DoD Reopens Unpaid Military Internship Program to New Employers

Every year around 200,000 service members leave active duty to re-enter the civilian work force or pursue higher education. The SkillBridge internship program grants military members the opportunity to gain valuable civilian work experience to help them build successful careers once they leave the military by matching civilian opportunities with a service member’s job training and work experience. The ultimate goal is to provide service members with opportunities to enhance their marketability and career prospects for when they leave military duty. In doing so, the SkillBridge program aims to serve as a bridge between military service and civilian employment, with the U.S. Department of Defense facilitating the placement of service members in a wide range of employment fields and industries. This program, which was temporarily closed to new employer partner applications due to its popularity, is once again accepting membership.

The SkillBridge program is a highly unique internship mainly because the program’s participants are expressly prohibited from receiving any compensation during their military internship, since participants remain fully compensated through their military employment: service members participating in the program continue to receive their military pay and benefits. The specific terms of the SkillBridge program allow service members of any rank to use up to the last 180 days of service to work and learn with an industry partner that best matches that applicant’s job training and work experience. Participation is considered official duty and authorized during normal working days and hours. The unpaid internship opportunities may take place in person, online, or both.

In addition, the SkillBridge program is not subject to wage and hour laws and employer participation does not create any federal contracting obligations. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued two opinion letters in response to questions related to the SkillBridge program. The first opinion letter was issued by DOL’s Wage and Hour Division and concluded that the SkillBridge program is not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Davis-Bacon Act, the Service Contract Act, and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act. The second opinion letter was issued by DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and concluded that participating in the SkillBridge program does not subject an employer to OFCCP’s jurisdiction. OFCCP’s opinion letter makes clear that employer participation in the program does not constitute a federal procurement contract that would trigger any OFCCP requirements. In a news release accompanying the opinion letter, the WHD Administrator at the time explained,

These laws do not cover service members participating in compliant, learning-focused training in the U.S. Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program. Stretching their scope to do so would be a disservice to those who serve our country in uniform and effectively deny these service members the opportunity to receive valuable on-the-job training to prepare them for a career after they leave the military.

The SkillBridge program has been so popular and successful that the program temporarily paused new employers from participating, but new employers are now able and encouraged to join. SkillBridge currently lists well over 3,000 authorized employers ranging from aerospace companies to small construction businesses.

Employers should consider whether establishing a SkillBridge military internship program can help meet their specific workforce needs. The SkillBridge program is mutually beneficial for all parties. Service members gain invaluable skills, experiences, and abilities to help their transition from the military to the civilian sector. At the same time, employers are matched with highly skilled and motivated service members with unparalleled leadership experience that will benefit any workplace, all at no cost for the partnering business. Meanwhile, the military benefits when service members return to civilian life with meaningful and gainful employment.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.