Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 15, 2018.
There is one mission that awaits an estimated 250,000 United States military members each year. It is a mission that many have never done before. They must find a civilian career, and two nonprofit organizations are committed to making sure these men and women complete the mission with success.
Workshops for Warriors (WFW) and Hire Heroes USA share the same mission goals in assisting veterans, wounded warriors and transitioning service members on the road to employment, but they approach it on different fronts. WFW delivers state-of-the-art technical skills training for careers in advanced manufacturing, while Hire Heroes USA hones veterans’ soft skills to help them navigate a constantly shifting job market.
Separately, these nonprofit organizations assist thousands of veterans in achieving their employment goals. Together, they are combining their strengths to create a scalable workforce development solution that can be deployed nationwide. Their mission is clear: guide more veterans like Zachary Pierobello to a manufacturing industry in need of 2 million skilled workers by 2025.
A different path
Pierobello, 23, spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps but told WorkingNation that he couldn’t remember what life was like not being a Marine. The Orange County, California native joined the Marines after he graduated high school. Unlike regular job interviews, his recruiter placed him in a role that suited his skills, instead of the other way around.
“When I went to the recruiter’s office at the age of 17, I told them I wanted to be a LAV (light armored vehicle) crewman, and they told me I was way too smart. So, I ended up going into the Signals Intelligence field,” Pierobello said.
For Pierobello and many veterans, the recruitment phase is the only experience they have in applying for a job. Transitioning military can utilize the GI Bill to earn a degree or certification after their service. Or they can utilize their branch’s version of a Transition Assistance Program to get up to speed on their career preparation.
These resources, however, may not be enough to prepare them for the reality of the employment market and the roadblocks they encounter during their transition.
Veterans may struggle with translating their skills with what is posted by an employer. Some employers may have misconceptions about veterans. With less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population in active duty service, the odds are that most people have never known someone in the military.
Employers may also overlook the contributions that veterans can bring to the job site. The soft skills that the military is best known for, leadership and work ethic, are sometimes not a strong enough signal to employers compared to other job seekers with relevant training and experience.
Pierobello recognized how not having a credential, and his military background may not line up with employer expectations. He understood why many veterans have difficulties finding work, to support themselves and their families, at a salary that matches what they earned in the military.
“It’s very scary trying to go out into the job market, especially when you have a job in the military that doesn’t translate very well into non-government organizations,” Pierobello said. “It’s very intimidating trying to move into a different industry.”
It is estimated that there are 320,000 unemployed veterans and 131,000 of them are post 9/11 veterans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ figures from September. This is a vast improvement from seven years ago when veteran unemployment peaked at 8.3 percent. Today, it is down to 3.4 percent for all veterans 18 and over and 3.9 percent for post 9/11 veterans. Due to a strong economy and the work of outreach programs like WFW and Hire Heroes USA, employers are discovering the untapped resource they have in veterans.
Pierobello decided to apply to WFW based on a recommendation about the 16-week program’s nationally-recognized reputation and job placement rate. He said that his other option was to become a bar back in Pacific Beach to “try to make as much money in tips as I could and struggle to find an apartment and maybe go to school.”
This scenario would have resulted in underemployment, which affects those veterans who cannot secure a full-time job. According to a report from the Call of Duty Endowment and ZipRecruiter, nearly one-third of veteran job seekers are underemployed which is 15.6 percent higher than non-veteran job seekers.
Applying to WFW proved to be the better decision. Pierobello got the opportunity to pick up the hands-on skills in computer numerical control (CNC) programming and machine operation, skills that manufacturers want. Getting into the program, with its national accreditation and track record of success, eased his thoughts about life after the Marines.
“When I found out [I was accepted], I was ecstatic. I knew that a lot of the worries that I had for my transition weren’t going to have to be a thing anymore and that [WFW] was going to really help me to take those first steps,” Pierobello said.
A new purpose
WFW Founder and CEO Hernán Luis y Prado saw that veterans lacked the resources to adjust to civilian life when he launched WFW in 2008. Back then, veteran suicides and homelessness were reaching epidemic levels. Luis y Prado dedicated his new mission after his military career to giving veterans a new purpose in life.
“You come back, and you realize there’s no support structure. But the enemy is real, and the enemy is unemployment. The enemy is homelessness. The enemy is a lack of hope. And I wanted to change that,” Luis y Prado said.
He realized that the best strategy to combat those societal ills was through employment. WFW’s core demographic, veterans and transitioning service members in their late 20s, needed another option to continue their education and that Career and Technical Education provided a different but more secure route to an excellent job in advanced manufacturing.
“They are normally not university graduates. They are very interested in working with their hands. They like seeing the result of their progress at the end of the day,” Luis y Prado said.
