In 2014, the U.S. veteran population was at 21.8 million. Nationally, 42 percent of former military personnel engaged in medium-skill maintenance, machinery, and electrical technician work during their service. Despite the demand for skilled workers in many states and the strong qualifications of many returning veterans—including technical skills, organizational abilities, and professional maturity—the unemployment rate for veterans was at 9.7% in 2012. In 2013, 35 percent of unemployed veterans were between the age of 25 to 44, an ideal working age. This presents the nation with a significant opportunity to tap into a well-trained and motivated sector of the workforce to contribute to the growth of the advanced energy sector.
As military personnel prepare to re-enter civilian life they normally take transition classes, sometimes called “helmets to hardhat” classes. Partnerships between these transition programs and advanced energy training programs could result in transition classes that count toward a degree or apprenticeship—helping veterans leverage their previous experience and reenter the workforce. Additionally, solar and wind employers could host recruitment days on military bases to attract potential workers to the industry. By establishing supportive workforce development programs for veterans, states could bring highly skilled workers to potential employers in advanced energy fields and help veterans access good-paying careers.
Best Practices in Workforce Programs for Veterans:
Solar Ready Vets
As part of the SunShot Initiative, President Obama recently launched a program to train veterans for solar energy jobs called Solar Ready Vets. This program connects up to thirty military personnel at each base with accredited solar training institutions. This program has been integrated into the Solar Foundation’s Solar Training and Educations for Professionals (STEP) program.
New Jersey’s upSKILL Initiative
A state could look to the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s upSKILL initiative for a successful example of leveraging the veteran workforce. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, this program provides free job search boot camps. The initiative also offers free consulting services to determine the best technical degree or certification program for veterans based on past military duties. UpSKILL then connects veterans with employers based on their technical training and the company’s needs. Finally, this program does not require that participants use their G.I. Bill benefits, allowing veterans to save their funding for future education and workforce training opportunities.
A state could adopt the upSKILL model through partnerships with local workforce development boards, community colleges, and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Local workforce boards and colleges could help build awareness of good-paying manufacturing and maintenance positions in the advanced energy industry, specifically within the growing solar and wind power supply chains. Workforce boards could help translate veterans’ technical work to civilian practice and disseminate information regarding specific technical accreditation and up-and-coming advanced energy jobs. Additionally, a state could offer specialized college orientation for veterans to ensure they are aware of relevant credits and certifications they may have already achieved as a result of their prior military service.