An estimated 200,000 post-9/11 veterans return to civilian life looking for their next career every year. Most of them are finding it difficult to make a smooth transition. Challenges in finding a fitting career in civilian life is eroding their confidence. A Prudential Financial report noted that nearly 70 percent in the military believed they had the skills required to succeed when they were on active duty, but that confidence dropped to 57 percent once they entered the job market.
Stereotypes and veterans’ unfamiliarity with the job market are making it even more challenging. Many veterans get bogged down with debt, depression and other factors. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines veterans from 18 to 34 years old as a “vulnerable population” because their rate of unemployment is much higher than others of the same age. The number of impoverished veterans increased in recent years. For the first time in seven years, the number of homeless veterans across America increased in 2017.
Those who have already given so much for this country deserve better. We have a responsibility to help them find their place in the civilian workforce.
Our veterans have specialized training and skills that translate well into many civilian industries from engineering, construction, mechanical to technology. They have acquired those skills under pressures beyond the civilian world’s understanding.
While thousands of veterans are currently battling unemployment, employers in the skilled trades have been plagued by a lingering skilled labor shortage. An Associated General Contractors (AGC) study revealed 70 percent of contractors are having difficulty finding skilled craft workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the construction industry will need to add 1.6 million jobs over the next four years.
The skilled labor crisis resulted from a wave of baby boomer retirements and the younger generation not considering building trades as a lucrative career option. Non-traditional career paths are not presented to our young people graduating high school as a viable alternative to college. They are not often well-informed about lucrative non-traditional career alternatives.
In the same token, many unemployed veterans were enlisted soldiers and thus lack a traditional college degree that many employers demand across private-sector industries. High emphasis on traditional education contributed heavily to the skilled-labor shortage, and it’s discriminating against specialized skills and training of veterans. Having served in high-competence capacities in the military, veterans should have their due place in the workforce.
Private-sector companies have a lot to gain from hiring veterans. Most veterans have spent many years in a structured and disciplined environment. They have a mission-driven way of approaching problems and exceptional problem-solving skills. They rank high in self-discipline, teamwork, attention to detail, respect and leadership.
The construction industry stands to benefit greatly from their work ethic, operational leadership, and time management skills. They are an untapped pool of talent to fill the skills gap. As a Marine Corps veteran who made the transition into the civilian workforce in the construction industry 50 years ago, I know that the construction industry is conducive to the veterans’ work ethic, skill sets and training.
Veterans find the training structure in the skilled trades and daily operations on job sites familiar. They find it encouraging that the construction trades offer clear career paths. They offer veterans leadership opportunities, chances to serve in technical capacities outside of the main craft, and opportunities to run their own operations by becoming a contractor.
There are similarities in leadership and organizational structures. Many veterans are attracted to the dynamics of a job site. Rules and procedures, working as a team and placing trust in colleagues can mean the difference between life and death on a job site. I found that the building trades had a similar concept of camaraderie as the Marine Corps. It was an easy transition for me. I made the transition in 1967 and have enjoyed a long, successful career.
Transitioning veterans opens an untapped pool of talent to fill the skills gap. The construction industry is starting to take innovative steps to help veterans explore careers and make a smooth transition. Pre-apprenticeship programs such as the iron workers “gladiator” program for veterans ease them into their intensive four-year apprenticeship training. It is encouraging to see more programs designed introduce veterans into the civilian workforce. We must do more to help veterans make this transition, especially those industries in the private sector that stand to benefit from it.
Those who served the nation in the military deserve better than discrimination against their specialized skills. We owe them their rightful place in civilian life and workforce.
• Bill Brown is the chairman of Ben Hur Construction and co-chair of Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT).