5 Skilled Trade Training Programs for Military Members and Veterans

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(U.S. Army/Mark Cleghorn)

Lockdowns, layoffs and economic hardship came to define the job market during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many were forced to change the way they live and work. Military members, who intend to separate in the years to come, might be understandably nervous watching events unfold. They weren’t alone.

A study commissioned by the StrataTech Education Group found that 59% of all Americans considered attending a trade school during the pandemic. They, like many, were looking for a stable career that would help them recover from the economic downturn that followed.

Skilled trades not only offer both stability and an income starting at more than $40,000 per year, above the annual U.S. median income of $34,248, according to the 2020 Census. It’s also an area that is experiencing a severe labor shortage, which is an opportunity for those planning to leave the military. Any military members interested in a skilled trade can start with one of these five programs.

1. IBEW Veterans Electrical Entry Program (VEEP)

It never has been easier for military members to transition to a civilian job as a fully qualified and licensed electrician. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will train separating veterans and place them into one of around 300 apprenticeship programs across the United States. Once there, they get right to work.

The VEEP program starts with filling out an application, which includes telling the program where they want to be located. VEEP coordinators will find a spot to place the veteran close to their desired location. The candidate will attend a free, seven-week pre-apprenticeship program in Anchorage, Alaska. Then, they are sent to work their new jobs.

2. UA Veterans in Piping

The United Association is the union of plumbers, fitters, welders and service techs. The union’s Veterans In Piping (VIP) program offers free training for active-duty service members to train into one of the union’s represented career fields.

After completing an apprenticeship in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC-R), welding or fire protection, journey workers can go on to earn certification and even instructor training. The UA Veterans in Piping program is open only to transitioning service members.

3. SMART Heroes

In August 2017, organized labor in the sheet metal industry recognized a lack of workers going into the field began SMART Heroes, an effort to enlist transitioning service members to work in sheet metal. (SMART stands for sheet metal air, rail and transportation.) They developed a free seven-week training program for veterans that ends with an opportunity for employment at any of 148 apprentice programs.

In that short time, trainees will receive a full year’s apprenticeship in general sheet metal, welding, HVAC service, system test, adjust, balance and building information modeling. The program is currently being offered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but is open to all transitioning military personnel. To get started, fill out the SMART Heroes contact form.

4. Workshops for Warriors

Workshop for Warriors was founded by Navy veteran Hernán Luis y Prado of San Diego in 2008. He was looking to address what he calls the “silver wave” of experienced manufacturing workers who will soon retire without a younger generation of skilled tradespeople to replace them.

The Workshops for Warriors program is structured like military technical training; 16 weeks long for nine hours a day, five days a week. At the end of the training course, it places graduates in a machining or welding fabrication job with partners like SnapOn, Google or SpaceX. The program currently has a 95% placement rate. The only caveat for the program is that it’s not free -- but is covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

5. Utility Worker Military Assistance Program (UMAP)

The Utility Workers Union of America works in areas like power, water, gas, and health and safety. In 2012, it launched an initiative to recruit, train and place veterans in utilities jobs through a free, seven-month training program that ends with job placement.

UMAP not only has programs to provide the training to veterans and guard and reserve members; it’s also a SkillBridge-eligible program. This means transitioning service members currently on active duty can join the program during the last six months of their military careers while earning military pay and benefits. To sign up for the program or learn more, visit the UMAP website.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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