Vermont Honors Veteran Professionals with Occupational Licenses

By Nick Zaiac
 (US Marine Corps)
After their service, many veterans need years of further training before continuing to do the very work they did for the government. (US Marine Corps)

Members of the military pick up many skills during their service that make them great employees when they re-enter private life. Many have even specialized in some field of military work like plumbing, nursing, or automotive repair. Often, they receive military certification to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, these certifications don’t carry over into life after service ends. For the typical licensed occupation, civilian work requires civilian experience. This means that after their service, many veterans need years of further training before continuing to do the very work they did for the government.

Some legislators have realized military members and recent veterans are wasting time getting recertified. In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott (R) recently signed a bill that codifies which military certifications are comparable to civilian licensing requirements. Active-duty military personnel and those who have left the military within the past two years may apply for licensure under the new law.

The law does not cover all professions. Instead, it limits military licensure to seven of the state’s very long list of licensed jobs: electrician, plumber, registered nurse, nursing assistant, vehicle inspector, vehicle mechanic, and food server. Though few in number, these are common professions, and an easier path to licensing could make a difference in a small state. For instance, the state has around 4,000 licensed electricians and 1,800 licensed plumbers. And while broader than just nurses and nursing assistants, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics almost one in six Vermonters works in healthcare and social assistance–a number that has doubled since 1990. Despite its stagnant population, therefore, the state still has plenty of demand for workers in the newly-liberalized professions. Easier licensing could certainly encourage veterans to choose Vermont over its regional peers, bringing much-needed vitality to the state.

The law mandates that state licensing bodies “shall issue” licenses to those military members and veterans fitting particular criteria. In doing so, the law removes ambiguity from the licensing process. Vermonters can now enter the military and undertake specialized training with full knowledge of what they’d need to do to be licensed for work when they come home.

This reform could serve as a model for other states looking to improve the employment prospects for returning veterans and add these skilled individuals to their workforce. The track to licensure does not need to be limited to the seven professions included in the Vermont law. Most Corps of Engineers branch jobs, for example, have licensed civilian equivalents in some states, including engineers, carpenters, and firefighters. Certain jobs in the Logistics Corps relating to driving and repair are also compatible with civilian trades.

To assess whether agencies are following through on the new mandate, licensing agencies must track how many licenses are granted under the new, expedited rules. Analysts will be able to parse this data starting early next year. If few licenses are granted, it could be that Vermont is not an attractive place to do business for reasons beyond licensing, such as its tax or regulatory environment. Or it could be that it will take a few years for the effects of the new law to manifest. The final potential reason would be that the bureaucratic agencies have failed to implement the law, to the detriment of members of the military, veterans, and their families. If that’s the case, the state legislature will need to revisit the issue. If and when they do, there would be value in exploring other civilian occupational licenses that have equivalents in the military.

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