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Coming Soon: TAP for the 21st Century
VETS team modernizes Transition Assistance Program

As America draws down its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, more service members than ever will make the military-to-civilian transition over the next several years. So the timing couldn’t be better for the launch of a modernized Transition Assistance Program (TAP) on Veterans Day.tap-21st-century219x292

A partnership between the U.S. Departments of Labor (DOL), Defense (DOD), Veterans Affairs (VA) and Homeland Security (DHS), TAP was created 20 years ago to help service members transition to civilian life. It hasn’t changed much in 20 years, but the agencies are collaborating to bring the program into the 21st century. The transformation will include a redesigned employment workshop and enhanced online components.

“In the new TAP, each person is going to have an individual transition plan,” said Ray Jefferson, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), who is spearheading the TAP redesign. “So regardless if you are involved in the high op-tempo of repeated demobilization, you’re going to have a transition plan so that, when you come back from deployment, you’ll have a living tool that you can revise, update and use to make course corrections as you grow and change as a person.”

Under Pressure
Pressure is growing to address the high unemployment rate of America’s youngest veterans. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and her fellow committee members in April questioned Jefferson and other federal officials about the government’s effort to help service members find jobs, including TAP.

“This program needs to be customized, it needs to be updated, and it needs to be delivered in a way that is relevant and most importantly, accepted by service members,” Murray said during the hearing.

Jefferson couldn’t agree more. Shortly after he took over the VETS team in August 2009, Jefferson took a close look at TAP. “After I did an assessment of the gap between what’s current best practice and what we’re doing, I realized that we need to completely transform and redesign the program.”

Reworking the Workshop
Jefferson and his team began working on an ambitious plan to transform the DOL’s 2½-day employment workshop. They consulted experts like Tim Butler, director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School, to determine the components needed to build a world-class transition program. Jefferson also consulted with the CEO of Singapore’s Workforce Development Agency to learn about global best practices there and in other top countries in work force development, such as Denmark, Norway and Australia.

The result is an interactive, modern workshop that focuses on “experiential learning,” or learning by doing. Although the new TAP program will continue to cover the traditional topics like résumé writing, interviewing and dressing for success, each service member will create their own Individual Transition Plan, or ITP, and learn how to execute it. Interactive group activities will replace the slide-and-lecture format. After transitioners finish the workshop, they’ll have access to career coaching as they search for a job.

“They have a tremendous amount to offer,” said Butler, who, has worked with many military students as a senior fellow at Harvard Business School. “If you think about it, what military personnel have been doing, often under extremely trying, difficult and dangerous conditions, is extraordinary.”

1) Customization and segmentation
Before taking the workshop, service members will first complete an online assessment that determines how ready they are for the job hunt. They will be placed in one of three categories of employment readiness: high, moderate and entry-level. “You want to get away from ‘one size fits all’ and be able to segment your customer population and then customize what you offer so each person gets what they need,” Jefferson said. There will also be three versions of the new content, one for each level of readiness.

2) Best-practice content
Updated content will include:

  • Life and career planning
  • How to transition from a military to civilian work environment
  • Mental resiliency training: How to maintain a positive mental attitude, think more constructively and win the mental game as you’re going through transition
  • Stress reduction techniques
  • Storytelling: How to communicate 
 your value proposition to an employer. “Résumés get you interviews. Interviews 
get you jobs,” Jefferson said. “And one of the key ways to impress interviewers is to communicate that you can solve 
their problems and you want to be part 
of their organization.”
  • How to create a network
  • Peer support techniques
  • Entrepreneurship

3) Delivery system
The existing TAP curriculum is presented through 185 PowerPoint slides. Transitioners in the new TAP workshop will learn by doing. They’ll develop and rehearse a one-minute elevator speech, practice interviewing and learn stress-reduction techniques. “So when they’re doing mental resiliency training, they’ll be learning mental exercises to strengthen their mind. They’ll also be learning stress reduction techniques, such as breathing exercises,” Jefferson said. “They’ll be developing their life and career plan – actually writing it out. They’re practicing how to introduce themselves; how to go through the day in the civilian context. How to communicate their value as a peak performer for different kinds of employers and opportunities. They’re role playing. Those are all examples of experiential learning.”

4) VTAP
The Department of Defense is redesigning the online component of TAP, said John Campbell, deputy undersecretary of defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy.

“We are aggressively leveraging technology and new media to shape the transformation of the Transition Assistance Program into a blended career transition training model that takes advantage of online and digital resources, virtual classrooms, social media and other proprietary platforms to create a single Virtually Enhanced Transition Assistance Program (VTAP) that compliments the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ TAP classes that most service members now attend,” he said.

