Military: Armed services an option for many after high school

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Published: October 30,2009

Not everyone wants or needs to go directly on to college after high school. For those considering alternatives, two options for consideration include joining the military or becoming an apprentice in the construction industry where you go to school one night a week while working full time.

Why the military? For the U.S. Army, start with recruiting bonuses of up to $40,000 combined with guaranteed job training in more than 150 different jobs, based on an applicant’s qualifications and Army vacancies. 

“Basically any job available in the civilian world is available in the Army, plus we also offer training in Special Forces, Ranger, Airborne and military intelligence,” said Roger Harmon, chief of advertising and public affairs for the recruiting battalion that covers Mississippi. “Soldiers receive expert training and develop unique leadership skills that are valuable in the Army and also provide vast career opportunities and respect.”  

The Army also offers the Army College Fund in addition to the GI Bill. Harmon said education is important in the high-tech Army, so soldiers are given many opportunities to continue their education while serving. And for those who qualify, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has key benefits that include college tuition and fees, a monthly living allowance and up to a $1,000 yearly stipend for books and supplies.

“Generally speaking, benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill can be used for any approved program offered by a school in the U.S. authorized to grant an associate (or higher) degree,” Harmon said.

If a high school student is interested in attending a military academy, that decision needs to be made at least by the junior year, said Col. Paul Willis, director of Army Instruction, Jackson Public Schools.

“It is possible to start in the 11th grade, but we really like to start to work with students who are interested in the ninth grade,” Willis said. “They need to be developing physical fitness, academic and leadership skills. Getting into a service academy is very competitive.”

Willis said it is important for students to do well across the board in their studies, but particularly academies are looking for good grades in science, math and English. The academies also look at their leadership skills as demonstrated by involvement in various school and community activities. 

Another option for high school graduates is construction apprenticeship programs known as “The Other Four-Year Degree.”

“The commercial construction industry has used the apprenticeship model for many years as the main approach to educating their workforce,” said Gary Bambauer, president of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF). “The concept is that construction skills require hands-on application as well as theory. The term ‘hand smart’ refers to how well a student can wire an outlet and the term ‘book smart’ refers to understanding the electrical theory. Both are needed in order to understand the job and be a competent craft professional. The ‘hand smart’ skills are learned on the job under the supervision of an experienced craft professional and the ‘book smart’ skills are taught in the classroom.”

The apprenticeship blends both, a structured program that allows a student to be a full-time worker and a part-time student. Apprentices work full time, get paid and earn company benefits. While working, an apprentice attends class one night per week on their own time to learn the theory of what they do on the job. The employer pays for the apprenticeship classes that also earn college credit.

“Just like a medical doctor’s internship, the role of on experienced craft professional observing an apprentice perform a task is essential for today’s highly skilled construction worker,” Bambauer said. 

An apprenticeship program is four years in length and requires four years of classes [144 class hours] and four years [8,000 hours] of work experience in order to receive the National Completion Certificate from the Department of Labor. There is also a built-in wage progression so an apprentice receives pay increases every 1,000 work hours. The signed apprenticeship agreement is between the employers, apprentice, MCEF, the sponsor and is kept on file with the Department of Labor.

MCEF conducts apprenticeship classes across the state. Registered apprenticeship is available in carpentry, electrical, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, sheet metal, pipefitting, welding and interior finish. Requirements for acceptance include being 18 years of age, a high school diploma or GED and passing an interview. 

“Apprenticeship is just another way to earn an education and is geared towards the hands on learner,” Bambauer said. “Theory of specific trade skills makes sense if you can see the application because of what you are doing on the job. Earning a paycheck instead of just paying tuition is a plus. Statistics show an apprenticeship graduate will earn the same or more than most four-year college graduates.” 

For more information contact the MCEF at (601) 605-2989 or 1-800-358-3788, or visit www.mcef.net.

By BECKY GILLETTE I CONTRIBUTOR

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