What is the DoD SkillBridge program? When it is time to consider retiring or separating from military service, one important aspect of the transition is making sure you know how to apply your military job skills in a civilian environment and get caught up on the current job market’s practices, demands, and requirements.
This isn’t such an easy proposition for someone who entered the military a decade or more ago–those who have put in multiple reenlistments or commissions may find that the job market they left behind for military duty has changed a great deal.
And that is one reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs started DoD SkillBridge–the official site describes the program as “an opportunity for Service members to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships, or internships.”
This experience is gained through working directly with the civilian employer either on-site or on-post depending on the nature of the program.
How DoD SkillBridge Works
Military members, spouses, local commands, and employers all have options under DoD SkillBridge.
- Servicemembers: This program offers those accepted the opportunity to use the last six months (180 days) of military service before the retirement or separation date to do on-the-job training with an “industry partner.” Your chain of command must authorize participation and mission requirements will dictate your eligibility. Industry partners cross a wide range of career fields and job classifications including energy, information technology, manufacturing, retail, transportation, and civil service.
- Military Spouses: The official site refers interested spouses to the DoD’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program but does include certain opportunities for spouses listed at the DoD SkillBridge Locator tool on the official site. See the end of the article for more information about spouse participation in SkillBridge which may be available depending on circumstances.
- Local Commands: Commanders are urged to participate in the program by providing support to those who qualify for the training. Leaders are reminded that many options under SkillBridge last about four months. Commanders must evaluate whether mission requirements will permit the departing military member to be gone that long. Letting the applicant attend SkillBridge programs “…allows members not only to receive their industry-related training” while still allowing retiring or separating troops to use their terminal leave.
- Employers: The Department of Defense pledges to keep paying the service member’s salary and benefits while attending SkillBridge training. This allows the employer to either opt for training at on-base facilities or to have the trainee come to the employer’s site instead “at minimal to no cost.”
The Fine Print
Duty status for those who participate in the program is essentially Permissive TDY, intended to “focus solely on training full-time with approved industry partners.” This TDY must be approved by a Unit-level commander or the “first O-4/Field Grade commander in chain of command.”
You must obtain written approval to take part. The program is open to officers and enlisted members of any rank.
In general you are required to attend SkillBridge programs only after you are within your final 180 days of military duty. You cannot be approved for training that extends beyond your final 180 days.
In fact, the entirety of your final outs, transition assistance, SkillBridge opportunities, and other issues related to your retirement or separation must ALL be accomplished within the 180 days. According to the official site, you may take part in the training no earlier than 180 days out, AND all of your “final out-processing, terminal leave, and permissive leave must also occur during that same 180-day period.”
Certain restrictions (and how they affect SkillBridge participants) may be placed on the retiring or separating troops which varies depending on branch of service. You will need to discuss service-specific requirements with your command support staff.
Since many anticipate the final six months of their military experience to be filled with out-processing appointments and other requirements for making the transition, if you choose to apply for SkillBridge?
You should take heed of the advice on the official site, which warns for best results, you should “complete as much of their Service’s transition program as possible prior to starting a SkillBridge program to ensure that they are well informed of all of their post-Service options prior to entering this program.”
DoD SkillBridge For Spouses
As mentioned earlier in the article, the DoD refers military spouses to the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program, but does make some provisions for spouses to attend Skillbridge training. But certain caveats apply. They include a requirement that:
“…(n)o Service member will be denied a seat in a SkillBridge opportunity to accommodate a veteran or military spouse participant. If there is capacity and the industry partner agrees to allow a veteran or military spouse to participate, they may do so.”
However, no DoD pay or benefits are offered to a military spouse in such cases. That is vastly different than what DoD provides for troops. The DoD official site advises, “The specifics of a veteran’s or military spouse’s participation are solely between the veteran or military spouse and the industry partner.”
How To Apply
SkillBridge participation is technically authorized for locations close to or far away from the service member’s duty station. The chain of command has the final approval for those who apply but especially this approval can be complicated (but not impossible) in cases where you may be required to travel longer distances to take part.
Before you initiate any application or query into your options, it’s strongly advised to use the DoD’s SkillBridge search tool to locate the opportunities you want to explore.
The DoD official site advises troops who want to explore their options under the SkillBridge program to reach out to their “Installation SkillBridge Point of Contact” which may be found at a base Education Office, Transition Assistance Office, or your unit’s command support staff. In order to move forward once your chain of command has approved your request, you will need to have that approval in writing.
SkillBridge Rules For Employers
This section is helpful for both the service member and the employer–knowing the program’s expectations can be useful to you in ways you might not expect. In general, the requirements for a civilian employer to take part in this program include:
- Employers must provide the training “at minimal to no cost to the Service member”. You may be required to purchase certain safety equipment or bear the cost of an “industry specific medical examination” but otherwise costs should generally not be passed on to the trainee.
- The job training must represent an option for civilian employment “with high probability of post-service employment by the service member in that occupation following separation.”
- Employers as training providers “must commit to an average: 85% program graduation rate” as well as a 100% job interview referral rate. The training must be for a job in the civilian market with pay “commensurate with the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform the occupation.”
Furthermore, SkillBridge training costs must not be offset by a “reduced starting salary” for those hired. Those interested in opening their workplace up for such training should contact the DoD through the SkillBridge contact form on the official site.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News