Veterans and the Skilled Trades: The Future of Work

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This is guest post by Bill Eller, vice president, business development at HomeServe.

Skilled trades are the future of work.

A combination of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age and lack of interest by young adults in the skilled trade field has caused an unprecedented labor shortage. It’s estimated that, for each person who enters the skilled trades, five retire, and only 3 percent of young people indicated interest in construction in a 2017 survey.

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company and administrator of the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, has announced a new program to recruit military veterans for skilled trade jobs to address both the urgent need for skilled labor and the underemployment of veterans.

“Veterans have the reliability, work ethic and trustworthiness that our network contractors need in technicians,” Sylvester Criscone, HomeServe Vice President of Contractor Management and Administration, said. “Since there is an expected shortage of people in the skilled trade field, hiring veterans is the perfect solution.”

To meet this goal, the company has committed to investing $100,000 each year to connect veterans with network contractors. Also, the company will recruit active duty military personnel who are preparing to separate from the military with a transition-to-trade.

Erik Thorkilsen, This Old House Ventures CEO, called the shortage in skilled labor a “crisis,” citing the lack of vocational training in high schools. HomeServe, Utility Service Partner’s parent company, is a sponsor of “This Old House.”

Thorkilsen is right – since the 1950s, the trend in education has leaned toward preparing students for college, although only 68 percent of high school graduates attend college. That trend accelerated in the 1980s, as stigma around vocational education arose because students were placed in vocational courses because of socio-economic status, gender and race.

Today, high schoolers only average 2.5 credits out of 27 in career and technical education. Despite this vo-tech educational desert, researchers agree the best bet for high school students who want to find good-paying work is a trade school – those who focus on vocational courses in high school earn 90 cents more an hour on average than those who don’t.

Criscone, a U.S. Army veteran, also announced a partnership with ViQtory.com to actively recruit veterans and support apprenticeships in the plumbing, electric and HVAC fields.

“As a veteran, I know how important it is to find work that engages and challenges you,” Criscone said. “Problem-solving and independent thinking are invaluable skills that veterans bring with them and uniquely suit the skilled trades.”

Veterans don’t want to find just a job, but the right job. One-third of veterans are underemployed, or overqualified for their jobs, and 44 percent left their first post-military job within one year, citing a lack of purpose or inability to utilize their skills. More than halfof veterans said they were somewhat or very likely to change jobs within the next six months.

For many veterans separating from the military, college is no longer attractive, with collective student debt soaring to $1.5 trillion. In a survey, more than one-third of Millennials regretted going to college and nearly 60 percent regretted going into debt to pay for it. Many veterans are eligible for GI Bill benefits, but more than a quarter took out additional student loans, and larger loans than non-veterans. Many for-profit colleges target veterans, leaving them with debt, poor job prospects and useless degrees.

Meanwhile, skilled trade apprentices can obtain good-paying jobs and benefits while still in training, which often costs less than a college degree and is completed more quickly. Those with career and technical education are more likely to be employed than those with college degrees. The demand is strong – 70 percent of contractors struggle to hire workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, and there will be 68 percent more skilled trade jobs available than people to fill them over the next five years.

This is where veterans – and Utility Service Partners – come in.

Veterans have leadership, organizational and decision-making experience and are hard-working and adaptable. They’re unafraid to speak up when there’s a problem, and understand responsibility and teamwork. These are all valuable tools, and Utility Service Partners wants to help veterans utilize them in the skilled labor field. Not only will they be able to use the skills gleaned through their service, but they will be challenged with purposeful work that fulfills an important need for customers struggling with home repair emergencies.

“Hiring veterans isn’t an item on a PR checklist,” John Kitzie, HomeServe CEO, said. “It will have a real, meaningful and positive impact on closing the gap between personnel demand and supply in the skilled trades. Everything veterans bring to the table will benefit our network contractors and our customers. We can’t wait to welcome them into the HomeServe family.”

Visit utilitysp.net to learn more about Utility Service Partners and their work with veterans.

bill eller headshotAbout the author: Bill Eller currently serves as Vice President, Business Development at HomeServe. He is responsible for working with municipalities to educate and develop the best program options for their residents