This Post-Military Career Program Helps Service Members Get an Extra $7,000 in Starting Salaries

Military personnel attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class in preparation of separating from active duty service at Naval Station Rota, Spain. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Lewis)

Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families has a post-military training program for everything. Whether a transitioning service member is looking to start their own business, network with other service members or even run for political office, there seems to be something for everyone.

One of its core programs, Onward to Opportunity (O2O), is a free career training program for service members, veterans and spouses that provides instruction on the entire job search and onboarding process when looking for that first civilian job. The O2O program is also statistically proven to create better opportunities for its graduates, which leads to higher average salaries.

Every service member must take a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class at their local installation before leaving the military. Experts say military members should plan for their transition as early as possible, but there are myriad reasons -- family issues, operational needs and others -- why they don't. A week of TAP just isn't enough to prepare a departing military member for the civilian job market.

TAP classes are a federally mandated program and uniformly designed regimen that gives service members a wide overview of their veterans benefits while providing them with the tools to find a job or school. It's a few days of counseling and instruction that tries to cover everything a service member might want to consider when leaving the military.

While it's a good general overview, anyone who's transitioned out of the military can tell you the devil is in the details, and TAP cannot meet the specific needs of each of the 200,000 service members who leave the military every year.

Onward to Opportunity takes on many of the areas TAP classes do, but with more time in preparation and instruction. It creates an individualized training plan, offering assistance with resume writing, job interviewing and networking as a foundation for job search instruction. O2O also offers job training and certification with multiple learning pathways for those who know which industry they're trying to enter.

For those who may not know, O2O also has career coaches, mentoring programs and workshops that help transitioning service members market themselves. It also has opportunities to help job seekers get necessary licenses for certain careers and even has a job placement program through a partnership with Hire Heroes USA. After the program is over, participants will have access to the course materials for six months.

Its positive results were statistically proven through a study by Penn State's Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. Using survey data from O2O participants in The Veterans Metrics Initiative (TVMI), researchers found that O2O participants were twice as likely to leave jobs for better opportunities at six months, received an average starting salary of $7,000 more than nonparticipants and earned an average of $13,000 a year more than their non-O2O counterparts.

Service members and veterans don't have to travel to Syracuse, New York, to take the O2O classes, either. The program is held in person at 18 locations across the country and is even offered online.

To learn more about the IVMF's free Onward to Opportunity classes, start by filling out an interest form. It's open to active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve members, veterans with an honorable discharge status and spouses of all eligible veterans. Learn more about the O2O program at the IVMF website.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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