A small group of committed people can do a lot. That’s the philosophy of Hernán Luis y Prado founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors. And he is proof of that. In 2008, he and his wife Rachel founded Workshops for Warriors after a personal experience convinced him that he needed to dedicate his life to ensuring that veterans have meaningful job opportunities when they leave the U.S. military service.
And 12 years later he has achieved that goal. His graduates, which number 800, have a 94% job placement rate and have earned 6,868 nationally recognized credentials.
The organization, which is based in San Diego, operates with support from companies, including Ford Motor Co., UTC Aerospace Systems, Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., General Dynamics, Boeing, Siemens, and others. The group also receives support from foundations and individual donations.
Demand for graduates from this program is high. Prior to graduating from the four-month program, each graduate has from eight to ten written job offers.
That level of interest doesn’t surprise Luis y Prado at all. “Veterans are an amazing pool of talent who are proven leaders with integrity who are competent, committed and have demonstrated the ability to make decisions and find solutions, and those are talents most needed in the manufacturing sector.”
However, in order for the manufacturing sector to view the 1 million veterans who will be leaving military service over the next five years as employees, some things need to change.
“For manufacturing to truly fill the skills gap, the industry needs to shift its perspective,” says Luis y Prado. “Most companies seem stuck in what I call 40-20-10 thinking. They are looking for someone who has 40 years of experience, is 20 years old and they want to pay them $10 an hour. This is outdated thinking.”
To update this thinking Workshops for Warriors, which is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit school, offers an accredited STEM program with the goal of providing nationally recognized stackable credentials. The concept of stackable credentials is gaining traction in manufacturing. Instead of earning a 4-year university degree students can get specific industry-related skills such as welding, with the ability to build on other certifications. Workshops for Warriors classes are accredited by The American Welding Society, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, SolidWorks, CNC Software (Mastercam), Immerse2Learn, and the National Coalition of Certification Centers.
Financially veterans don’t incur any out-of-pocket expenses. Class fees are provided through scholarships. Although the group doesn’t receive state or federal funds, in 2018 it became eligible for GI Bill tuition reimbursement.
The training is comprised of core classes advanced training and workshops in CNC machining and welding. Classes in welding, computer-aided design, milling, and machining include:
- Snap-on Torque and Meter NC3 Course
- Starrett Precision Measuring NC3 Course
- Water Jet Operator Course
- 3D Printing Course
- Plasma Cutting Course
- (Fabrication will be implemented as a future course.)
Veterans who complete these programs have a high retention rate with the companies they join and Luis y Prado notes that many companies have expressed the willingness to take all of the graduates. This attitude reflects the scarcity of this type of talent. While Workshops for Warriors graduates about 200 per year, that’s not enough to either fill either the needs of the large numbers of veterans leaving the service or the jobs that are going unfilled in manufacturing.
Recognizing the success of the program Luis y Prado was invited to the White House in 2012 to receive the White House Champion of Change Award from President Obama. President Trump also invited him to the White House to talk about how to expand his program across the country.
One barrier to expanding the program nationally is the lack of instructors. In addition to a public policy commitment to training these instructors in an effort to ensure a strong manufacturing sector, Luis y Prado says the sector needs a new model of how it does business that is more reflective of how the military operates.
“There has to be a bilateral commitment and obligation between the employer and employees. It’s not a one-way street; which is generally how most manufacturers think of employees. That is you can’t demand that employees be loyal when a company can lay them off at any time. There needs to be a social contract that says the company will pay the employee a fair wage, invest in the necessary training and that the employee agrees to stay with the company for a specific number of years.
“Another core foundation of the military model is that it is very standardized. You can pluck someone from one branch and move to another as they have basically the same training. This is not necessarily true of many manufacturing companies or the industry as a whole.”
Luis y Prado is both a visionary and an optimist. He believes that committed people can achieve great things.
“We need to reach a consensus as a country that recognizes what I call a Vet 2.0 perspective that looks to veterans as a valued source of talent, that will help galvanize a stronger, smarter and more efficient America. My hope is that in the future we can look back and see that Workshops for Warriors was the birthplace for America’s green manufacturing renaissance.”