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Leverage Your Army Education Benefits and College Degree for High-Earning Jobs

Navigating Career Opportunities after Your Military Transition: Maximizing Educational Benefits Towards a College Degree and Skills-based Hiring


Transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce can be challenging, but you can find rewarding career opportunities with the right strategies and resources like leveraging your Army education benefits. Research has shown that having a college degree can significantly enhance the attractiveness of veterans to potential employers, despite some companies prioritizing skills-based hiring over educational qualifications. In one study, “veterans with bachelor’s degrees and those skilled through alternate routes out-earn their nonveteran peers (Blackburn, et al. 2023).” In this article, we will explore the importance of leveraging military educational benefits and discuss the impact of skills-based hiring on veterans’ post-military career prospects.

After a long and dedicated career serving in the Army, Staff Sergeant Jackson decided to exit the military and transition into the civilian job market. Despite acquiring a wealth of valuable skills and experiences during his time in the military, SSG Jackson did not have a college degree. Eager to continue contributing to society in a different capacity, he began exploring job opportunities outside the military.

Learn more, earn more.

Said everyone – since forever

However, SSG Jackson soon encountered a common challenge faced by many transitioning veterans without college degrees. While numerous companies claimed to prioritize skills over formal education, he found that many job postings still required a college degree as a minimum qualification. This hiring process posed a barrier for him and other veterans who had gained extensive practical skills and leadership experience in the military but lacked formal higher education credentials.

Top 10 Degrees Employers Looked For in 2023

  1. Computer Science
  2. Business Administration
  3. Nursing
  4. Electrical Engineering
  5. Information Technology
  6. Mechanical Engineering
  7. Finance
  8. Marketing
  9. Human Resources
  10. Psychology

Despite his challenges, Staff Sergeant Jackson remained determined to find a role that valued his skills and experiences gained through years of military service. He continued his job search, leveraging his strong work ethic, leadership abilities, and adaptability developed in the Army to demonstrate his value to prospective employers who recognized the importance of skills-based hiring practices. While fictional, our character worked more than necessary; hope and optimism are not courses of action (COA). Soldiers should understand that the current unemployment rate is not a reliable measure of their employability as “77% of job seekers say an employer has ghosted them (Threlkeld 2021).” Like a company training plan, soldiers must have a short- and long-term strategy that includes their possible exfiltration or transition from the Army. Part of that plan is to leave with a college degree. If you learn more, you earn more.

Jobs After Leaving the Military Require a College Degree

A study on corporate hiring practices sheds light on a fascinating paradox. While major companies like Google, Apple, IBM, Walmart, and ExxonMobil embraced dropping degree requirements, the impact on hiring practices remained minimal (Seattle Corporate Search 2021). Only a fraction of hires truly benefited from the skills-based approach, leaving us pondering the true essence of qualifications and experience in the job market. Amidst this redefined employment scenario, individuals transitioning from military service find themselves at a crossroads, contemplating the significance of a college degree in unlocking lucrative post-service opportunities. Statistics reveal that employees with some college education but without a degree still command a competitive salary, and those without college earn almost $500 less a week (Torpey 2019). The narrative around educational prerequisites in the workforce is undergoing a profound shift. Join us as we delve deeper into the nuances of “jobs after the military,” exploring the evolving dynamics of skill-driven recruitment and the intrinsic value of formal education in shaping post-military career trajectories.

College Degree vs. Skills-Based Hiring: A Comparative Analysis

The traditional approach to recruitment has long relied on academic degrees as indicators of an individual’s qualifications for specific roles. However, recent years have witnessed an increasing emphasis on skills rather than degrees when evaluating candidates’ suitability for positions. This shift changes industry requirements, technological advancements that demand specialized skills, and an overall recognition that degrees do not always guarantee practical expertise. While some companies have embraced this new paradigm by eliminating degree requirements, others prioritize formal education to varying extents. “As of February 2023, the unemployment rate for American high school graduates was 5.8% compared to 2.9% for those with a bachelor’s, representing millions of potential workers who could do a great job even if they don’t have a college degree (Dodd 2023).” Another report states, “A college degree signals the ability to listen to directions and commit to four years of work, for example. Moreover, people with college or post-baccalaureate degrees tend to earn much more than those without, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Based on our first-party interviews and reports from the field, we believe many organizations merely paid lip service to skills-based hiring without substantially changing their practices. This discrepancy highlights the ongoing tension between traditional and skill-based recruitment methods.

Impact of College Degree Requirements on Hiring Practices

The debate surrounding degree requirements in hiring practices is a complex one. On one hand, proponents argue that degrees provide a foundation of knowledge and critical thinking skills that are valuable in any professional setting. They believe college education equips individuals with transferable research, communication, and problem-solving skills. On the other hand, critics contend that degrees can be exclusionary, particularly for individuals who may have acquired relevant skills through alternative pathways or military service. They argue that focusing solely on degrees may overlook talented candidates with practical experience but lack formal qualifications.