From its beginnings in a garage in McLean, Virginia, WFW has grown to become a state-of-the-art training facility in San Diego in just 10 years. Through the support of private companies like SolidWorks Corp., Haas Automation, Snap-on Tools and Amada Lasers, WFW provides veterans access to the machinery and software they will see in the real world.
“Those types of partnerships are so immensely needed and helpful for us because we have to provide the best training on the best equipment to the best fighting force in the world. For those guys that are getting out, we need to be able to do that for them,” said WFW Executive Director of Development John Jones.
This satisfies not just veterans’ desire to work with their hands but gives them a path forward to a manufacturing industry that is facing a worker shortage. The decline of U.S. manufacturing was accompanied by a shift away from CTE and vocational education, resulting in a shrinking talent pool.
Retirements are also placing pressure on training programs to produce more skilled workers before a full-blown employment crisis occurs. As the industry evolves toward more high-tech production methods, WFW is training graduates with the technical skills the industry desperately needs.
WFW’s flagship programs — welding and fabrication, and advanced manufacturing — take place at the Haas Technical Education Center facility, within sight of Naval Base San Diego. WFW is the only nationally-accredited school of its kind specifically for the military.
Students attend classes five days a week in this accelerated program learning how to operate CNC mills and lathes and welding equipment. Classroom instruction centers on computer-aided design (CAD) programs geared for students like Pierobello who have no experience in coding to add to their skill set.
At the end of the four-month training session, students can earn industry-recognized credentials from the American Welding Society and National Institute for Metalworking Skills along with software certifications in SolidWorks and Mastercam. Armed with credentials and the technical know-how, WFW graduates have more to put on their résumé than their military experience. Now comes the final part of the mission, acing the job interview.
A complete skillset
Each WFW cohort gets the opportunity to meet with leading American companies during the WFW career fair held two weeks before graduation. Companies like defense contractors Northrop Grumman Corporation and Huntington Ingalls Industries to advanced manufacturers Tesla and Solar Turbines take part knowing the quality graduates WFW produces.
But WFW students need more than technical training to secure their new career. They must also have the soft skills that employers want. Some are innate to service members: leadership, problem-solving and teamwork. Since many are starting a civilian job search for the first time, they don’t know how to translate those skills into terms that employers will understand.
That’s where Hire Heroes USA adds their expertise and value to the partnership with WFW. Now in its 11th year, Hire Heroes USA has a well-established record of providing free and effective employment services for transitioning military, veterans, and spouses. The national nonprofit’s CEO, Christopher Plamp, said this partnership with WFW ensures that graduates of the program have the best of both worlds.
“The partnership is critically important because it shows that we can combine two different types of training and create a synergistic effect that is greater than just ourselves,” Plamp said.
Hire Heroes USA provides a full suite of employment services to clients worldwide that include virtual services, like résumé assistance, mock interviews, training modules, and virtual career fairs, as well as in-person workshops. In their partnership with WFW, the transition specialists work with students at the San Diego facility.
Amy Dodson, the area manager for Hire Heroes USA’s California office, said that WFW cohorts start their professional development during the first week of school. Then each student is assigned a transition specialist that helps them with their networking, résumé preparation, and job interview skills. Their mission is to help veterans find not just a job at the end of the program, but a sustainable and meaningful career.
“I think the difference between a career and a job is [veterans] want to feel valued. They want to feel like they’re giving back to their communities. And they want to feel like their skill sets and what they learned in the military is being utilized,” said Dodson.
Over 108 WFW graduates have received employment assistance training since Hire Heroes USA and WFW began their partnership earlier this year. Pierobello was one of them, and he told WorkingNation that he now has the skills that he would have never learned anywhere else.
“Now I know that with these skills, nobody can take them from me. Nobody can do anything to take away the certifications that I’ve earned, and now I can use those skills to seek employment with confidence,” Pierobello said.
Pierobello used that confidence during the career fair last August to land a machinist job with Solar Turbines, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. Solar Turbines’ Supervisor Clarence Martin interviewed Pierobello and noticed how similar he was to a previous WFW hire. Despite the compressed training period, Martin said that WFW graduates’ military background means they learn new skills and can get to work immediately.
“As soon as Zach sat down and began talking, I said, ‘I want that guy,’” Martin said.
Pierobello and his fellow WFW graduates are maximizing their military experience and channeling it into the next phase of their life because of the strength of WFW and Hire Heroes USA working together. The success of the two nonprofits will take their organizations further as WFW expands in San Diego and beyond.
With ambitions to create a national pipeline supplying thousands of skilled veterans to the advanced manufacturing industry, WFW and Hire Heroes USA’s partnership is a scalable solution to the skills gap and veteran employment. They knock down the barriers for veterans and provide employers access to a reliable but untapped talent pool.
“When you hire a veteran, you’re going to get someone who’s hardworking,” Pierobello said. “It means that you’re going to have someone that wakes up, that does their job, that shows up to work on time and is on top of what they do.”