How a retired Marine utilizes project management expertise

Tim Dalhouse, Retired Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant

Tim Dalhouse, Retired Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant

Service members collect a vast amount of professional and operational experience during their time in uniform, yet finding a civilian career can be challenging. PM-ProLearn founder Tim Dalhouse discusses the applicability and value of project management certifications to Service members and veterans regardless of their military occupational backgrounds.

How long did you serve in the Marines and what was your last rank and MOS?

I came into the Marine Corps in October of 1985 and retired in May 2009 as a Master Gunnery Sergeant, which is an E9. In those 24 years, I was an Avionics Chief, recruiter, and Enlisted Assignments Monitor.

What made you want to start a career in project management?

When I retired from the Marine Corps, I was hired by a company called CGI Federal that was automating some manpower processes at Headquarters Marine Corps where I had worked. My boss thought I would make a good project manager and asked me to get the Project Management Professional certification. Once I looked into it. I realized that I had managed a lot of people and projects in the Marine Corps. In the military, it was called mission accomplishment, but it uses the same skillsets as a project manager: you are figuring out how to apply limited resources to achieve a goal by a certain milestone and making sure that all of your stakeholders are happy with the outcome. After I got certified, I had project management roles for the Food and Drug Administration, Accenture Federal Services and Regent Education, and during that time I started mentoring a lot of military people on how to do what I did, including passing the PMP exam. Then in 2017, I launched PM-ProLearn.

What do you know now about certifications that you wish you had known when you started the process?

I wish that I knew the value of certifications to employers. People were looking at me for opportunities that never would have given me a second look if I hadn’t had the PMP, and I see civilian employment trends moving more toward valuing certifications than degrees today.

I also wish I knew how much work goes into getting a professional certification. You’re going to brand yourself as a professional in this job skill and you can’t expect to just sit in a class and then take a test and pass the exam. The other thing is that the certification may get you the job, but once you’re there, you need to actually apply the knowledge effectively or you may not have your job for very long. Your colleagues will expect you to be able to use your expertise.

How do you help others who were in uniform learn the content and pass the exam?

The first thing that we do at PM-ProLearn is relate every new civilian concept to military terminology that our students already know. For example, a military deployment is a project because it is temporary, and it’s done to achieve a certain goal, so we start stepping through the project management concepts and how they apply to preparing a unit to go on deployment. Familiarizing students with the content based on something that they already know makes it more relatable and easier to understand.

The second thing that we do is provide all of our students with one year of access to audio, video, reading sections, quizzes and interactive online learning tools or even to retake the five-day class if they want. We also give students a 21-day self-paced study plan that gets them immersing themselves in project management throughout their day. If a student takes a five-day course and then spends time immersing themselves in the content, they will learn it to the level that they need to pass the exam, and our results have proven that over the last three years.

In five years, it’s going to be hard to get a project manager role without at least a PMP certification, and maybe additional certifications on top of that, such as agile.

—Tim Dalhouse

Where do you see project management credentialing in five years?

I think PMI’s cornered the project management certification market and they’re firmly entrenched, particularly with the PMP, because they are being very aggressive at keeping the certification relevant to what’s happening in companies. They continually survey project managers to determine what their companies need out of them, and then they review their exam to make sure that they are certifying in that area. The new exam in January 2021 is a perfect example. The concept of agile thinking and mindset is becoming a huge part of companies and it is a huge part of the new PMP exam. In five years, it’s going to be hard to get a project manager role without at least a PMP certification, and maybe additional certifications on top of that, such as agile.

What do you feel is the biggest benefit to helping veterans and Service members?

When military people leave the service, they are largely starting from scratch, and sometimes into a brand new job field. They’re trying to take everything they did in the military and turn it into a civilian career. They’re lost like I was, and they need and deserve help. At PM-ProLearn, we just love being able to pay that back. Everybody on my team was either in the military or a military spouse so we understand what they go through and we have a soft place in our heart for helping them get to where we are. Also, I get to stay in touch with the military community. When I’m in the classroom with them, I’m speaking their terms and telling jokes that only somebody in the military would understand and it’s nice to keep that connection.

What can testing organizations and partners do to better message and reach their potential audience in the military community?

One of the biggest things is to get someone who understands the military environment to lead your program and build relationships. You have to build a business case for why your certification is going to benefit Service members and satisfy the military’s need, and not become a burden to the branch of service, the specific base or the Service members. The military does not want to let vendors on base that are going to use up their resources without providing significant value.