The launch of VTAP components began earlier this year with the limited release of an online DOD Career Decision Toolkit and the TAP Virtual Learning Seminars, which give service members and their families virtual resources they can tailor to their own transition experiences. DOD also is modernizing TurboTap.org and will engage service members through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

“This is us ‘sticking our toes’ in the virtual water, so to speak,” Campbell said. “The demand – without a formal launch – has been incredible, so we are ready to jump in the deep end before the end of the year when we will support a major component of DOL’s entire TAP transformation.”

The agency also is revisiting pre-separation counseling – the first component of the TAP program. “The goal is to design a process and checklist that addresses everything from transferrable skills, such as language skills, to a service member’s individual transition goals,” Campbell said.

The VA, too, is modernizing its half-day benefits presentation by developing an online version that will give service members the option of completing the benefits briefing electronically prior to discharge.

5) After-TAP Support
After service members complete the TAP employment workshop, they will be able to consult a coach via telephone or computer during the job search.

6) Performance metrics
The new TAP program will allow administrators to measure the effectiveness of the program through feedback gathered at three “moments of truth,” as Jefferson calls them: 1) When the service member finishes the TAP workshop 2) During the job search when they’re applying the techniques they learned, and 3) After they land a civilian job. The feedback will allow administrators to fine-tune the program. “Once this is rolled out, six months later, one year later, any program can begin to become obsolete if you’re not constantly refreshing it, benchmarking it, updating it,” Jefferson said. “And so that’s one of the things we’re going to do with this to make sure that 20 years from now someone isn’t saying, the VETS team did a great job back in 2011, but now it’s outdated again.”

Translating military skills
One of the biggest challenges service members face when they transition from the military is translating their military skills and experience into language civilian hiring managers can understand, both on the résumé and in the interview. Jefferson said the new TAP will teach transitioners not to rely solely on virtual skills translators, although these serve an important role.

“What we’re going to have in the new TAP is a more effective way to teach service members how to do the skills translation themselves,” Jefferson said. “Because an online skills translator is going to allow someone to translate your résumé and grant you an interview. Or, it will allow you to improve your résumé as a service member to get an interview. But an online skills translator is not going to do a thing once you’re in that room interviewing for the job.”

Butler agreed. While many of the career transition techniques he teaches apply to both civilians and military personnel, transitioning service members must sell their military training and experience to civilian hiring managers in a way they can understand.

“I think one challenge that those who transition from the military face is that it’s not always clear to civilian employers just what they’ve been doing in the military and how that applies,” Butler said. “So it really is up to the military person in transition to make that clear.”

Services Salute
TAP leaders across the services applaud the transformation of the program.

“I can tell you that the Air Force is very excited about having an updated seminar. It is long overdue and we have been assured that the updated seminar will be interactive and engaging,” said Peggy R. Rayfield, chief of Transition Assistance Operations for the U.S. Air Force. “We hope that the seminar will improve our Airmens’ chances for rewarding employment but realize that it won’t get them the job. The skills they learn must be put into practice. They have to come out of the seminar and act on what they’ve learned, especially the networking skills.”

Walter M. Herd is a retired Special Forces colonel who now serves as director of the Army Career and Alumni Program – the Army’s specialized version of TAP. He said the Army, too, welcomes the new and improved TAP.

“The updated DOL TAP delivery system aligns with societal shifts in how information is transmitted, processed and learned,” Herd said. “The DOL efforts support ACAP’s transition to a choice based program designed to service the whole Army, focused on our customer needs, through industry vendors. The choice based program offers Soldiers multiple ways to learn the things ACAP, DOL or VA offer. The virtual capabilities augment our existing world class face-to-face counselors and provide greater flexibility and reach to better serve our Soldiers. I applaud DOL’s efforts and we look forward to integrating their efforts with ours.”

Meeting the Demand
With more troops returning from overseas, the demand for transition assistance will only grow over the next couple of years. And with lawmakers pressing for the government to do more to help veterans find jobs, the timing for the new and improved TAP program couldn’t be better. Jefferson is confident it will be ready this fall to meet the growing demands. “My goal is to make all of this happen by Veteran’s Day,” he said. “We’re currently on track to do so.” 

Did You Know?
2.5 million
veterans have gone through the TAP program since its inception in 1991

TAP is a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Labor, Defense, Veterans Affair and Homeland Security

The Department of Labor’s 3,000-plus One-Stop Career Centers helped more than 1.8 million veterans in the last program year. To find the nearest center near you, visit www.servicelocator.org

TAP has four components:

  • Pre-separation 
Counseling (DOD)
  • Employment 
Workshop (DOL)
  • Benefits Briefing (VA)
  • Disabled Transition Assistance Program (VA & DOD)

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