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Helping America’s veterans establish successful, sustainable careers in welding

Ask any American to describe a veteran and you’ll undoubtedly hear a huge assortment of positive attributes: Veterans are brave, strong and selfless. They are intrepid, loyal and trustworthy. They are skilled, patient and efficient.

Ask the same of anyone who’s employed a veteran and they’ll say the same and then some. Veterans are hardworking, collaborative and supportive. They are disciplined, adaptable and respectful. They thrive in team environments, exhibit a strong attention to detail and are eager to take on new responsibilities.

Veterans are highly sought after for positions in welding based on a variety of positive traits as well as specific welding experience attained from military service.

With those characteristics in mind, it’s easy to understand why a veteran would make a great employee and more specifically, a great welder. In fact, many veterans learned how to weld while on active duty, giving them a leg up in the hiring process. They also understand the importance of adhering to standards and procedures, which is integral to any welder’s day on the job. Furthermore, many veterans are still young and are looking to embark on a civilian career path that offers room for advancement.

Veterans interested in a stable, well-paying job in welding have a slew of resources of which to take advantage. In addition to the resources provided by the military, civilian programs and non-profit organizations have been established for the sole purpose of helping returning service members carve out a path toward a sustainable, lucrative career.

Cool careers

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot more to military service than active combat and training. To ensure troop readiness – especially when overseas – many service members are tasked with the responsibilities of maintaining and repairing vehicles, equipment, weapons and facilities. The cultivation of welding skills through military ordnance schools is key in these critical operations.

At the U.S. Army Ordnance School at Fort Lee, for example, enlisted service men and women can attend a welding training program that is certified as an American Welding Society (AWS) SENSE school. SENSE, which stands for schools excelling through national skills education, offers a set of specifications and guidelines that define and teach the skills employers in the welding industry are looking for in new hires. Students that attend and graduate from a SENSE school are highly sought after, meaning veterans that received this type of instruction during their military career can and should leverage the experience in their transition into civilian life.

Veterans are highly sought after for positions in welding based on a variety of positive traits as well as specific welding experience attained from military service.

Beyond the practical training offered to service men and women through ordnance schools, such as the one at Fort Lee, all four branches of the military deliver useful employment information on their credentialing opportunities online (COOL) websites. The COOL websites offer a one-stop-shopping approach to help service members and veterans find information on certifications and licenses related to their post-service job interests. The goal is to connect the dots between the training service members received in the military and the credentials and experience required for civilian employment.

“Each branch of the military has a COOL site that does a nice job of translating the military occupational codes into industry-recognized certifications and potential careers that map nicely for service men and women that are going to be separating,” says Monica Pfarr, executive director at the AWS Foundation. “Based on their military experience, the sites offer information on careers that wouldn’t require too much extra education or training to transfer into a civilian career. It’s a helpful resource for determining what they’re going to do in the next chapters of their lives.”

The guidance provided on the websites can get fairly specific. As an example, someone who performed maintenance on military vehicles could be linked to the civilian certifications that are related to that military experience and could also see lists of related occupations and continuing education that may be of interest.        

In regard to applicable certifications and continuing education, the COOL websites have partnered with organizations, such as the AWS, to offer how-to advice to attain those valuable accreditations. Once a career path and the necessary post-military education are identified, the COOL websites also direct veterans to financial aid resources, such as tuition assistance programs and the GI Bill.   

In the U.S. Navy, some maintenance must happen underwater. Shown here, a serviceman produces a fillet weld in a training pool. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy combat camera photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Charles E. White/Released.

Like the COOL websites, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website offers a wealth of information and services for veterans trying to identify a potential career path that fits their skill sets and interests. Programs, such as Veterans ReEmployment and My Next Move for Vets, can also be accessed via the VA website.   

Civilian services

The amount of career assistance made available by the military and VA for transitioning service members is impressive, but it is just a fraction of the services that veterans can rely on. From major corporations to mom-and-pop shops, companies throughout the United States are looking to show their gratitude to veterans in the form of long-term, well-paying employment.     

Take Ford Motor Co., for example. The company currently employs about 6,000 veterans in all types of positions and facilities in the United States and around the world. In fact, company leadership considers the practice of hiring veterans as a competitive advantage. The positive habits, attitudes, skills and work ethics accrued during military service are hard to attain elsewhere.

Ford has also partnered with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Wounded Warriors organization to prepare veterans for a career in welding. The intensive, six-week program, which takes place at the UAW-Ford Technical Training Center in Lincoln Park, Mich., offers training in most common types of welding, including MIG, TIG and stick. For participants that don’t live in or around Lincoln Park, room and board as well as financial aid for additional expenses may be available.

At the end of the course, participants are awarded a UAW-Ford Welding Course certificate and have the opportunity to take the AWS Certified Welder test in the 1G through 4G positions. There are also job coordinators to help course graduates find permanent employment.

