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Beyond One-Size-Fits-All Transitions – A Case for Transition Intel.

Brian Niswander |

Formal transition programs have improved over the past decade and today's service members have options they can select from when completing mandatory separation training. In my opinion, this is a major step forward and a monumental leap when compared to my personal experience transitioning almost 20 years ago. Having studied the transition process for over a decade, I believe the future of transition-related programs must include greater specialization and interactive coaching that's delivered outside the classroom and made available earlier in a service member's career.

I call this increased level of specialized assistance 'transition intelligence' and equate the amount of information needed to conduct a successful transition with the intelligence needed to conduct a successful military operation.  In my opinion, personalized insights are required to enable tomorrow's service members to successfully navigate the military-to-civilian transition process. My intent for this article is to outline the concept of transition intelligence and mobilize support from the veteran community to help those still wearing the uniform. 

Just as intelligence plays a major part in military operations, so will transition intelligence guide service member decisions regarding their post-military life.  Regardless of the objective, specific mission plans are determined based upon current, accurate, and relevant intelligence.  As service members begin their "mission" of transitioning back into civilian life, we owe them current, accurate, and relevant transition intelligence to guide their way. This is the future of the transition process and the future is within our reach. 

In mid-2015, a team of independent veterans set out to make the concept of transition intelligence a reality.  The approach was based upon observing the ways service members gather information about post-military life. In addition to formal transition programs, most service members gather information through websites, social media, books, and magazines.  This is a common approach that provides useful information to help with transition related decisions. However, the most important information service members collect is when they reach out to those who've already taken off their uniform and entered the civilian workforce. 

In this case, I'm talking about trusted sources such as friends, classmates, peers, subordinates, and former supervisors.  The information gathered from a service member's network is the most critical to their transition decision, yet can also have limitations and biases.  I'm not saying that members shouldn't discuss the transition with others who've already departed the military. On the contrary, I'm an advocate of this practice as long as members understand the opinions gathered in this manner can have limitations or include unintended biases.  Here are the reasons why I make this statement: 

  1. Most service members communicate with less than ten veterans to really understand their experiences in the civilian workforce.  Although each has good intentions, these veterans can only talk about what they know and can't discuss the full range of post-military opportunities available. As a result, service members only gain a partial understanding of opportunities, challenges, lessons learned, and useful transition insights.
  2. Service members aren't always able to ask all the questions they'd like when interacting with their network. There are multiple reasons why, such as: they have limited time to discuss, are only communicating via email or through social media channels, or they don't feel comfortable asking personal questions such as "are you and your family happier as a civilian." As a result, the amount of information provided can be limited.
  3. The information received might not be completely accurate.  Let's face it, no one likes to admit when they made a mistake.  Telling someone that you or your family might not be as happy as you appear on Facebook isn't something everyone is willing to talk about.   As a result, responses to important questions might be generalized and comments like "things are good for us" or "I'm doing ok" can mask disappointment or frustration regarding a veteran's new civilian environment.

It's clear that when reaching out to one's personal network to gather information about the transition or the civilian workplace, limited or biased information can turn up. Why can't we empower all service members, not just those with extensive personal networks, using a comprehensive dataset that provides information and lessons from veterans who've gone before? 

This is the concept of transition intelligence – a database of unbiased responses to key transition questions from +100K veterans combined with a web interface that allows users to interact with and view the data. When the database and interface are completed, service members will be able to customize responses to key questions such as "how difficult was the transition process," "how long did it take to find a civilian position," "was the process confusing," "are you satisfied with your transition" and many other important questions. Both quantitative and qualitative insights will be available through the interface and results can be personalized to match a service member's branch, specialty, rank, years of service, education, age, and other key demographic variables.       

If you agree that a database of transition lessons and opinions made available through an interactive tool has merit, then we need your help. If you're a veteran, please participate in the anonymous study and share your experiences and lessons learned.  If you're still wearing the uniform, please encourage veterans to participate and make use of the capabilities provided through this free service.  If your company employs veterans, please encourage your workforce to participate.

The on-going veteran survey will establish a baseline and data collection will be conducted annually to identify trends and ensure the most current insights are always available.  Please participate at the websites: Facebook, Twitter