Earlier this year I attended my Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class ahead of my planned 1 August 2014 retirement. After completing the week of training with 25 other military members (both officers and enlisted), I was left with some thoughts about the program and life after the military.
TAP class, whose name is now Transition GPS due the passage of the 2011 Vow to Hire Heroes Act, was heavily geared towards providing military members the tools to become Government Service (GS) employees or defense industry professionals. I certainly understand why. After all, everyone in the class served in the military their entire career, some spanning over 30 years. It makes sense that most would want to capitalize on the skills they acquired during their many years of service.
But I also felt Transition GPS was government program with instruction that did not necessarily reflect the current economic environment. Had this same class been taught in 2005 or 2006, it would have been spot on. But the environment has fundamentally changed since the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Making matters worse, we service members have been completely insulated from all adverse affects of the crisis, while the private sector and the rest of the United States adapted.
Adding to the complexity, we military members are completely unfamiliar with how the external world and market-driven economies work. How could we be? The public and private sectors operate under completely different rules. And now the Department of Defense is in the cross hairs for fiscal authority measures. The first round of furloughs began just recently and earlier this week the notices for officer and enlisted Selective Early Retirement Boards (SERBS) and other reduction programs were published.
All signs point to a shrinking military force structure—quickly. After years of stable and increasing defense budgets, it is no wonder why so many in the Department of Defense are in denial in thinking further cuts are not coming. Rest assured, they are. Are you ready for it? Have you thought through your transition and your options?
If you are like many, you may have a hard time getting your head wrapped around the fact that the GS and defense contracting jobs are dwindling and will continue to decrease. There have been so many years of dependable, stable jobs available to separating and retiring military members that it really is hard to think of the “new” reality. Ask your friends who have separated or retired lately if they feel as secure as they thought they would.
No one is saying you won't find a job if you choose this route; however, I think it is fair to say that there are fewer jobs, greater competition for those jobs, and lower compensation packages then in the past. Also, since you are a military member there are rules as to when you can accept a formal contract from a new employer. Typically, this leaves the military member in “high anxiety” mode until they are legally able to accept the offer (and breathe).
We are all taught from a variety of sources that entrepreneurship is risky. I think this is in large part due to the media sensationalizing the Uber-entrepreneurs like PayPal, Tesla, and Space X's Elon Musk. Their celebrated rise, then fall, is captured on programs like Bloomberg's Game Changers. I admit the show and stories are amazing!! But they do us “normal” folks a disservice by only highlighting the scope of the most massive and amazing entrepreneurs and their companies. Sometimes the unfortunate result is the person watching the program “self-eliminates” because they think that type of entrepreneurship is the only type. After all, how many times do you see programs highlight the successful mom and pop stores that have been in business for 30 years? Never.
Businesses take years to finally turn a profit. So, doesn't it make sense that if you start a business after you retire, you are already in the hole? Remember what I am advocating with Active-Duty Entrepreneur. Start taking steps toward entrepreneurship while you are still on active duty while you are still getting paid, while you have job security, while you have a defined career timeline, and while you have healthcare for your family and yourself. Take as much time as you want to accomplish the steps. Create your own pace. Use your monthly to gradually invest in your small business.
If you plant the seeds early enough and open your business before you separate or retire, you may be able to create enough income to not have to “transition” at all. You would simply take off your uniform and continue working the small business you stood up while on active duty. That is what Active-Duty Entrepreneurship is all about—making the best use of your time within out unique “military ecosystem.” Don't let this potential entrepreneurial energy go to waste!
So, which course of action do you think is more risky? Given the current fiscal environment, I think solely depending on finding GS and defense contracting work is much more risky.
I left out the best part…the ultimate catchall. If you give entrepreneurship “a go” while you are still on active duty and, for whatever reason, make the assessment you cannot continue after separation or retirement, you can still compete for that GS job or contracting job. And you will be a much stronger hire, with a new, much broader skillset that will be more attractive to any employer.
So, the real question is, what do you have to lose by becoming an Active-Duty Entrepreneur? Nothing—and you gain so much more.
About the Author: Jason Anderson is a 19 year USAF Lietenant Colonel who is also a small business owner and author of the book, "Active Duty Entrepreneur." You can follow Jason on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/activedutyentrepreneur) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ADEntrepreneur1). To read more from Jason and to order his book, follow this link: http://activedutyentrepreneur.com/