The Electrical Worker online
November 2023

Grounded in History
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
The IBEW's Commitment to Veterans

The IBEW has a long history of welcoming veterans, with programs like VEEP and Helmets to Hardhats giving a fast track to the skilled, disciplined members of the U.S. and Canadian armed forces.

This pathway was built up over decades. The Second World War was a crucial turning point.

In 1941, the IBEW and NECA created the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee to develop and standardize training for the electrical industry. It turned out to be a fortuitous investment because in the 10-year span following World War II, IBEW membership nearly doubled, growing from 360,000 in 1945 to 648,000 in 1955. Although we don't have an exact number, this dramatic increase presumably included thousands of discharged veterans looking to transition to the trades. It was clear that a path was needed to incentivize and assist these service members in making that change.

In 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon authorized the first such program at the federal level, Jobs for Veterans. In 1971, IBEW International President Charles H. Pillard was appointed by the secretary of labor to serve on the program along with dozens of other labor and industry leaders.

The program's goal was to develop joint labor-management training programs to help veterans increase their job opportunities. At the time, more than a million people per year were leaving the military. As stated in the March 1971 issue of The Electrical Worker, "the need for this program is emphasized by the fact that most of these veterans will be seeking their first full-time jobs, and most are in the 20-24 age group where the labor market is very competitive." Pillard was particularly suited for the project. Not only was he a veteran himself, but he was also the co-chairman of the NJATC. He served on the program until his retirement in 1986.

Though it took several years to develop, one of the first major veterans programs to arise from a joint labor-management effort was Helmets to Hardhats in 2003. Still going strong in the United States and Canada, this program was designed to help veterans transition into the construction industry by allowing them to receive credit for their military training at registered building trades apprenticeship programs, including the IBEW.

At the IBEW's 37th Convention in 2006, it was announced that more than 2,000 veterans had joined the union after registering through H2H. Speaking at the convention was Marine Maj. Gen. Matthew Caulfield, executive director of H2H. "There's one group of veterans, 20- to 24-year-olds, that have an unemployment rate of 18%," said Caulfield, echoing the same concerns of the 1970s. "And I will point you to a group that is now doing something about it: the unionized workforce in the construction industry. Through the IBEW apprenticeship programs, you have made Helmets to Hardhats the most effective veterans' employment program ever in the history of the United States."

Encouraged by this success, local unions across the country began forming their own veterans committees that coordinated recruiting efforts with H2H. Regional NJATCs started rolling out an accelerated training program called Veterans in Construction Electrical. Designed through a joint IBEW-NECA effort, VICE is a 14-week program to give veterans a jump-start in the electrical industry, with most graduates being dispatched to their first job within a couple of weeks.

Building on this progress, two new initiatives were announced at the 39th IBEW Convention in 2016. One was Veterans in Energy, a program developed by the Utility Industry Workforce Initiative to provide career resources to veterans looking to enter the utility industry, where about one in 10 workers are veterans. Through VIE, the IBEW works with employers to help veterans transfer their military skills and apply for apprenticeships through the Troops to Energy Jobs website.

The other announcement was for the Veteran's Electrical Entry Program (VEEP). Designed by the Electrical Training Alliance (formerly NJATC), it began as a three-year pilot program offering veterans electrical training during their final six months of active duty, after which they were given direct entry into an IBEW apprenticeship. Delegates at the convention passed a resolution encouraging the IBEW to work with the ETA, the military, H2H and local union veteran groups to develop the VEEP curriculum. "For this veterans' initiative to move forward," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, "there must be commitment from local unions and JATCs."

At the end of the pilot period, the program had borne fruit. In 2019, the JATC of Local 1547 in Anchorage, Alaska, became the first to offer the VEEP curriculum. As home to Joint Base Elmendorf-​Richardson, Anchorage was a perfect place to start. "It takes a lot of the uncertainty out of the transition back to civilian life," said ETA Executive Director Todd Stafford in the August 2019 issue of The Electrical Worker. "In Anchorage, we'll be able to take the huge reach of the IBEW-NECA partnership and give these vets the opportunity to get a head start."

The IBEW continues to be directly involved with each of these programs. Since the last convention in 2022, the International Office created a Veterans Committee, which sends representatives to each district to assist locals in setting up their own committees. This will facilitate a much stronger connection to veterans' programs and open up more job opportunities. U.S. and Canadian veterans have given us so much, and the IBEW will always be there to give something back.

For more on how to support the IBEW's preservation of its history, visit Have an idea for this feature? Send it to


International President Charles H. Pillard served on the White House's Jobs for Veterans program in the Vietnam War era.


"Through the IBEW apprenticeship programs, you have made Helmets to Hardhats the most effective veterans' employment program ever in the history of the United States."

– Marine Maj. Gen. Matthew Caulfield, former executive director of Helmets to Hardhats