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Sailors can cash in on Navy-sponsored apprenticeships

Oct. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
USS Harry S. Truman operations
Sailors in some ratings, such as aviation mechanics, have a direct path into an apprenticeship program, but nearly every enlisted sailor is eligible for a certificate that could help the transition into the private sector. Here, sailors inspect an F/A-18C Hornet aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman in September. (MCSN Laura Hoover / Navy)
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If you’re looking to up your worth in the private sector, you might consider completing one of 124 apprenticeships that have been linked to Navy skill sets.

There are more than 76,000 sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen around the world doing just that, and earning valuable private-sector certifications doesn’t require much more than doing your job.

Thousands of sailors have used the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program since it stood up in the mid-1970s as a way to get their Navy on-the-job skills noticed by civilian employers — and get higher starting salaries in the process.

Many Navy ratings correspond directly to trades where completing an apprenticeship can be very advantageous, said Thomas Phillips, USMAP program manager.

“What this program does is allow sailors to document their time on the job in a way so they can eventually leave the service having completed an official apprenticeship,” Phillips said. “Upon completion, they receive a U.S. Department of Labor certificate that can qualify them to enter the civilian workforce as a journeyman in their trade. There’s quite a difference in pay that comes with being a journeyman.”

Some sailors’ careers have direct correlations to civilian work: Shipboard and aircraft mechanics and electricians, as well as Seabees, for example, can translate their experience into a journeyman’s certificate fairly seamlessly, Phillips said.

Other ratings — ones that aren’t in what Phillips considers traditional apprenticeship fields — still can use documented apprenticeships as qualifications when applying for civilian work. Masters­at-arms, for example, can earn certificates that will help land jobs as policemen or corrections officers. The latest USMAP offering for MAs, the Criminal Investigator Apprenticeship Trade, went live just last month (see story below).

Only four Navy ratings don’t have corresponding apprenticeships: air traffic controllers, musicians, cryptologic technicians (interpretive) and Navy divers. But some sailors in those jobs may be eligible for USMAP offerings, Phillips said, such as a Computer Operator apprenticeship program open to any sailor in a job where “their primary duties are accomplished through computer operations.”

Apprenticeships have long been popular in the private sector, specifically in trade unions, where being an apprentice is a normal part of career progression.

How to apply

USMAP is open to enlisted military members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Sailors can visit for a list of available programs and requirements and an online application.

Phillips’ office then checks that the sailor has the required training and duties needed to complete the program. That sometimes involves reaching out to commands for verification, especially when sailors are working outside their rating — as corrections officers or drug and alcohol counselors, for example.

“In cases like that, we usually need a letter from the command stating the person has the required training and is working in that job,” Phillips said.

Two key requirements: Sailors must already be trained through an official “A” or “C” school and be working in the Navy job that corresponds to the desired apprenticeship, Phillips said. The program is not a way for sailors to learn a completely new skill or trade.

“This is where a military apprenticeship differs from many civilian ones,” Phillips said. “In the private sector, it’s not uncommon for some to enter a trade as a novice and get formal training along with doing a formal apprenticeship working in the trade.”

How it works

Once you’re approved, it’s simply a matter of paperwork — documenting work hours and applying those hours toward areas of the apprenticeship.

Hours on the job are broken into skill areas. Sailors in the Computer Operator program, for example, could spend time performing computer operation, or analyzing data, or using the Internet, to name a few.

Sailors must document their hours daily, using a log that’s provided in the package the Navy sends them once they’re approved.

Though the Labor Department requires them to keep paper logs of their hours, the Navy wants them to enter those hours online, which allows Phillips and his office to monitor progress.

Each week, sailors must get their supervisors to sign off on that week’s work; the same is required for an end-of-month report and a cumulative report that must be approved by the sailor’s command leadership after six months.

Once they’ve completed their required numbers of hours, they’ll get their certificate from the Labor Department.

The program is unique to the sea services and was started in the Navy in 1976 and in the Marine Corps in 1977. In 1980, the programs were combined departmentwide and the Coast Guard was added; it’s the only Labor Department-certified program in the military, Phillips said.

The Labor Department, which has overseen more than 1,100 official internship programs since its program began 76 years ago, honored USMAP as an “Innovator and Trailblazer” last year as part of a 75th anniversary celebration.

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