Being the future sergeants major and command sergeants major of Army units, members of Sergeants Major Course Class 66 are in a unique position to be able to carry forward information to Soldiers who are preparing to transition out of the service, said Teresa Gerton, deputy assistant secretary of Policy, Veterans Employment and Training Service, U.S. Department of Labor.

Gerton was at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy March 24 to talk to Class 66 and inform them of what the DOL has available for transitioning Soldiers through VETS and to encourage the future sergeants major to ensure Soldiers go through the Transition Assistance Program early.

"If I could just say one thing about the TAP program, please, please, please make sure that your Soldiers go; make sure they go early. The average time on a job search these days is 6-9 months," Gerton said. "If you have servicemembers that are not going to TAP until about 30-days before they are about to (leave the service), those servicemembers are going to be unemployed -- guarantee it. I can get out my 'Easy Button' and hit it and tell you that I would be right. They have got to start early."

Gerton, said that in order for Soldiers to complete TAP, they have to demonstrate that they have done a job search, written a resume and developed an individual transition plan.

"If they don't finish TAP, they go into the capstone program (where commanders verify if their members) meet the career readiness standards," she said. "If not, they get referred to the DOL. So if 90 days prior to departure, if they cannot produce that file, they get referred to the DOL. The point I want to make today is that you don't have to wait for this and you don't have to do this by yourself."

That is where her office and the American Job Centers come in, she said.

VETS up until two years ago, she explained was limited to providing services to veterans only -- post DD214 separation. In 2014 VETS was approved to serve transitioning servicemembers.

"We deliver our services principally through American Job Centers," Gerton said. "That is the name for the nation-wide network, but each state calls it something different; in Texas it is Texas Works."

The agency network got its start during the Great Depression of the 1920s and serves all Americans, but has a particular focus for supporting the military, Gerton explained. There are 2,473 centers nation-wide, four of them in El Paso. Within 5 miles of any gate of any installation you are going to find a job center.

"Wherever you go I would like for you to make a mental promise to go find the American Job Center, or centers, closest to the installation you are going to," she said. "I want you to take your leadership, your squad leaders and platoon leaders, and company commanders and first sergeants -- all of your NCO chain of command to these centers and go and see then in person. You will have a whole new appreciation for the kinds of services they provide."

Gerton said the job centers are there to provide a myriad of services, counseling, skills training, assessment skills, job search help and placement and much more. She encouraged Class 66 to go to their website at http://www.careeronestop.org/ to learn more and added that the DOL has no limitations to serving those with less than honorable, even dishonorable, discharges.

"If you get that Soldier to the job center you can be certain that they are going to get the counseling they need to be successful -- to smooth the transition," she said.

One area Gerton said has tremendous potential for Soldiers, companies, trade unions and others to leverage the military talent pipeline to meet state, regional, and industry workforce needs is the DoD SkillBridge program.

"SkillBbridge allows Soldiers who are in their last 6 months of duty to spend some portion of it working full time in some professional training program or civilian apprenticeship program, so they can be prepared for the actual transition or job offer from that company," Gerton said. "As an example, Microsoft has the Microsoft Academy at several installations. It is about a 16-week course, with a guaranteed interview either with Microsoft or at a Microsoft affiliate."

Gerton ended her brief to the class by encouraging the students to pass the information on at their next duty station.

"We have a boatload of free resources. None of your Soldiers should pay, whether it is to write a resume, someone to be an intermediary for them, until they have used the job center and found it unsuccessful," she said. "My hypothesis is they will be wildly successful with all of these free resources. If for some reason it doesn't work out for them, only then should they start testing some of the other resources that are out there.

"It is important to get transitioning Soldiers engaged with the workforce program while they can still be directed to do so. She can't force them after they leave the service. If you get them engaged with the workforce system and we get them registered, then we can start to know about their outcomes. It is going to make a difference."

To learn more about VETS, visit their website at http://www.dol.gov/vets/index.htm. Interested in doing a job search or connecting with a Job Center, visit http://veterans.gov/. To learn more about DoD SkillBridge visit http://www.dodskillbridge.com/.