

Pollak says, in addition to understanding the value of their military service, social capital is available to returning military personnel. “One wonderful thing about the military is that it really is like a network and a family. Many people do actually find their civilian careers through people who’ve left the military before them and paved the way.”

Noting that there are community stakeholders that offer support to veterans, Pollak says, “On ZipRecruiter, you can see jobs where the employer has stated that they are military-friendly and open to hiring service members. There are also many organizations and lists online of employers who like to hire military veterans.”

And if a new civilian career path requires technical skills, Pollak says it’s easier now than ever to learn them. “If you do need to show a certificate to an employer to verify that you have the skill, there are more and more online training programs that provide those kinds of certifications. So, the right technical skills shouldn’t be a barrier, especially because the military does provide education benefits that can help you develop the technical skills you need to succeed in the civilian labor force.”

InquireWithin: Veterans and Work

You can watch the full interview with Julia Pollak, and read, watch, and listen to more stories about Veterans and Work in our digital magazine, Inquire Within.