Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Career Paths of Veterans Show the Value of Real-World Information

Using historical data about career development—developing information based on the career experiences of real people—has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that these career experiences are real, so when large samples of people’s career experiences are compiled into lists that show the most probable career outcomes, the implicit advice is realistic. However, such lists (unless they are exhaustive) do not show all possible outcomes. The result is that such lists tend to discourage people from seeking less-probable career paths, which is not always a good idea. Sometimes the status quo needs to be shaken up rather than be reinforced, and people who seek unconventional career paths are often important for creating progress in society.

I was confronted with this two-edged sword when I developed information for my book 150 Best Jobs for the Military-to-Civilian Transition. I based the selection of occupations on the actual career experiences of recent veterans, as reported by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for the years 2005–09. I identified a “recent veteran” as someone not presently in the armed forces who had been on active duty (not just having received Reserves or National Guard training) since September 2001. Therefore, these vets were in the early stages of their post-military careers, and the occupations they held were representative of this transition. The weighted sampled represented 1.5 million recent veterans: 1.3 million men and 200,000 women.

Of the 459 unique occupations that they held, 224 were held by more than 1,000 vets, and these were equivalent to 446 occupations in the Standard Occupational Taxonomy, for which the Department of Labor provides useful information.


It was interesting to find that vets averaged a 21 percent earnings advantage over nonvets in the same occupation, even though the median age of the vets (36) was significantly lower than that of the nonvets (42).

But the real-world data told a more discouraging story when I looked at the most popular occupations held by male and female vets. Many of the top 10 occupations held by the male vets showed an obvious connection to military training and experience:

  1. Police Officers
  2. Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers
  3. Driver/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers
  4. Retail Salespersons
  5. Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians
  6. Bailiffs, Correctional Officers, and Jailers
  7. Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand
  8. First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers
  9. Stock Clerks and Order Fillers
  10. First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers
On the other hand, the list with the top 10 occupations held by the female vets amounts to a roster of “pink-collar” jobs:

  1. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
  2. Customer Service Representatives
  3. Human Resources Workers
  4. Cashiers
  5. Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides
  6. Office Clerks, General
  7. Waiters and Waitresses
  8. Stock Clerks and Order Fillers
  9. First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers
  10. Retail Salespersons
It’s hard to read this second list without concluding that military service does little to boost the career options of women. On the other hand, it’s important to recognize some of the career barriers that the female vets face. Employers may not be used to the idea of women in the military and therefore may overlook female vets’ military-acquired skills. Also, most recent female vets are of child-bearing age and may not be focused on (or have ready access to) a long-term career path. It’s significant that 13 percent of the female vets were working part-time, as opposed to 1 percent of the male vets. Most of the occupations in the second list use many part-time workers.

A more encouraging way to look at the experiences of female vets is to consider the occupations with the highest proportion of recent vets among the female workers:

  1. Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians (19.5%)
  2. Air Traffic Controllers/Airfield Operations Specialists (18.7%)
  3. Avionics Technicians (18.1%)
  4. Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers (11.3%)
  5. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers (8.0%)
  6. Sailors and Marine Oilers/Ship Engineers (7.7%)
  7. Earth Drillers, Except Oil and Gas (7.0%)
  8. Electric Motor, Power Tool, and Related Repairers (6.9%)
  9. Logisticians (6.4%)
  10. Atmospheric and Space Scientists (6.3%)
In other words, when you find a female aircraft mechanic, the odds are 1 in 5 that she is a recent vet. This list demonstrates that women can and do use their military training to enter careers that traditionally have been dominated by men. They may not do so in large numbers, but this kind of career movement is possible.

I’m glad that I compiled this last list, because it shows that one can use historical data about career experiences not only to show what is probable but also what is possible. Historical data, used in imaginative ways, does not have to reinforce the status quo.

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