Thirteen transitioning service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are entering the civilian workforce as union-trained apprentices after graduating from two Veterans in Piping programs Friday at United Association Local 26 headquarters in Lacey.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, retired Army Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland, a senior consultant to VIP program, Col. Nicole Lucas, JBLM Garrison commander, and Mike Hazard, VIP program manager, spoke at the graduation.
During the ceremony, five service members graduated from the VIP’s welding program and eight graduated from the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning-Refrigeration class.
Lucas congratulated the graduates for completing their 18-week courses and issued a challenge.
“You’ve done a great job,” she said. “You’ve served your country and yourself by your hard work and diligence — your presence here today proves that. I now have one final mission for you, one I know you can do and do well. I want you to go out, enter the civilian workforce and proudly represent DOD and your military service.”
Lucas also praised the graduates’ families and friends.
“Thank you for your support of these Soldiers and Airman on their special day,” she said. “I say “special” because what they’ve done is special. By completing this apprenticeship program they’re now ready to seamlessly transition into a new career in the private sector — a significant achievement.”
The VIP program is the only career skills training program that provides free, full-time skills training, while service members are on active duty. The program is open to service members, even if they don’t have experience in these specialties.
Upon graduation, veterans are placed into positions at more than 300 locations nationwide. Since 2013, about 340 veterans have graduated from 14 welding and 13 HVAC-R courses at JBLM and the UA’s Lacey facility.
Overall, nearly 1,800 service members have graduated from nine Veterans in Piping programs at eight military installations nationwide since 2008.
The program’s manager told graduates their future success depends on them.
“Keep in mind that starting on day one when you arrive at your local union, you’re building a reputation,” Hazard said. “(So) continue to live by Army values, keep an open mind and engage in the continuous learning opportunities that come your way. If you take full advantage of (these) opportunities, then you’ll be rewarded. The career possibilities are endless. You may become a foreman, general foreman, superintendent, project manager, union officer or own your own contracting business.”
Sergeant Richard Peer, an infantryman by trade, said his decision to sign up for VIP was influenced by more than pay and benefits.
“I entered this program because there’s an aspect that really stood out about (it),” he said. “I’m coming from a profession where the person standing next to me isn’t just a co-worker, he’s my brother in arms. I know I’m joining an organization where the person standing next to me will be my brother or sister in the trade.”
The program’s senior consultant wants other service members to give VIP serious consideration.
“It’s about seizing the opportunity and having the courage to do it,” Aadland said. “We have a great program with a great history, but we still have a struggle to fill seats. We have five welders here today. We should have 15 (to) 18. So sign up. You don’t want to become an unemployment statistic with no opportunities after you leave.”
For more information about the VIP program or the 13 other Career Skills Program courses offered at JBLM, call the Service Member for Life-Transitions Assistance Program at 253-967-3258 or 253-967-5599.