How the post-9/11 GI Bill will help veterans close America's skills gap
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With surprising bipartisan support in a divided national climate, politicians are finally starting to address the need for skilled workers by making much needed modernizations to the post-9/11 GI Bill.

According to the Student Veterans of America, nearly half of the veterans transitioning from military to civilian life enter higher education, and two-thirds of them are first generation college students. Research shows that one of the leading motivations for military service is the opportunity to receive a post-service education. Since the post-9/11 GI Bill was signed in 2008 by President George W. Bush, early reports have found a possible $8 return for every $1 spent, correlating to a positive economic impact.

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Politicians like to talk about creating more jobs, but they do not necessarily like to talk about finding skilled workers for those jobs. This is not an “either or” challenge. The lack of skilled workers in the United States is as much a reality as the need to create more jobs.

 

Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute expect that two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the next decade unless something changes. These jobs represent the “new manufacturing,” which require higher skills and education than our parents and grandparents needed. Modern manufacturing requires engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians.

Veterans are well-positioned to fill these vacancies, and these numbers underscore a steady flow of potential workers. The U.S. has approximately 3.2 million post-9/11 veterans. More than one million of them are in college. Around 100,000 veterans graduate from college every year. Two-thirds of veterans are leaving their first post-military job within two years. And 200,000 to 250,000 service members, including enlisted men and women and officers, will transition out of the military every year for the foreseeable future.

Congress is finally addressing the skills gap by modernizing the post-9/11 GI Bill. By expanding benefits for those seeking science, technology, engineering or math degrees and providing eligibility to Purple Heart recipients and reservists who served less than three years active duty, politicians are incentivizing these individuals to pursue degrees that are needed in the fast-paced economy.

While we applaud Congress for making these much needed changes, the onus now falls on higher education leaders and institutions to step up and recruit this valuable population of veterans. At the George W. Bush Institute’s national Stand-To convention in Washington last month, more than 300 people from corporate, government, nonprofit and education sectors together outlined areas of improvement for veteran transitions. In those discussions, there was resounding agreement that leading higher education institutions need to have a clearer understanding of who veterans are and how their leadership mindset and unique military skills can benefit the institutions.

There is a common misconception from many institutions that those serving in the military are poor students who do not graduate. According to Student Veterans of America, the opposite is true. Student veterans are more likely to graduate and have a higher GPA than non-student veterans. Research has also demonstrated that on campus, veterans bring global experiences, broad diversity, and commitment to service.

As Syracuse University Vice Chancellor Michael Haynie and CEO of Student Veterans of America Jared Lyons recently wrote, “These are students adept at team building, resilient, entrepreneurial, mature beyond their years, and who exhibit leadership abilities tested under the most real world conditions imaginable. Aren’t these the same qualities we value in those competing for admission to our best universities? Aren’t these the type of students we want to see in our classrooms, student governments, on our athletic teams, and as alumni?”

They continued, “The close ties between higher education and industry should highlight to forward-thinking college administrators a simple truth. That is, if veterans represent a talent pool coveted by the nation’s employers, shouldn’t it follow that our universities also covet the 100,000+ veterans who aspire to higher education each year?”

Since 2009, veterans have earned more than 453,000 degrees and certificates using the GI Bill, but businesses are more inclined to recruit nonservice member graduates than graduating student veterans. There is a clear opportunity for both business leaders and higher education institutions to mutually recruit more veterans.

The modernization of the post-9/11 GI Bill is moving the benefit from a war-time bonus to a permanent incentive for serving your country. This is a giant step in the right direction. Let’s see if higher education institutions capitalize on these changes and start recruiting more veterans.

Miguel Howe is director of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.