The following is my review of the Transition, Goals, Plans, Success (TGPS) Seminar that I attended last week. It is offered as a snapshot of one evolution of the course offered at one location. Individual experiences may be different than mine and I would love to hear about them. My opinions were included in the end of course feedback forms, but I also believe they are also worth sharing with a larger audience because I believe a dialogue on this subject can be helpful to many individuals transitioning to the civilian world, as well as those involved with developing and delivering the TGPS curriculum. Again, I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this subject, so feel free to comment.
Getting The Ball Rolling
In order to attend you need to have your command fill out a few forms in order to grant you the time off, and you also need to get a DD Form 2648 and have it filled out and signed by your career counselor. I’m not exactly sure the purpose of this form, other than for the government to have documented proof that they asked you about the various topics that may pertain to those separating.
I’m not saying that the websites listed on the DD 2648 are bad or the information they contain isn’t important, but don’t show me a website, ask me if I want more information on a subject, and then refer me to the same website. I’m busy and my career counselor is busy, too. This seemed like a waste of both of our times.
OK, I thought, maybe this will be of use during the course, but, alas, not so much. The coordinator made sure we all had them. She collected them and made copies for her records, but that was it. No feedback from anyone. The form was used for nothing more than an admissions ticked to the course.
We also had to do an Individual Transition Plan (ITP) which was also turned in and returned to us during the week. The coordinator had to make copies of these in order to document that we had used the form. Now this form isn’t quite so bad. I can actually see how it could be of value to someone unsure of their future direction, so I won’t knock it just because it wasn’t effective for me personally. I just bring it up here to show that it’s yet another form whose true purpose is to exist with my signature on it, not to necessarily be useful to me.
The decision to attend the course also has a second order effect in that by simply asking to attend, you change the way you are perceived at work. While this may happen to some more than others, it does happen and should be considered before making the decision to route your requests.
This is particularly of concern for those leaving the military by choice, as opposed to those who must leave for medical or administrative reasons. More than one participant in my class talked about being marked in the bottom category of their peer group once the command knew they were planning on separating or retiring. Dropping one person down because they are leaving allows a command to move someone else who is not separating up into a higher category. So, if you’re not 100% sure you will be getting out, this is a legitimate issue to consider before routing the request to take a week off and attend this course, because nobody will go back and alter your previous promotion recommendation just becuase you changed your plans.
This, in my opinion, is the single greatest issue that prevents the course from actually preparing individuals for success outside of the military. Our class had a wide variety of participants and based upon my conversations with others, this is the norm. For example we had:
- Two Physicians still on active duty, both of which had already secured employment following their separation.
- One pending retiree who was going to be a stay at home dad.
- Multiple individuals with technical (in this case Intel/Computer Networking) skills that were seeking positions in the same field. Some had qualifying degrees, others did not.
- Two individuals with less than 30 days remaining on active duty attending for the first time.
- Four individuals with months remaining taking the course for the second time.
- Multiple individuals exploring complete career changes.
- At least one individual seeking a career in the field of talent acquisition, training and development, or technical sales, who also blogs about helping veterans position themselves for employment.
The program coordinator said it best when she stated, “In this group, some of you are perfect, some of you are paralyzed, and many of you are somewhere in between.” She was absolutely right. Unfortunately, the course cannot be all things to all people.
The primary purpose of this course to ensure everyone ATTENDS, not to make sure everyone gets a job or even increases their level of knowledge or preparedness. Even if that were the case, I don’t think all of these goals could realistically be achieved in the current model. While breaking the course into smaller, more focused, groups would encourage more peer to peer learning, doing it this way would be much more inefficient, and would probably lead to a lot of people “finding their way out of attending”.
The fact is, just as there were some individuals who didn’t research the service before joining, there will be many that don’t research the civilian world before returning. We may not be able to make them prepare, but we can certainly make sure that they sign a roster stating that they attended a class. The DOD theory seems to be that it’s better to inconvenience the prepared rather than to allow the unprepared to exit without having had the opportunity to learn. This is probably the best choice given the current situation.
The real shame is that this need to check the box for everyone overshadows some significant progress in the program. The actual three day course put together by the Department of Labor (DOL) is pretty decent. In my opinion, it’s exactly the kind of information people need before exiting the military. The topics are relevant and the textbook is well written. The slides had just enough information to act as a springboard for discussions.
A good course often can’t overcome a bad instructor, however, and unfortunately many in our class felt our instructor was less than stellar. He spent way too much time telling personal stories about his career and family experiences and not enough on the actual topics in the course.
It became obvious that there were certain topics in which his knowledge was no deeper than the slides. For example, the curriculum referenced a statistic citing 83% of employers plan to hire through social networking and referrals yet he had no working knowledge of critical platforms such as LinkedIn. On another occasion he spent 45 minutes on a family story about his son, and then covered federal hiring practices and the General Schedule (GS) pay scale in three minutes to ensure we got out of class on time. It turns out that our instructor was more motivational than informational.
Of note: Aside from the three day DOL course we also had some individual classes by other presenters throughout the week. The class on networking and social media (Presented by Chrissa Dockendorf from ClearedJobs.net) and the dressing for success class were both received very well by almost the entire class. The financial prep class was also solid with some good info for just about everyone in attendance. The week ended with a long brief on VA benefits which was complicated, but kept everyone’s attention. We ended the course with a panel of employers and recruiters that were there to answer questions. They also added a lot of perspective on the civilian job market and validated the information about social media and networking that had been previously offered.
What It Means
The best advice I can offer is to take control of your own career, and do so early. It is my intention to go over the topics in the Department of Labor course with future blog posts because I believe they are spot on as far as establishing a transition plan. I’d also love to start a dialogue with others getting out, or who have recently gotten out, because I believe we can all help each other succeed on the outside, just as we do on the inside.
As I’ve written about previously, preparation for your civilian career needs to start the day you get in. You never know when you’re going to get out of the service. You may be “asked to leave” for many reasons, some of which may be out of your control.
On the other hand, you may get the honor of serving until retirement, in that event, the more you know about the civilian world, the more at peace you’ll feel when you take the plunge and decide to begin the process of hanging it up. If you end up “taking one for the team” at eval time, it will be less of an issue, because you’ll be more confident that you are making the right decision.
There is nothing presented in the TGPS course that is not already available through multiple sources. You can learn and prepare yourself now without any formal announcement that you plan on leaving the service. Remember that nobody is responsible for your post military career except you.
Others are tasked with providing you with information and their success may be measured by a sign in roster and some checks in a bunch of boxes. The part of this process where something actually happens, like getting a job, that’s on you.