A reader called me recently, and we had an enjoyable and useful conversation that needs to be shared here. John Fitzgerald, a veteran and manufacturing business owner, is a founder and participant in Veterans Initiative in Technology, Aerospace and Logistics (VITAL).

This relates to veteran job training for America’s industrial workforce. The Manufacturing Institute has found that 80% of U.S. manufacturers cannot find enough qualified people to fill skilled labor needs at production sites. In San Diego alone, where 40,000 veterans annually transition out of military service, a Workshop for Warriors was formed to train veterans in welding, machining and fabrication – but only 40 to 60 students per semester can pass through training classes. 

Shortage of skilled workers significantly increases manufacturing costs and is estimated at 11% of annual corporate earnings, or $3,000 per existing employee, due to this talent shortage. Another study estimates corporate losses of $14,000 per unfilled position. In other words, this is not a trivial matter. 

So, there is a call for manufacturers and the military to organize and build training centers across the nation to advance the size and quality of all U.S. manufacturing industry’s workforce. This is a very big job. Three years ago a Ford Foundation study found 2.3 million advanced manufacturing jobs unfulfilled in America. Over the next decade it is estimated that 2.7 million workers with these necessary skillsets will retire from the labor force.

Replacements, according to a November 2017 Forbes article, are best derived from on-the-job training and via apprenticeships. But the learning and transitioning process must begin somewhere, and programs like VITAL establish such a bridge. Military veterans are the best qualified to use this bridge due to the value sets and discipline acquired during service. Over half a dozen years ago the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation began Hiring our Heroes (HoH), which fostered corporate fellowships by companies that paired vets with companies for 12 weeks – 700 were processed through the program with 82% earning immediate job placement. That is nice, but it’s only a drop in the bucket. While unemployment among veterans has dropped dramatically, it is still 10-15% according to HoH.

    It is suggested that readers join together in a mutual or collective initiative to address the matters described here. Here are several potential approaches.

  • There is a shortage of trainers to teach veterans the capabilities needed to get and hold a job in manufacturing. A reader’s company could possibly dedicate an experienced employee as a trainer at an existing training facility (such as VITAL).
  • Training done at “industrial facilities” usually needs a place for students to be housed during the several months to year training period. Sponsoring such a site addition can make a training facility practical and operational.
  • In order to train personnel to operate “equipment” and learn “methods and techniques” that are useful, the training facility requires on-site machines and support devices for real teaching.  Reader’s companies can dedicate (lend or provide) needed equipment. 
  • Since many participating veterans have “disabilities” (physical and mental), it is essential that training sites have experienced teachers. Contributing financially to or helping establish a “train the trainers” program and venue would be an across-the-board aid to these efforts.
  • Assistance to veterans that the VITAL program has provided needs replication. It would be quite useful to have many more training sites and schools, sponsored and operated by people such as those that read this journal. 

Now is the time to think about and act on this important matter. John Fitzgerald can be contacted at df.milvets@gmail.com. Visit www.veteransinitiatives.org to learn more about VITAL.