Hire A Hero ( www.hireahero.org) is a nonprofit initiative that networks military veterans and military-friendly employers.
Helmets to Hardhats (www.helmetstohardhats.org) is a program co-sponsored by the Building and Construction Trades unions and their employer associations to recruit military veterans to the construction trades.
Veterans in Piping (VIP) (www.uavip.org) is a program created by the United Association (UA) international plumbers and pipefitters union that elaborates on Helmets to Hardhats and is geared specifically to provide employment for veterans in the union pipe trades.
To all of these programs, yours truly, US54806559, issues a hearty HOO-RAH!
Amazing, isn’t it, that 41 years after being honorably discharged from the service, this veteran can still recite his military serial number instantly. I’m pretty sure I could still field strip an M-14 rifle as well. (OK, I might poke myself in the eye trying to present arms, but close order drill was never my favorite thing.) The U.S. military has its wacky ways, but I have to admit military training sure does lock in the lessons intended.
And that in a way is the point of this article.
The patriot in me thinks military veterans are owed every consideration we can grant them for the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made. But that’s not the main reason to hire them. More pertinent is that today’s military veterans are some of the best prospects around for skilled trade jobs. Recruiting them is a win-win because:
• People who serve in today’s all-volunteer military come predominantly from blue-collar backgrounds. They grew up in a culture of hard work and unpretentiousness. Trade recruiters often remark how they are hampered by the trade’s lack of glamour and harsh working conditions. Such drawbacks are no big deal to people who have served in the hellholes of Iraq and Afghanistan.
• The Vietnam era conscription military in which I served included a lot of high-school dropouts and troublemakers who really weren’t fit for military service. Today’s volunteer veterans on the whole are a smart and disciplined bunch. Almost all of them graduated from high school and stayed out of trouble, or else they wouldn’t have qualified to serve in the modern U.S. military. Honorable service demonstrates further honing of their intellect and character.
• Random drug testing is a fact of life in today’s military. So the rate of drug usage among military veterans is likely to be far lower than among their peers who have not served. This addresses another big problem facing trade recruiters. Insurers and safety requirements on many large projects make drug testing mandatory, and a lot of contractors have incorporated it into their hiring criteria. Some contractors have told me they turn away more than half their otherwise qualified apprenticeship and job applicants due to the drug testing requirement. The rate of failure isn’t necessarily that high, because many applicants simply fail to show up when it’s time to pee because they know they won’t pass muster.
• Some military veterans had technical occupational specialties or skills applicable to your trade. Many of them operated or maintained equipment worth millions of dollars while still in their teens or early twenties.
Cream of the Crop
In all-around skills and values, today’s military veterans rank as the cream of their generation. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know that from most of the stories about veterans that appear in the news media, which tend to focus on negatives such as suicides and the occasional lurid murder.
Some 1.4 million military personnel are now on active duty and there are an estimated 23 million military veterans in the United States. In any population that large, there are bound to be plenty of instances of aberrant behavior. What the news media consistently fails to report in these sensational stories is how military veterans stack up against comparable groups and the population at large. Various studies have shown the rates of suicide, criminality, etc., tend to be even less prevalent among military personnel and veterans than among non-vets of comparable demographics. Instead of putting things in context, when a military vet does something bad enough to be newsworthy, the media inevitably cites post-traumatic stress as a possible cause, reflecting their worldview that every combat veteran is potentially unhinged. As for me, I suspect you’d find a smaller ratio of head cases among combat veterans than you’d uncover in a close investigation of the New York Times news staff.
This is not to deny that there are special challenges facing military veterans in adjusting to civilian life. Some of them have spent months on end dodging IEDs and bullets in hellish locations and a week later they’re in their hometown airport wondering how to make a living. Then they have to cope with a world in which people dress every which way and don’t automatically do as they’re told.
To their credit, the UA in their VIP program includes two weeks of instruction in career and lifestyle transitioning. The schedule is intensive, spanning eight hours a day, five days a week.
Construction trade unions seem a particularly tight cultural fit for military veterans. Both stress intensive training and have clear-cut pay grades and job responsibilities. Even the union lingo of “brothers and sisters” invokes an appeal to unity that resembles the bonds that form in military units. However, unions don’t have a monopoly on trade recruiting - unless nonunion contractors concede it to them. Any company with decent jobs to offer can go after them.
Think of it the other way around, too. Having military veterans in your organization could help instill valuable lessons of discipline and teamwork in otherwise capable workers who might be a little short in those qualities.
If you don’t have a job to offer them, at least show your gratitude to our men in women in uniform with little courtesies. When you see them in public, tell them thank you. If they’re passing time in an airport bar, buy them a drink. If you can afford to do so, give them a business freebie or discount. Military veterans deserve VIP treatment.