Case Studies: Companies Embracing Skills Over College Degrees is Fan Fiction

While the transition toward skill-based recruitment has been slow, companies are leading the way by prioritizing skills over degrees in a particular way. One study indicated that “when employers drop degrees, they become more specific about skills in job postings, spelling out the soft skills that may have been assumed to come with a college education, such as writing, communication, and being detail-oriented (Fuller, et al. 2022).” These organizations recognize that diverse talent pools contribute to innovation and success. Apple, for example, announced in 2018 that it would no longer require a college degree for specific positions within the company. Instead, they shifted their focus to evaluating candidates based on their skills and potential. Similarly, Walmart introduced an initiative called “Academies,” where employees can receive training and development opportunities to enhance their skills and advance within the company. By investing in upskilling their workforce, Walmart acknowledges that qualifications extend beyond formal education.

Challenges Faced by Veterans Without College Degrees

Unique challenges arise for military veterans transitioning into civilian careers without a college degree. While military service instills valuable qualities such as discipline, leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities – traits highly sought after by employers – some industries still prioritize formal education as a measure of competence. Without a degree to validate their knowledge and capabilities, veterans without college credentials may face barriers when competing for specific positions or promotions. However, it is essential to note that not all industries or companies emphasize degrees equally, and alternative pathways to success exist.

What Are the Key Educational Benefits Available to Military Personnel Before Leaving the Service?

Before separating from the military, service members can access various educational benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill, and tuition assistance programs. You can use these benefits to pursue higher education, including earning a bachelor’s degree, which can open doors to diverse career opportunities in the civilian workforce.

Army Educational Benefit Programs

Post-9/11 GI Bill

  • Description: The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to individuals who have served in the military after September 10, 2001.
  • Key Features:
    • It covers tuition fees and provides a monthly housing allowance.
    • The GI Bill offers funding for books and supplies.
    • Allows transfer of benefits to family members in some instances.

Montgomery GI Bill

  • Description: The Montgomery GI Bill offers education benefits to service members who have contributed to the program during their initial service period.
  • Key Features:
    • Provides financial assistance for various types of education programs.
    • Offers up to 36 months of benefits for degree programs, certification courses, and more.
    • Allows for additional contributions towards increased benefits.

Tuition Assistance Programs

  • Description: Tuition Assistance Programs support active-duty service members in pursuing higher education while serving in the military.
  • Key Features:
    • Covers tuition costs for courses taken during off-duty hours.
    • Supports various educational pursuits, including degree programs, vocational courses, and certifications.
    • Encourages continuous learning and skill development among military personnel.

These Army educational benefit programs support your academic aspirations and personal growth, providing opportunities to advance your education and skills during and after military service.

An image of a resume on a table highlighting the importance of a college degree, Army Education Benefits, and post-military career planning.

How Can a College Degree Enhance Veterans’ Employability In The Civilian Workforce?

Studies have shown that having a bachelor’s degree can significantly improve veterans’ employability and earning potential. Despite claims from some companies that they prioritize skills-based hiring, research from reputable institutions has demonstrated that educational qualifications, such as a bachelor’s degree, continue to play a crucial role in the hiring process. Veterans can position themselves to stand out with a bachelor’s degree to employers and may secure higher-paying and more stable employment opportunities.

Expanded Skill Set

  • A bachelor’s degree equips veterans with specialized knowledge and valuable skills in various industries.
  • The in-depth education during degree programs enhances problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills, and technical expertise.

Increased Job Opportunities

  • Many civilian jobs require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification, opening up a more comprehensive range of career options for veterans.
  • Employers often value the dedication, discipline, and work ethic demonstrated by veterans pursuing higher education.

Higher Earning Potential

  • Statistics show that individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn higher salaries on average than those with lower education levels.
  • Veterans with a bachelor’s degree can leverage their qualifications to secure positions with competitive salaries and benefits.

Professional Development

  • Completing a bachelor’s degree demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning and personal growth, signaling to employers that veterans are invested in their professional development.
  • Networking opportunities and internships during degree programs can help veterans establish connections in their desired industries.

Leadership Opportunities

  • Military experience often translates well into leadership roles in civilian organizations.
  • A bachelor’s degree can further enhance veterans’ leadership skills and prepare them for managerial positions where they can leverage their military background and academic qualifications.

By earning a bachelor’s degree, veterans enhance their employability in the civilian workforce and position themselves for long-term career success, professional advancement, and financial stability.

