When I speak to employers on developing military recruiting programs, a veteran’s level of education is an area that generates a lot of discussion. I hear time and again “where can I find the ones who have a degree?” or “we are looking for officers, because we hear they are the ones who have degrees”.
Granted, a majority of officers come through a college commissioning program, like the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or a service academy. So, yes, they have a degree and a commission. But officers only make up about 30% of the total military; the other 70% are enlisted members, whose level of education completed varies. Some are high school graduates and others have master’s degrees, and everything in between. Generally, the longer someone serves in the military, the greater the chance they have completed or are very close to completing a 4 year degree.
Still, some employers are not impressed. “All of our positions require at least a bachelor’s”. Hiring managers believe that they gain something extra in terms of talent and potential by hiring someone who has completed a 4-year degree.
There was an article in US News & World Report a few years ago that highlighted this trend of employers requiring a 4 year degree as a minimum qualification for jobs. The author discovered that the young woman who helped him check out his rental car had a bachelor’s degree. He thought to himself “What is inherent about inspecting a vehicle for damage, completing some paperwork, and confirming mileage that requires 4 years of advanced education? Nothing.” Curious, he contacted the company’s HR department and learned that, other than an exception for military experience, all people hired into this position had to have a minimum of a bachelor’s.
In fairness, there are jobs that actually do require a degree, such as doctors, lawyers, nurses, Certified Public Accountants, engineers, and most teaching positions. In those cases, the degree is a requirement to be licensed or certified to practice. But what about the OTHER jobs?
The reality is, in a tight labor market, employers can be choosier when deciding what the minimum criteria are for a given position. The irony is, despite efforts to be more diversified, many companies still insist on a degree for most positions, which automatically winnows the pool to the approximately 26% of the US population has at least a 4 year degree. A population that, by and large, had the financial means to obtain a degree, and a support system that prepared them to meet college acceptance criteria and to complete the program of education. In other words: a population that is not as diversified as it could be.
I continue to push employers to consider military experience as at least equal to a 4 year degree. I’ve collected their responses to the question: “Why do your positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree?” The top reasons given are listed below, and I have provided my counter-argument as to why military experience is indicative of the same qualities sought by employers:
|What employers say a bachelor’s degree demonstrates||What Lisa (and every other veteran) says military experience demonstrates|
|Knowledge– completing a degree indicates that you have demonstrated basic understanding of an area of study.A person may have 8-16 weeks of actual experience in that area of study if they had internships.||Experience – completing an enlistment means that you have spent between 2-12 concentrated months learning how to perform a particular occupation (law enforcement, supply chain, human resources, etc.) and that you have performed it well enough for the 2-3 years that followed the training to maintain employment.If the person performed that job particularly well there would be evidence of promotions and awards.|
|Perseverance– Committing to a goal and succeeding.College is hard. No one is there to make you get up in the morning and go to class and to nag you to do your homework and turn in your assignments on time. Ideally, a student will knuckle down and complete the degree in 4 years.||Perseverance- Committing to a goal and succeeding.Basic training (“boot camp”) is hard. Drill sergeants are in your face every second of every day breaking you down in order to build you back up. For those that survive boot camp, actual military service runs them ragged, with training, exercises, deployments and long hours.Joining the military is voluntary, and by enlisting a person signs a contract. Come hell or high water, most people who join complete their contract because it is their personal goal to serve their country honorably in whatever capacity they can. Choosing to serve in the military is choosing a tough lifestyle, and these volunteers could have made other, perhaps easier, choices.|
|Analytical skills – many hours are spent in class reading materials and discussing the meaning and the implication of what was read and how it applies to other situations. When their analysis is correct students get an “A” and when they are incorrect they get an “C” or worse.||Analytical skills – many hours are spent on deployments in chaotic situations, gathering information, comparing data, discussing the meaning and implications of what has been gathered and how it could impact other situations. When their analysis is correct military members achieve their goals and when they are incorrect people could die.|
|Communication skills – course work requires that you write papers explaining your understanding of the material and making well thought out arguments for or against a position. College work also requires that you present information to an audience (classmates, teacher) either orally or through a presentation.||Communication skills – Staff work in the military requires that you write papers explaining your understanding of complex real-life situations and making well thought out arguments for a course of action. Staff work also involves writing policy papers and synthesizing complex subject matter into charts, graphs or presentations to be briefed to senior leaders.Even the most junior enlisted member has been asked at least once to orally brief a senior leader. Many of them do it as a matter of routine, given the number of inspections and command visits a unit receives.|
|An ability to manage time and to multitask – taking 4 to 6 classes a semester, juggling assignments and exams, and keeping up with fraternity events or sport teams means you have to be very cognizant of where you need to be on a given day and what you need to have completed in order to be successful||An ability to manage time and to multitask – in addition to doing the requirements of your job in the military, there is no shortage of administrative tasks, “no notice” taskings, and things that just don’t go the way they were planned to contend with on a daily basis. The military runs on a “no excuses” mentality, so service members are expected to deal with the situation as presented, figure out how to adapt to and/or overcome road blocks, and achieve the goal.|
So, when you break it down like that, can you see how 3-6 years of military experience provides much if not all of the true value (as expressed by the employers themselves) of a 4 year degree?
A final word on online degrees: While serving in the military, many military members pursue online education, as this allows them to take classes and work toward a degree while on deployment or while juggling multiple exercises and other work commitments. So, check your personal bias against degrees from online universities, as those educational options are often the only ones available for military members to pursue while still serving. I think it says a lot about a veteran’s perseverance to choose to take classes on top of all their other commitments while serving.