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Service members get boost in transition to trades

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:03PM February 7th, 2013
Servicce members get boost in transition to trades

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

Jeremy Carter practices a weld during a recent Veterans in Piping class at the UA Local No. 26 site in Lacey.

A new program pairs Joint Base Lewis-McChord with the United Association Local No. 26 to teach welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning skills to transitioning service members, allowing them to exit the service directly into skilled labor positions.

The Veterans in Piping training program began a welding class Jan. 14 in Lacey at UA Local No. 26, and the program will follow up with an HVAC course at Stone Education Center that begins in April.

Service members transitioning from the military report for duty at the training program sites, where they perform hands-on and classroom work full time to learn skilled trades. Upon completion of the 18-week course, individuals enter the UA’s five-year apprenticeship program and are guaranteed apprenticeship jobs earning a salary and benefits while enrolled in the program. VIP graduates can be placed in more than 300 locations nationwide.

“Entry-level wages are $20 to $21 per hour. And they get a raise every six months as long as they’re working until they reach journeyman status, which takes four to five years,” said David McMichael, trust administrator for UA Local No. 26 educational development trust.

Certain military occupational specialties require the same skills as those found in the training course, said JBLM Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Johnson, meaning those service members would have some knowledge of the welding or HVAC trade before entering the program. But he said the training program is so comprehensive, he believes anyone can do it.

“They don’t have to know anything about welding or HVAC systems. What the UA wants is someone who will be disciplined enough to show up to work on time, remain drug-free, and be able to learn,” Johnson said. “Service men and women are proven learners. They’re motivated. They’re disciplined.”

McMichael said the active-duty component recently added to the training program significantly increases the competence of skilled laborers in the field.

“I’m very proud of this apprenticeship program. My dream was to see it expand, so partnering with JBLM has added a new spark to it. These folks are all really high-caliber,” he said. “(Service members) are in a prime spot to get qualified and get lots of good experience under their belt. And they come to us with leadership skills — we don’t have to teach it.”

One unique feature of the HVAC program is a custom trailer built with several HVAC components inside, allowing specific hands-on training to those entering the program. The trailer will be on-site at Stone Education Center when the HVAC course begins in the spring.

Johnson said the emphasis on veterans’ employment programs typically accompanies decreases in troop strength after periods of war.

“We build up our military and then we have to draw down the military. That’s happened in every war throughout our nation’s history,” Johnson said. “So, as we draw down from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there are hundreds of thousands of service members leaving the military going back into civilian life. It’s programs like these that are going to put these young men and women to work in a productive way.”

Specialist Adam Blamires, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is thankful for the opportunity to take part in the training program for welding while he’s still on active duty. The combat veteran from Boise, Idaho, admits that he thought about college, but wanted a career that allowed him to work with his hands.

“It’s really great that I get to stay in the Army and do this at the same time,” Blamires said.

The training program is free to transitioning service members and requirements to enter include a fully honorable, honorable or general discharge; a separation or retirement date within one month of the class end date; command authorization; and a high school diploma or GED. Specific Armed Services Vocational Apptitude Battery scores are required as well.