As the bulk of skilled tradesmen and women in the United States approach a decade or less before retirement, fewer Millennials are pursuing a career in the trades despite rewarding pay and job security. According to ManpowerGroup, in 2012, 53% of skilled-trade workers in the United States were 45 years or older, and almost 20% were between the ages of 55 and 64. In some states, especially in New England, the statistics are even more ominous.
In stark contrast, the country has a seemingly untapped source of bright minds and able bodies that’ve already been steeped in hard work and rigid discipline. Inexplicably, Armed Forces veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 have the highest unemployment rate: 20.6% as of 2012, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University.
As veteran post-service job placement rates flounder, it begs the question, “why isn’t there a symbiotic relationship between the need for work and the need for workers?”
Making a Connection
“It’s not really something we’re able to put a finger on,” said Renee Cardarelle, executive director of Troops to Trades, a non-profit organization focused on pairing vets that are eager to join the work force with in-demand, private-sector careers.
“What we do know is that vets from all branches of the military often excel in technical and mechanical jobs when presented with the opportunity,” she continued. “Many times, the positions they filled in the Armed Forces are a solid foundation to build upon once they’ve completed their service.” While the electrical and plumbing fields are included, the organization has seen strongest the strongest interest in HVAC.
Cardarelle and others at Troops to Trades find – or are found by – veterans who might be interested in the trades, then work with them on a case-by-case basis to help them pave a path to a rewarding career. Many times, enrollees simply need direction as much as anything else; help navigating the potentially confusing process of exploring their options. The Troops to Trades program has two main facets; training and job placement.
“Sometimes the veteran is already enrolled in some sort of tech school when we meet them,” she explained. “In many instances, we’ll issue a grant to cover their training, tools or other expenses.” Since the organization was formed in 2006, it has offered over $250,000 in scholarships and aid to individuals looking to enter the trades.
If the veteran hasn’t already entered a training program before coming in contact with Troops to Trades, the organization will often help them enroll in a school, or send them to training events to get their feet wet. Intensive HVAC course have proven effective, whether that’s through a manufacturer, or a tech school, like Ultimate Technical Academy in Little Rock.
“I actually learned about Troops to Trades from the HVAC company that serviced my own house,” said Anthony Rodriguez, who was an Army Sergeant First Class/E7. During his time as an equipment maintenance supervisor, Rodriguez did three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. During the last deployment, he was assigned to a Special Forces Battalion.
“When I first learned about Troops to Trades, I had just spent five months looking for a job,” he continued. “I knew I wanted to pursue something challenging that would keep me active; automotive, electrical or HVAC,” he continued. “There are plenty of companies and organizations that say they’re focused on putting vets to work, so when I first heard of Troops to Trades, I was definitely skeptical. But it wasn’t long until I realized that this was the real deal.”
Not long after filling out the Troops to Trades application, Rodriguez found himself on a plane from Fayetteville, NC to Dallas for a three week, hands-on Lennox “Build a Tech” training and networking session. After that, a ride-along with LimRic Plumbing, Heating and Air, removed any doubt that he wanted a career in the HVAC industry.
“I’m currently halfway through a two-year tech school at Fayetteville Technical Community College,” Rodriguez said. “Between the travel, training and all new tools, I haven’t paid a dime out of pocket. Every time I hit a wall, Troops to Trades knocks it down.”
After his training was complete, Rodriguez moved to SC. There, Troops to Trades helped to connect him with LimRic Plumbing, Heating & Air, where he began immediately.
Boots on the Ground
If vets have completed some level of training and are ready to get into an apprenticeship program or find a job, Troops to Trades can help expedite the process.
“We can usually place people quickly after they’ve been added to our list of participants,” explained Cardarelle. “There are more than 500 mechanical firms around the country that we work with, and our network of manufacturers helps in this respect, too.”
Like Rodriguez, Air Force Master Sargent Scott Heberling was a security and anti-terrorism specialist. Just two years after he left the service, he tried to enter the private security industry, and was told numerous times that his training and expertise wasn’t current.
“Renee walked me through the application process, offered me several different training options and got me into an apprenticeship with Plumbline Services in Denver within 48 hours,” said Heberling.
For Scott, coming out of training and going directly to work was invaluable.
Continue Mission (Charlie Mike)
“Ultimately, what we’re looking to do is help vets apply their skills and aptitude in the private sector, provide for their families and strengthen their communities,” said Cardarelle. “In the process, they’re developing a career they’ll be able to enjoy until retirement, and they’re filling jobs that America desperately needs.”
“I think what surprised everyone when starting the program was the difficulty of getting in touch with vets,” she continued. “They’re a tough target group I think because they have a lot of noise coming at them; lots of offers for help, some good, some not so helpful. They’re segmented, and once they leave the military there isn’t a clear way to communicate with them. And like most of the population, they’re not aware of how working in the trades can provide a lucrative and professional career.”
This year, Troops to Trades is making an effort to reach out to military communities more than ever to spread the word. Places like Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune are on the list of places to visit.
“Renee and everyone at Troops to Trades absolutely blew my expectations out of the water,” said Rodriguez. “I’m really excited to be stepping into a strong industry. I’m learning everything I possibly can, and looking forward to keeping up with new technology as it evolves.”