Construction careers offer enticing opportunities for North Carolina military veterans through accessible transition programs

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Training at Wayne J. Griffin Electric, Inc.

North Carolina Construction News staff writer

North Carolina’s military veterans seeking a career transition to the skilled construction trades have a diversity of options to start new, high-paying careers, with plenty of support for apprenticeship and job-finding.

They can elect to work in the residential or ICI (industrial, commercial and industrial) sectors, choosing unionized or non-union paths. Support services and resources include paid training, apprenticeship opportunities, and career transition guidance.

Helmets to Hardhat (H2H) is perhaps the most visible program, overseen by North America’s Building Trade Unions (NABTU), but it is by no means the only choice available.

Notably, recently appointed H2H executive director David Porter is from North Carolina. He’ll move to the Washington, DC area when the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved, but before he took on his current responsibilities, he was a former pipefitter, overseeing pipefitting instruction at Marine Corps Base Lejeune in Jacksonville.

Porter says military personnel are good candidates for construction careers after their deployments because “no matter what their discipline level, when they signed up for the military it was ingrained into them over however many years to do what you’re told, not just to blow tasks off, and to have that work ethic. That has primed them to be more trainable.”

Another advantage is the fact that they have been working in environments that are uncomfortable and rigorous,” Porter said in a published interview. “They’re accustomed to getting sweaty and dirty. The physicality of construction is too much for a lot of people. It’s not meant for everyone, but people that could cut it in the military, obviously it can be a good option for them.

“And a lot of people went into the military in the first place because the college route didn’t appeal to them. They’re more mechanically inclined or want to do hands-on work. So veterans are already are kind of pre-vetted people. . . (and) that’s why it’s even more attractive to our partners and our affiliates.”

In the case of Helmets to Hardhats, veterans can start their skilled careers by joining one of the participating 15 trade unions. Participants are connected with a relevant union local and invited to the union’s apprenticeship program, working on-the-job with signatory employers.

However, veterans certainly don’t need to go the union route if they want to transition to a construction trades career.

Wayne J. Griffin Electric, Inc., with branches in the southeast (including North Carolina) and New England, has developed a comprehensive Apprenticeship Training Program, and the company especially values military veterans.

While the non-union contractor has always made it a priority to recruit and introduce veterans to the electrical trade as a viable career path, these individuals are perhaps even more valued now in the wake of the pandemic; military personnel are trained to work in stressful and uncertain situations, and need to be resilient and resourceful.

The company’s apprenticeship program, accredited by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and designated as an approved training site by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, features a combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

There are other supports and transition services available to North Carolina’s veterans.

For example, the North Carolina Department of Commerce operates the NC Works Veteran portal, with opportunities for job training, assistance programs and apprenticeships.

“In many Career Centers, there are Veteran specialists who may assist qualifying Veterans,” the state government agency says. If veterans wish a career in the public service, new career opportunities are held for at least 24 hours, restricted to veterans, before they become available to the general public.

Veterans interested in residential construction can connect with programs administered by the Home Builders’ Institute (HBI).

HBI says it has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation (THDF) to develop specialized trades training programs located near 10 of the nation’s largest military installations.

“Supported by a 10-year and $50 million THDF commitment, this initiative is a part of the Foundation’s long term $500 million investment in veteran-related causes,” HBI says on its website. Each of the 10 programs provides certified trades training and produces qualified graduates.

“With the approval of their chain of command, transitioning service members in each region served by an HBI training facility can participate in the cost-free 12-week program; no military or GI Bill funding is required as part of the Department of Defense (DoD) SkillBridge program. During the program, service members spend up to 75 per cent of their time in hands-on training, earn professional certifications and receive job placement support.

Meanwhile, HBI’s program for veterans is available to active-duty military service members within 180 days of separation, as well as their dependents and spouses.

“Program participants receive professional guidance applicable to every stage of the employment continuum. Participants receive training, certification, and counsel on how to effectively assess opportunities and network within the construction industry, resulting in successful placement in high-growth careers,” HBI says.

“HBI offers a pre-apprenticeship certificate training (PACT), combining academic learning and hands-on experience to deliver sustainable construction trade education.

“PACT graduates emerge from the program highly skilled, certified and well-positioned to secure construction jobs,” HBI says. “The program also promotes economic self-sufficiency, access to lifelong learning and high-wage career potential for veterans and their family members.

“HBI is the only nationally recognized program that educates and trains veterans to achieve lasting employment specifically in the high-growth construction industry that offers advancement and longevity. Our program does not simply train service members, veterans, their dependents, and spouses; it places participants in quality jobs and provides the framework for a successful career. This includes a minimum full year of follow-up guidance supporting employment retention and continued career development.”

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