Transitioning back into civilian life can be tough for military members, but the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program is trying to make finding a career after separation a little easier.
SkillBridge is a DoD program connecting military members who are 180 days away from service separation with training opportunities, apprenticeships and internships for various civilian careers, while still on active duty. This program is designed to bridge the gap between the end of service and the beginning of civilian careers. The program has been available for the past two years, and 15 service members at Tinker Air Force Base have already been offered positions after completing the program.
“It’s to help transitioning service members so when they’re walking out of the gate they’re walking into a career,” said Chris Kern-Garcia, education services specialist, 72nd Force Support Squadron. “It helps them transition more easily from military life to civilian life.It’s a wonderful service that I think is really underutilized. The aim is for Service members to be gainfully employed and provide a stable family life.”
James Parton, formerly with the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was the first person in his unit and one of the first people at Tinker to complete the program in November.
“I figured the aviation industry around Tinker would be all about it and I started Googling local companies and actually ended up getting on with OG&E,” Parton said. “I was shocked at the similarities to how we do things on the flight line. The transition was smooth and so far it’s a good fit.”
Since it is a DoD program, those interested in pursuing a career in an industry outside of Oklahoma can utilize it as well. Doug Allen spent the last seven years at Tinker as an Air Battle Manager for the E-3 until his separation from the Air Force in August.
“What I did was use the SkillBridge Program for the Summer of 2019 to do a fellowship up here in Chicago with a consulting firm,” Allen said. “Now I’m an associate at the Keystone Group, also here in Chicago. I was lucky enough while on active duty to get my MBA through North Carolina’s online program and that kind of gave me the bug to get out of the Air Force in general and to approach the corporate sector, specifically consulting as an industry I wanted to join.”
The first step for a service member interested in the SkillBridge Program is to see the Education Center for program information and eligibility. Members need to coordinate with their unit commanders and supervisors about the feasibility of approving their absence for the duration of the SkillBridge as they are still on active duty status. Participants then research a company or industry who they can partner with to complete an internship/apprenticeship/OJT.
“A service member really has to start applying for this program eight to nine months prior to separation or retirement. The vetting of the company and application process can take up to 30 days,” Kern-Garcia said. “We encourage them to come see us a year and a half out to have that initial talk and to think about what they want to do.”
Anyone interested in the SkillBridge program can stop by the Education Services Center located at Bldg. 201 SE, Room 105. You can learn more about the program by visiting the Air Force Virtual Education Center website at https://afvec.us.af.mil/afvec/Public/CareerSkillsProgram/CareerSkillsProgram.aspx.