How to Transition Your Military Experience to a High-Paying Civilian Career in Modern Manufacturing

Veterans possess invaluable hard earned skills that make them some of the most sought after prospective employees by top manufacturing companies such as Boeing, Raytheon, and SpaceX. For this reason, many manufacturing companies have workforces that consist of up to 20% veterans.

In July 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 506,000 job openings in manufacturing compared to 391,000 openings the year before (July 2017). And by 2025, two million skilled jobs could go unfilled, according to a 2015 Manufacturing Institute Report (the most recent data available).

This skilled labor shortage is good news for job seekers like you. As you transition from a military, navy or airforce occupation to a civilian career, consider a high-paying, in-demand career in advanced manufacturing.At Cluster, we know veterans and manufacturing fit well together. For starters, many advanced manufacturers and veterans share similar values: pride in America (and American made products), respect, integrity and a heightened concern for safety.

Due to laws such as ITAR, security clearance and citizenship is a base factor for working in the space, satellite, drone, aviation, underwater robotics, and defense industries. So, already having advanced security clearance is one of many advantages when making the transition to civilian employment.

Military Occupations That Translate to Advanced Manufacturing Careers

In addition to common values, many veterans already have the technical skills they need to excel in advanced manufacturing. For example, Daniel Brewer served in the U.S. Navy for five years as an Aviation Electronics Technician. When he transitioned to civilian life, he became an Aviation Electronics Test Technician for GE Aviation.

In some cases, like Brewer’s transition to GE Aviation, the equivalent career is straightforward. At other times, an equivalent isn’t as clear. To make the process a little easier, here are a few examples of military occupations and their manufacturing equivalents.

Translate Your Skills into Civilian Speak

While it may take some extra effort to help civilian employers understand your military skills, many large manufacturers, like Boeing, have military job code matching built into their application process. Translating your military experience into civilian language will that your experience is invaluable. Here are a few tips to make your resume accessible to people less familiar with military terminology.

  • Share your resume with nonmilitary friends and ask them what they don't understand.
  • Demilitarize your title if it doesn’t make sense to civilians. For example, rather than ‘Tank Crewmember,’ use ‘Heavy Equipment Operator.’
  • Use corporate terms like ‘team’ in place of military terms like ‘squad’ or ‘platoon.’
  • Input your branch and MOS in Vets.gov’s Military Skills Translator to identify your technical skills (like tactical operations) and soft skills (like strategic thinking).

Bridging the gap between military credentials and civilian job requirements is an important step in landing a high-paying, fulfilling career in US Manufacturing.

Why You Need to Highlight Your Soft Skills and How

While serving our country, you learned very unique skills in order to perform a specific military occupation. Depending on your MOS, AFSC or NEC, you have the technical skills to operate weapons, technology, machinery or all three.

In addition, as an active service member, you gained valuable soft skills like effective communication, teamwork and flexibility. You can “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome”—a mantra of the Marine Corps. Lack of soft skills is reported to be one of the biggest issues in today’s workforce.

“Difficulty recruiting staff, partly reflecting an unspoken stigma attached to factory jobs, is my number one limiter of growth.” - Patrick Bass, US Chief of ThyssenKrupp

“When we analyze how being an infantryman could translate into being a high-performing employee . . . we need to look at the tremendous traits that military veterans provide,” says General Raymond T. Odierno, Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff. “You have somebody who . . . displays moral and ethical courage during the most stressful situations. . . . Those skills can transfer to any field.”Advanced manufacturers need your strong problem solving and management skills.Modern manufacturers need your leadership and resilience.

Soft Skills Sell

When you apply for a civilian career, highlight your soft skills.

Here are two examples of how a Logistics/Embarkation Specialist (MOS 0431) may translate their relevant soft skills on a civilian resume. The bullet points below translate skills from this MOS 0431 resume.

  • Rather than “Trained and instructed subordinates and supported units,” the Specialist may translate this to say, “Supervised and led 12-person team.”
  • Instead of “Coordinated operations with armor, artillery and air support units,” the Specialist may write, “Collaborated with three departments (armor, artillery and air support) to ensure operational success.”

Manufacturers want employees who can lead and collaborate—two things you’re likely skilled at. Because of this (and many other reasons), veterans tend to excel in well-paid, high-skill modern manufacturing roles—CNC Programmers, Quality Engineers and Operations Managers, to name a few. You are well-prepared to transition your military experience to a high-paying civilian career in modern manufacturing.