Workshop Prepares Vets for Skilled Manufacturing Jobs

Oct. 17, 2012
WFW assists the transition of veterans into civilian life through mentorship, training, and education. Its mission is to certify and place military veterans into manufacturing careers. The main objective of WFW is to enable veterans to move from economic insolvency into self-sufficiency by learning necessary job-skills and earning a steady income.

While there are more than 12 million people unemployed, there are hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs going unfilled due to the lack of people with the right skills to fill those jobs. Much of the demand for skilled workers arises because the automated factories of today demand workers who can operate, program and maintain the new computerized equipment.

On the other side of the equation, we have thousands of young men and women who are ending their military service and having great difficulty finding jobs because there is a mismatch in the skills they acquired in the military and the skill needs to find a civilian job, particularly in the manufacturing industry.

Transitioning from military service to civilian life is challenging in the best of times but has been even tougher in the current economy. For the estimated 2 million veterans who served a tour -- or multiple tours -- of duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are even more hurdles than usual. The jobless rate amongst these veterans was more than 12% in 2011, well above the national average rate of the general population.

It was even worse for veterans between 18 and 34 years old; their jobless rate neared 30% in 2011. In California, nearly one in four veterans ages 18 to 24 were unemployed in 2009, almost double the unemployment rate for the civilian population.

Other factors that come into play include medical advances that are resulting in greater survivability on the battlefield with more “wounded warriors” (severely injured service members) returning home.

On Oct. 5, I visited the Workshops for Warriors facility in San Diego during its Manufacturing Day Facility Tour and met retired naval officer Hernán Luis y Prado, founder and president of Workshops for Warriors, a board-governed 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization that provides free vocational training to military veterans.

WFW assists the transition of veterans into civilian life through mentorship, training, and education. Its mission is to certify and place military veterans into manufacturing careers.The main objective of WFW is to enable veterans to move from economic insolvency into self-sufficiency by learning necessary job-skills and earning a steady income.

The Workshops for Warriors Story

In a subsequent interview, I asked Hernán about how he started his program and was astonished to find out that he actually started helping his fellow service members when he got back from his tour of duty in Iraq in 2003. He was tired of seeing his friends lose everything -- their homes, spouse, and family -- after getting out of the service and experiencing financial from not being able to make the transition. 

While he was stationed in the Washington, D.C., area, he opened his house, garage and backyard to friends so they could come over during their medical rehabilitations and work with his metal fabrication and woodworking tools. He continued to do this as he moved to new stations in Newport, R.I.; Virginia; and Mississippi. He bought more and more equipment until his garage was filled. When he was stationed in Mississippi in 2008, he and his wife realized there was a great need for formal training in manufacturing skills, and they determined to do what they could to fill this need.

Hernán said, “We are a military family. And we will do whatever it takes to get veterans who have the desire to work, work. We are going to create America’s manufacturing infrastructure right here in San Diego. Every couple of weeks I go to either the Veteran's Center near Balboa Park or Camp Pendleton to speak to the Wounded Warriors. I'll get in front of a group of 200 to 400 Wounded Warriors and ask them how many have a job when they separate from the service. Up to now, I've only had one show of hands.”

After learning that one out of seven members exit the military in San Diego, he was able to get stationed in San Diego, and  he rented one storage unit, two, and then three, filling them with more and more equipment. Over the years, he and his wife financed all of this on their own by selling two homes, a car and a motorcycle.

In February 2011, they rented a 4,500-square-foot building but soon ran out of space and moved to a building twice the size in October 2011. In November 2011, Goodrich Aerostructures, in Chula Vista, Calif.,donated $25,000 and a trailer in which their CAD/CAM training is conducted (powered by solar panels on the roof.) In addition, Goodrich Aerostructures business has donated nearly $1 million in equipment and materials to help WFW build out its class offerings.

When he left active duty in February 2012, he and his wife decided to formalize and structure a true training program to expand the scope of the impact they sought.

The Program

Workshops for Warriors now has certified instructors teaching welding and machining to more than a dozen veterans in each 12-week course and offers training in CAD/CAM. The courses will expand to 16 weeks when they get their NIMS certification in welding and MasterCAM. A combination of vocational training and real-world job experience empowers veterans, increases their career options, their confidence and self-respect.

This hands-on training as well as classroom education ranges from hobby-level skills and access to common tools to fabricating commercially viable products on state-of the art machining systems. The program provides classroom experience, practical training, paths towards vocational certification, work-experience, and mentorship programs in order to assure long-term independence and integration into the workforce. Instructors include skilled veterans, active-duty service-members and industry experts.

Workshops for Warriors offers assistance to graduates of their program and previously certified veterans and their entrepreneurial endeavors through job placement, work experience, equipment, tools and metal stock.

In order to provide actual work experience for veterans and be self-sustaining, Workshops for Warriors frequently undertakes projects to help disabled and homeless veterans, the community and local businesses. For example, recent projects include fabricating handicapped railings and handicap-accessible ramps.

The students also make products for sale to raise money for the program.

Since October 2011, Workshops for Warriors has served 109 veterans, including 57 who have graduated from the program. The organization currently has a 100% job placement rate for its students. These veterans have earned 129 certificates (multiple certificates are available to each veteran.) The cost of tuition and all necessary classroom materials is free.

WFW welcomes companies interested in supporting its service members and their families and is looking forward to partnering with industry leaders, companies and local businesses to provide training and employment opportunities for our veterans.Anyone interested in helping U.S. military veterans, can assist by donating money or equipment to WFW. WFW is especially interested in fabrication, welding and industrial companies that would like to assist in furnishing equipment, training, expertise, lessons learned or supplies.

Workshops for Warriors has confidence that the young men and women exiting military service, once given the proper training and experience, will be able to re-integrate seamlessly into the civilian workforce. 

Michele Nash-Hoff is president of ElectroFab Sales. She is the author of "Can American Manufacturing Be Saved?"

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