Celebrating our Veterans with Green Jobs

Today is Veterans Day, a day for us to reflect on the sacrifices of the brave individuals fighting for our country and mourn the ones who have given their lives in the pursuit of liberty and freedom.

Many Americans speak about their reverence and appreciation for our brave veterans on a regular basis, but unfortunately this appreciation does not seem to be translating into job opportunities. Veterans, especially younger ones that served in Iraq or Afghanistan, face unique difficulties. Often, their service came at the expensive of traditional job experience. Enlisting straight after high school or college, many in our armed forces leave the military with minimal traditional experience. And the result? No job. Recent studies have shown that the unemployment rate for those who have left the military is notably higher than it is for non-veterans. As of April 2011, the unemployment rate among those serving during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 10.9 percent, while the rate for male veterans of the same period was 11.7 percent. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate was only 9.0 percent.

This is completely unacceptable. The very least we should be able to do for our veterans is to offer them a decent job when they leave active military service.

Such is the case for veterans such as Lance Corporal Joe Gastring. Gastring, who finished a four year tour of duty in the Marines, attempted to enter the workforce during a recession despite having never held a “real job”. However, he was presented a unique opportunity, one that is becoming more available to veterans like Gastring. The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA) has decided to step up to the plate to deal with this growing problem.  The UA has made a concentrated effort over the past few years to provide employment for our veterans. Under the leadership of General President William P. Hite, it has led the way in providing training and jobs for our veterans under a groundbreaking program called Veterans in Piping (VIP). 

This program, the first of its kind, provides training and, more importantly, a career path for soldiers in the field of welding. The program consists of an 18-week training program, which includes a two-week reintegration program. Sixteen weeks involves intensive training in the field of welding. After the veterans complete this program, they are placed into an apprenticeship program at a local union where they are able to complete the remainder of their apprenticeship while learning other skills relevant to the welding sector.  During their apprenticeship, they are provided an opportunity to work for one of the thousands of signatory contractors who employ UA members. These individuals complete this program with various certifications making them extremely valuable to their employers.

Why offer this program to our veterans? It is the right thing to do. These individuals are dedicated workers with skills that any employer would be eager to have. And many, like Lance Corporal Gastring, have families to support. You might ask, “Sounds like a nice program, but how much did it cost the soldiers?”  Absolutely nothing.  As part of the UA effort to provide industry-leading training and a career path, the entire cost of the training is covered by the UA.  Individuals working in the UA and in the welding field are involved daily by helping to build and maintain biodiesel, geothermal, and solar thermal facilities. The UA members have received extensive training on the projects in order to provide proper installation and service.

Based on the success of the VIP program in the welding field, which has already graduated 200 veterans in California and Washington, the UA is now expanding this program into the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration fields.  Veterans will be able to help improve the energy efficiency of buildings. According to the EPA, buildings accounted for 72 percent of the U.S.’ electricity usage in 2006. Reducing this number is crucial to our environmental and economic sustainability.

Veterans have done a tremendous service to this country. Some are now being given an opportunity to help protect our nation in a different manner—by helping protect the environment and build a green economy. 

On behalf of the UA, UA General President William P. Hite, UA Director of Training Michael Arndt, and all Americans, we would like to say thank you on this Veterans Day to everyone who has served this country, and let them know that we will continue to do our part to provide them with a future in the new green economy.