What Is the Impact of Skills-Based Hiring on Veterans’ Post-Military Career Prospects?

While skills-based hiring has been touted as a growing trend in the hiring landscape, the reality is that many companies have not fully embraced this approach. A recent study from Harvard Business School revealed that despite companies claiming to shift towards skills-based hiring, the actual implementation of this approach has been limited. The study found that educational qualifications still heavily influence hiring decisions, with companies that genuinely adopted skills-based hiring practices standing out as the exception rather than the norm.

Skills-Based Hiring, Positive Impacts:

Focus on Abilities:

  • Skills-based hiring emphasizes the specific competencies and expertise veterans have acquired during their military service.
  • Veterans can showcase their transferable skills, such as leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability, which are highly valued in many industries.

Equal Opportunity:

  • Skills-based hiring promotes a more inclusive recruitment process based on qualifications rather than traditional credentials.
  • Veterans with diverse backgrounds and experiences have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field and demonstrate their capabilities.

Career Advancement:

  • By highlighting their skills and accomplishments, veterans can secure positions that align with their expertise and interests.
  • Skills-based hiring can lead to career paths that leverage veterans’ strengths and allow for professional growth and development.

Skill-Based Hiring, Negative Impacts:

Lack of Credential Recognition:

  • Some employers may prioritize formal education or specific certifications over skills acquired through military training.
  • Veterans who do not possess the desired credentials may face challenges in being considered for specific roles despite having relevant experience.

Limited Industry Understanding:

  • Employers unfamiliar with military roles and responsibilities may struggle to recognize the value of veterans’ skills.
  • Veterans may encounter difficulties translating their military experience into terms that resonate with civilian employers.

Underestimation of Potential:

  • Skills-based hiring may sometimes overlook veterans’ potential for growth and development beyond their current skill set.
  • Veterans with the capacity to learn new skills or adapt to different roles may be underestimated if hiring decisions are solely based on existing competencies.

While skills-based hiring can offer numerous benefits for veterans seeking post-military career opportunities, employers must recognize and appreciate the full spectrum of veterans’ capabilities, experiences, and potential contributions to the civilian workforce.

Conclusion: Embracing Diversity in Qualifications for Post-Military Jobs

Your transition from military service to civilian employment requires careful planning and utilization of available resources. Leveraging educational benefits to earn a bachelor’s degree can significantly enhance your competitiveness in the job market. Despite the increasing emphasis on skills-based hiring, you cannot overlook the value of a bachelor’s degree, as it plays a pivotal role in employers’ hiring decisions. Leveraging your educational benefits and exploring alternative pathways that align with your interests and goals is crucial. Whether through formal education or specialized training programs, continuous learning and skills development remain critical factors in achieving success in jobs after the military. By understanding the importance of educational qualifications and staying informed about the evolving hiring trends, veterans like you can position themselves for successful and fulfilling careers after leaving the military. Our question to you: what’s your plan?

Sources / Credit

  • Blackburn, Scott, Kallman Parry, Michael Kim, Hannah Oh, and Charlie Lewis. 2023. From the military to the workforce: How to leverage veterans’ skills. November 8. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/from-the-military-to-the-workforce-how-to-leverage-veterans-skills#/.
  • Dodd, Ethan. 2023. You no longer need a college degree to work at these 7 companies. March 25. https://www.businessinsider.com/google-ibm-accenture-dell-companies-no-longer-require-college-degrees-2023-3#ibm-1.
  • Eadicicco, Lisa. 2020. Apple and Google are looking for new ways to hire people without college degrees — but experts say college might still be your best bet for landing a high-paying tech job. October 8. https://www.businessinsider.com/apple-google-hire-jobs-without-degree-experts-say-college-important-2020-10.
  • Fuller, Joseph B., Christina Langer, Julia Nitschke, Layla O’Kane, Matt Sigelman, and Bledi Taska. 2022. “The Emerging Degree Reset.” The Burning Glass Institute. February 27. Accessed December 2023. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6197797102be715f55c0e0a1/t/6202bda7f1ceee7b0e9b7e2f/1644346798760/The+Emerging+Degree+Reset+%2822.02%29Final.pdf.
  • Seattle Corporate Search. 2021. Apple CEO Tim Cook explains why you don’t need a college degree to be successful. April 3. https://www.seattlecorporatesearch.com/blog/news/office-news/apple-ceo-tim-cook-explains-why-you-dont-need-a-college-degree-to-be-successful.
  • Threlkeld, Kristy. 2021. Employer Ghosting: A Troubling Workplace Trend. February 11. https://www.indeed.com/lead/impact-of-covid-19-on-job-seeker-employer-ghosting.
  • Torpey, Elka. 2019. Education pays. February. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2019/data-on-display/education_pays.htm.

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