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From Military to Civilian: Transitioning from the Navy to the Government Workforce

ship welding

The transition from active duty to the civilian workforce can feel like unfamiliar territory. But doing work you’re accustomed to can make the adjustment smoother and your future clearer.

Working as a contractor in a dockside government job is a sound fit for easing into civilian work. With the U.S. government’s goal of building a 355-vessel fleet, there’s high demand for former military workers, particularly on the Navy side.

Take cues from Brian Meyer, an Aerotek recruiting manager in Charleston, South Carolina. He knows which government contract roles employers want to fill, how to make the jump from military work to civilian jobs, and the benefits to switching — including competitive pay.

Career counseling eases the transition to the civilian workforce

If you’ve served our country for a long time, you’re far removed from the non-military job market. And if you’re unsure how to ease back in, you’re not alone. A job recruiter who understands veterans can help you understand how to make the transition work.

“Part of our job as recruiters is to be a career counselor who says, ‘Here are your available options. Here are all the different positions you'd qualify for,’ and then coach them on what they should be paid, traveling opportunities with per diem, how to navigate job locations, etc.,” says Meyer.

If you prefer to live in a particular location, your Aerotek recruiter will check what's available and see if there’s a potential match.


“If somebody wants to live and work in Jacksonville, Florida, for example, and they don't want to go anywhere else, our local account manager will send their résumé out to several local government contract companies to see which opportunities interest the client based on the candidate’s skill set,” says Meyer.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of coaching to help contract workers understand how the government space functions compared to the military side.

High demand for shipyard roles

Metal trades jobs are in high demand at shipyards, and civilian shipyard jobs are very similar to their military counterparts, so a hull technician in the Navy becomes a welder, pipefitter or shipfitter in the government sector.

“We're looking for shipfitters, pipefitters, outside machinists, electricians, riggers — any type of skilled trade that helps with new construction of Navy vessels, or major overhaul and repair work as vessels come in for preventative maintenance,” says Meyer.

Aerotek is always looking for former boatswain’s mates, enginemen, gas turbine technicians, damage control men and other skilled tradespeople with Navy experience.

Not sure where to look? Government contract employees are especially needed in Norfolk, Virginia; Newport News, Virginia; San Diego, California; Bremerton, Washington; Jacksonville, Florida; Kingsland, Georgia; Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Yep — all major U.S. shipyards.

Shipyard contracts typically last up to two years, while some clock in at three months to a year. Some clients will look to hire contractors as full-time employees as well. It all depends on how long a specific ship remains available for repair. Before you start, you’ll know how long you’ll have to complete a project.

Getting cleared for duty

Another obstacle faced by those transiting from the military to government jobs is security clearance management. Having an active security clearance widens the scope of job opportunities by granting you access to secure locations onboard the vessel.  

As part of our recruiting process, we provide helpful security clearance support to contract employees exiting the military. According to Meyer, “We check within the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS). JPAS holds all the Department of Defense secret clearances. We check through our corporate security team and can tell the contractor whether their clearance is active because sometimes individuals don't know their status.”

If you have an active security clearance, Aerotek will work to find you a position that requires your specific clearance. Be aware that if you don't use your clearance for two years after leaving the Navy, it'll go dormant in most cases.

“Another advantage to working with Aerotek is that we'll hold your clearance to make sure it doesn't lapse, so you can use it for multiple government contracts,” Meyer says.

Safety training comes first

When it comes to on-the-job training, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training is standard no matter what role you move into. You’ll learn how to maintain safe and healthy working conditions in the shipyard.

Aerotek coordinates a 10-hour health and safety course, and once you complete it, you’ll get a card that's valid for five years at multiple shipyards.

Any other required training depends on your specific job.

Embrace the benefits of government jobs

There are several reasons why moving from the Navy into a government contract position might work well for you. For one, you’ll still serve your country without working on active duty. Many people also find government jobs similar to military ones but somewhat less regimented, making a civilian transition less of a shock to the system.

What’s more, you’ll have opportunities for positions that pay more — sometimes far more — than military jobs. And all of these benefits make the shift worth it.