During their time in the military, service men and women practice and perfect their welding skills, preparing them for eventual jobs in the civilian sector. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Konstandinos Goumenidis.

Airgas Inc. is another major corporation committed to hiring veterans. The industrial gas supply company has a long record of supporting veterans and military families through active recruitment of employees with military experience. To date, the company has hired more than 1,000 veterans. It also offers a welding training program free of charge to veterans.

For the past 10 years, the industrial gas supply company has supported Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that provides military families with a variety of relief programs. Airgas support has come in the form of associate manpower at Operation Homefront fundraisers and charity events around the country as well as donations totaling more than $1 million.

Additionally, Airgas Merchant Gases, an Airgas business unit, recently signed a statement of support with the Texas Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense program.

“We’re proud to support military families – within Airgas and in the communities in which we operate,” says Tom Carson, Airgas’ vice president of human resources. “Military veterans exhibit certain skills and traits that are highly desirable. Therefore, Airgas conducts targeted military recruitment efforts to help us connect with transitioning military members and veterans on and off base.”

Homegrown heroes

Clearly, veterans are highly sought after at all types of companies. But many veterans’ employment decisions are dependent on the type of industry predominant in the geographic area in which they resided prior to enlistment. Often times, when a service member retires from the military, the first order of business is to head home to pick up where they left off.

No matter the size of their hometown, it’s highly likely that there are businesses just as eager as Ford and Airgas to hire veterans – especially those that hail from their community. Many business owners have a dire need to fill positions to make up for the large number of baby boomers that are retiring. Fortunately, the military population is incredibly diverse, which aligns well with the need for non-traditional candidates in the welding industry.

A good place for veterans to start looking for work could be the chamber of commerce in their local community. And, if certifications or further education is of interest, nearby community colleges and trade schools often offer military-specific programs. In fact, the AWS works with a variety of community colleges and technical schools that offer welding programs tailored to veterans. Examples can be found all over the country.

In Virginia, where there is a major need for welders to produce U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines, Thomas Nelson Community College is collaborating with Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding and the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development to offer the Veterans Marine Welder Training program. The three-week, 120-hour intensive course teaches veterans stick welding based on AWS standards.

And in Texas, through the Dallas County Community College District’s Veteran Success Through Accelerated Career Pathways program, veterans can earn industry certification on MIG, TIG and stick. Like with many colleges and trade schools, veterans may be eligible for additional college credit based on the training and experience they gained while in active service.

A U.S. Navy hull maintenance technician MIG welds a bracket for an oxygen tank rack aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Joshua C. Kinter.

Although many veterans head back to their hometowns after leaving service, it’s important to remember that they may be willing to relocate, as they were accustomed to moving with the military while in service.

“Many of them have families that they return to – their spouses, their kids, extended family and friends – so naturally they’re going to gravitate back to their home to look for employment there,” Pfarr explains. “By and large, they want to go back home, but depending on what the manufacturing base is in their local area, they’re often flexible enough to look beyond their backdoor.”

Paying it forward

According to GuideStar, an information service that specializes in non-profit companies, there are more than 45,000 non-profit organizations in the United States devoted to veterans and their families. While not all of them are focused on veteran employment, chances are many of them are well-connected with their local communities to, at the very least, be able to send a veteran looking for employment in the right direction.

As mentioned, the AWS promotes and partners with a variety of groups that offer veteran welding training programs, such as the UAW and Wounded Warriors. Additionally, the AWS also collaborates with Workshops for Warriors (WFW), a non-profit that trains, certifies and helps place veterans in advanced manufacturing positions. In fact, WFW is among the two percent of veteran service organizations in the United States with revenues of more than $1 million per year. Furthermore, of that two percent, WFW falls within the 17 percent that have full-time employees. More than 83 percent of WFW donations go directly to training veterans.

When the team at AWS partners with groups such as WFW, they offer support building curriculums and sharing resources that can propel veterans toward certifications that are essential in securing employment. In 2015, WFW won the AWS Excellence in Welding Award thanks to its dedication to promote the image of welding amongst its students and local community.

In addition to working with a variety of non-profits, AWS partners with all military branches to ensure the information about AWS certifications are accessible and accurate on all of the COOL websites. Support in this regard includes mapping military occupational service codes to AWS certifications, offering steps to achieve certifications through links to resources and more. Additionally, AWS certifications are GI Bill approved for most branches.

Localized support from the AWS is also available in the form of its local sections and members. Many participate in area job fairs and can also be contacted to discover which local businesses place priority on hiring veterans.

Currently, about 20 million veterans live in the United States. Although the unemployment rate for veterans has been declining in past years, millions of veterans are still unemployed or underemployed.

The team at Welding Productivity applauds all of the organizations working so hard to assist our military men and women as they return from duty. Veterans deserve our utmost gratitude. But even more so, they deserve a future that is stable, lucrative and rewarding. And for many, a career in welding can provide them that future.

Airgas Inc.

American Welding Society

Workshops for Warriors

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