Career prep, military style
The military trains you to be technically
proficient in whatever occupation you are assigned. But
you’ll also learn teamwork, perseverance, leadership,
and other skills widely applicable in the civilian
workforce. In fact, some employers looking for workers
with specific qualifications, such as security clearances,
often seek out former military personnel.
Most armed-services jobs have a direct
civilian counterpart. If you learn how to repair and
maintain vehicles, for example, you might later use these
skills as a mechanic in the civilian world. If you’re
trained to cook for a battalion, you could be well on your
way to becoming a chef. And if you learn to maintain
military computer systems, you might find civilian work as
a computer specialist.
In the military, you’ll earn career
credentials. You’ll also have a chance to further your
education while you serve—and afterward.
Enlisted personnel fill more than
four-fifths of the military jobs available. Officers, who
are not the focus of this article, fill the remaining
portion in jobs like nurse, pilot, and lawyer. (For more
information about officer training programs, including
Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and military
schools, see the "Learn more" section at the end
of the article.)
The military has more than 140
occupational specialties, most of which relate to civilian
jobs. Not all of these are available in every branch of
the military. Your preferences will be considered, but the
specialty you are assigned will depend on your aptitude
and the needs of the armed services at the time you
The following are some examples of
military occupational specialties.
Aviation. Workers in aviation,
including air traffic controllers, air crew, and
mechanics, often get their start in the armed services.
Most people earn licenses from the Federal Aviation
Administration as part of their training—and those are
licenses that they can later use as civilians.
Combat operations. Enlisted
servicemembers in combat operations have jobs that are
among the most specific to the military: infantry, armored
vehicle operation, artillery and missile crew, and Special
Forces. Although these specialties do not relate closely
to civilian occupations, they teach skills that civilian
employers value. Among the skills servicemembers learn are
how to lead others, how to operate complex equipment, and
how to perform under pressure.
Computers. Servicemembers in
computer specialties learn to set up and troubleshoot
computer networks and systems for the military. They also
learn computer security: protecting computer systems from
natural disasters and defending them from hackers and
other threats. And some specialists earn widely accepted
certifications. Computer specialists in the armed services
are often prepared for civilian jobs as computer network
and systems administrators, computer support technicians,
and computer programmers.
Construction. To raise buildings
and construct barricades and other structures, the
military trains construction specialists. These
servicemembers perform a range of tasks, including
carpentry, plumbing, and masonry. They also train as
cabinetmakers and surveying technicians. Some complete
registered apprenticeships to become journeyworkers.
Food services. Fortunately for
hungry service personnel, the military trains food service
specialists to order, inspect, prepare, and serve healthy
food. These specialists learn about many topics, including
cooking methods, food storage, and, of course, cleanup.
The skills are transferable to civilian jobs in
restaurants, bakeries, hospitals, and other facilities
that have their own food preparation services.
practitioners and technicians of all types receive
training in the military. Some do laboratory tests or
provide dental care, for example, and others assist
physical therapists or work as x-ray or other types of
technicians. Still others perform tasks similar to those
of paramedics and give medical care in emergencies and in
the absence of doctors. Many healthcare workers learn more
than one occupation. All are either partially or fully
trained for civilian healthcare jobs.
Law enforcement. Many
servicemembers train in police, security, and
investigative jobs. Like civilian police, they learn tasks such as collecting evidence,
interviewing witnesses, and performing riot control. Servicemembers in this specialty are prepared for
civilian jobs as police officers, security guards, and intelligence analysts.
Maintenance. In the armed
services, people learn to fix all types of equipment.
Automotive and heavy equipment repairers, for example,
learn to fix cars and trucks, and they might also maintain
tanks and bulldozers. Because of this wide-ranging experience, servicemembers
trained in maintenance may qualify for complex civilian
Manufacturing and power plant operation. The
military trains machinists, who create metal parts;
welders; tool and die makers; and other manufacturing
workers. And because the armed services need power for
their bases and ships, they also train power plant
electricians and power plant operators—who might later
work in civilian power plants or as boiler operators.
Media and the arts. Training in
media and the arts available to servicemembers includes
graphic arts, broadcasting, and photography. The military’s
audio and broadcast technicians, for example, help to
produce movies, television shows, and radio programs. The
skills gained in these military jobs relate to civilian
opportunities as commercial artists, musicians, and
photojournalists, among others.
The military student
Perhaps you’ve heard that the military
will pay for your college education, either in whole or in
part, while you’re serving and after—even
retroactively. That’s true; many of the same educational
benefits that are available for veterans are offered to
active-duty servicemembers and reservists. But you’ll
need to sort through the facts to learn how to become
Regardless of whether you go to college,
however, you receive training and education while you
Class time for all. If you join the military,
you’ll spend at least some time in a classroom. The
subjects you take will depend on your occupational
specialty. For example, quartermasters and boat operators
receive instruction in navigational mathematics. Finance
specialists learn bookkeeping and basic accounting.
Pharmacy technicians are taught biology, chemistry, and
the names and uses of medications.
This classroom instruction, plus on-the-job training,
qualifies you for licenses, certifications, and college credit—all of
which will be useful when you return to the civilian world as a
jobseeker. Servicemembers in healthcare and aviation occupations, for
example, often earn licenses required in civilian jobs, although they
might need additional training.
The military provides formal training in some technical
occupations, including those in construction, manufacturing, and repair.
Servicemembers who successfully complete registered apprenticeship programs earn a
journeyworker certificate, recognized by civilian employers nationwide.
Also, armed-services class time and training are
recognized by some professional associations as a way to qualify for
occupational certifications. Each military branch offers servicemembers
information about turning armed-services training into private
Classroom training could continue throughout your
military career, as you gain expertise in your occupation or train for
others. And your specialty might require new skills, such as speaking a
foreign language, to prepare for a mission.
College options. You might be able to turn your
military training into a college degree. For example, the U.S. Air Force
runs its own community college, where servicemembers can earn an
associate degree; the Navy’s Program for Afloat College Education
provides instruction for sailors at sea.
Attending a local civilian college or university might
be another option. And the proliferation of online instruction and
distance learning has broadened the possibilities for servicemembers
stationed all over the world.
You might be able to get college credit without taking
additional courses, based on your armed-services experience. Some servicemembers take equivalency exams to get college
credit for what they’ve learned on the job. Others receive credit
based on recommendations from the American Council on Education, an
organization that certifies qualified training as equivalent to college coursework.
Other education benefits for active-duty servicemembers
include tuition assistance, scholarships, loans, and grants for
vocational and college training during or after service.
In addition, each military branch offers its own
education benefits for career development. If it’s important to you to
get an education while you’re in the service, be sure to compare
programs when choosing a branch for enlistment.
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