A hands-on alternative for Working Vets The G.I. Bill is a great way to get a college education, but what if college is not...

A hands-on alternative for Working Vets

The G.I. Bill is a great way to get a college education, but what if college is not for you? If you’re a veteran, in the reserves or serving with the National Guard and you want to pursue a hands-on field like auto body repair, carpentry or plumbing, you may be able to use your G.I. Bill benefits for job training instead of college.

Two types of job training are available:

  1. Apprenticeships: In an apprenticeship, you work while receiving additional classroom training related to your job. For example, you might work as an electrician’s apprentice while studying electrical repair. In California, apprenticeship programs must be at least 2,000 hours; most programs generally take two to four years to complete.
  2. On-the-job (OTJ) training programs: In an OTJ training program, you receive training as part of your work. OTJ training programs generally last six to 24 months and are not required to include separate classroom work (although some do).

For either type of training, you must be a regular employee (not an intern, contractor or temp) and the program must be registered with the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Apprenticeship
Standars (DAS).

Many California businesses and government agencies offer apprenticeship and OTJ training programs, including unions, local utilities, police and fire departments and companies like Mattel, Sonoco and Zacky Farms. A growing number of veterans are taking advantage of these programs: According to Don Merrill, a DAS senior consultant and the division’s V.A. liaison, more than 5,000 California veterans were enrolled in apprenticeship programs in the first six months of 2012 alone.

If you’re eligible for G.I. Bill educational benefits and enrolled in a qualifying apprenticeship or OTJ training program, you can receive your benefits as tax-free monthly payments during your training period, in addition to your normal salary or wages. Your benefits will be lower than if you were a full-time college student: In general, the first six months will be paid at the three-quarter-time rate, with the rest of your training paid at the half-time rate. However, you can continue receiving payments until your training is complete or until you exhaust your benefits.

Here are the requirements:

  • You must be eligible for G.I. Bill educational benefits.
  • You must be a veteran honorable discharged within the last 10 years or currently in the reserves or National Guard. (Active duty personnel and their spouses are not eligible.)
  • The training program must be registered with DAS and approved by the California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education (CSAAVE).
  • Your employer must certify your hours each month. Benefit payments assume a minimum number of hours worked per month (currently 120) — if you work fewer hours, your benefit will be reduced proportionately.
  • You cannot currently be using your G.I. Bill benefits for college. You can use your benefits for either college or job training, but not both at the same time.

To find an apprenticeship program in your area, you can search the listings of current programs on the Department of Industrial Relations DAS website at www.dir.ca.gov/das/das.html. DAS and CSAAVE are currently working on an online resource specifically for veterans, which will include a list of programs that are pre-approved for G.I. Bill benefits.

If your current job includes six months or more of training, it may be possible to set up a qualifying OTJ training or apprenticeship program, even if your employer doesn’t currently have one. “If employer is willing, training programs can be registered with DAS or directly with CSAAVE,” explains Don Merrill. “When that’s approved, the employee can receive benefits.”

Merrill, a veteran himself, is happy to answer questions or help veterans find or set up an approved training program. He can be reached at (916) 263-0718 or DMerrill@dir.ca.gov.

Even if you are not eligible for G.I. Bill benefits, Merrill recommends taking a close look at the available apprenticeship opportunities, which could be your gateway to a fulfilling — and well-paying — new career. “People assume you have to go to school for eight years and become a teacher making $32,000 a year when a professional janitor can make $54,000,” he says. “And plumbers and electricians can make a lot more.”