Brett Rosene, new manager of the Fort Leavenworth Army Career and Alumni Program, is taking over the program during a time of major changs in ACAP.
"ACAP was designed to provide assistance to Soldiers to find employment, and the program has pretty much stayed as it was since its inception (1991) until this year," Rosene said.
Armywide, the program will undergo three major changes Nov. 21. Soldiers must now initiate pre-separation processing a full year before exiting the military instead of 90 days. The Transition Assistance Program workshops will be mandatory beginning in November. Additionally, ACAP is switching from a participant-initiated program to a leadership-initiated program, which means Army leaders down to the company level will be responsible for making sure Soldiers meet the required ACAP standards.
"DoD has identified the transition process as being a commander's and a leader's responsibility," Rosene said. "Before, ACAP used to try to chase down Soldiers who were coming close to their 90 days, but in the future we'll be working with leadership so they will take the initiative to get the Soldiers here."
In fact, units have a system requirement similar to recruiting standards that requires leaders to report to their commanding general to keep track of transitioning Soldiers.
"I fully realize it is going to be painful in the beginning, and it's going to be hard to get those stats to an acceptable level, but after a time it will just become our normal way of doing business," Rosene said.
The changes are coming about as part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011. The VOW Act was signed into federal law last year and is going into effect Nov. 21 of this year. The law is intended to reduce the number of unemployed veterans and reduce the stress that Soldiers and families experience during transition.
Rosene said although there are many companies and organizations that seek out veterans to hire, a national Department of Labor statistic shows that post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 experience a 21 percent unemployment rate. That unemployment rate is 14 percent in the same age group of Americans who are not veterans. The top five Military Occupational Specialties of enlisted Soldiers applying for unemployment are 11B infantryman, 88M motor transport operator, 68W healthcare specialist or combat medic, 31B military police and 42A human resources specialist.
"That transition process isn't just for lower enlisted Soldiers, but is mandated for E-1 to O-10," Rosene said.
Both the Department of Labor and Department of Veterans Affairs have been active in implementing the new law, Rosene said, and are major players in helping veterans find employment. Part of the Transition Assistance Program workshops include lessons about a nonmilitary workplace from the Labor Department and how to obtain benefits from the VA, for example. The TAP workshops, which were previously highly encouraged but are now mandatory, will be five days instead of three under the new law, Rosene said. The curriculum is expanding and will continue to do so into next year, with more lessons on job searching, interview skills and more. Rosene said there's even a program in place that allows Soldiers to use avatars and approach a virtual job interview like a computer game.
Many of the ACAP services are being updated online at www.acap.army.mil, as well as use of social media to advertise hiring events. There's an ACAP Virtual Center that will allow transitioning Soldiers and veterans to communicate one-on-one with an ACAP counselor online.
Rosene said his office began sending out information to commanders and leaders on post last week, and will continue updating as changes in the new law take effect.
He hopes the changes will reduce unemployment for transitioning Soldiers and give them a clearer picture of what to expect from the civilian workplace.
"Transitioning from the military isn't an event that occurs at the end of one's career, but is instead a process to prepare Soldiers to transition to a new phase of their lives," he said.