The transition from military to civilian life can be a
difficult one for servicemen and women. Gone are the regular paychecks, the
structure, the camaraderie and the shared sense of mission. That first step
after military discharge often feels like a leap into the unknown.
But for soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines looking for a career in the trades, the Veterans Electrical Entry Program can solve a lot of those problems.
“We’re a great fit,” said Kyle Kaiser, Lead Organizer for Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547, who works with VEEP. “It’s great for the servicemembers and it’s great for the IBEW.”
Local 1547’s is the first JATC to jointly host the VEEP curriculum with the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association’s longtime training arm, the Electrical Training Alliance. Executive Director Todd Stafford says the ETA is working to expand the program to other locals and training centers close to major military bases.
Anchorage is home to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where thousands of U.S. servicemembers are stationed, often far removed from the places they’ll call home when their service ends.
VEEP works with base leadership to provide an opportunity for servicemen and women in their final six months to complete their first year of apprenticeship training in an intensive, full-time course.
The free, seven-week pre-apprenticeship training works in tandem with the more than 300 JATCs across the U.S. to place servicemembers in IBEW apprenticeships based on their top four choices. VEEP then contacts those programs to see if there’s room and to secure a direct entry agreement.
“This is a real benefit for these folks who want to go home when they’re out of the military,” Stafford said. “We’re able to take the huge reach of the IBEW-NECA partnership and give them the opportunity to get a head start. It takes a lot of the uncertainty out of the transition back to civilian life.”
Every year, approximately 200,000 veterans transition out of the service and present a good pool of applicants for the construction workforce, says Kaiser. Not only does it benefit the military by offering a solid opportunity to its veterans, those returning civilians tend to be younger with long careers ahead. Plus, the sense of solidarity is something many are likely missing from their time in service.
“Going from one ‘band of brothers’ to another is important,” Kaiser said. “These veterans become members and will fight for a cause they believe in. We give them a cause to fight for.”
Stafford, too, is excited about the opportunity for veterans to “trade one brotherhood for another,” he said. But he’s also excited for the benefits to the IBEW and NECA. “The trade always needs apprentices, but these veterans are disciplined and hard working. These men and women are used to showing up on time and putting in a full day’s work. They’re a valuable addition to any training program we place them into.”
Local 1547's first VEEP class graduated in April with 10 out of the 11 participants finishing. Kaiser says the one who didn’t complete the program got his own direct entry agreement to the JATC he was hoping for. Alaska has been a good host for VEEP since the state has the highest per capita number of veterans, Kaiser said.
Another aspect the program helps with is translating military experience into something the civilian job industry understands.
“You can drive a tractor trailer in the military for 20 years and still not qualify for your commercial driver’s license,” Kaiser said. “VEEP helps in this regard because it is open to any veteran, regardless of the duty assignment or occupational specialty they had in the military. So, it’s easier for an infantryman can become a wireman.
At the IBEW International Convention in 2016, delegates voted on a resolution to support VEEP. It called on the union to work with NECA and the ETA to assist locals in providing training programs for veterans.
For Kaiser, who got into the trades through Helmets to Hardhats, a nationwide program to help veterans get into construction, getting more veterans into the IBEW is more than just a professional accomplishment. It’s personal. A friend of his died from suicide because of medical debt, he said.
“Every day we lose 22 veterans to suicide,” said the former infantryman. “And a lot of it is because of a lack of access to a good-paying job once you’re out.”
Of course, no single program can solve everything related to veteran suicide. But with VEEP, there isn’t a lot of waiting and the application process is pretty straightforward, Kaiser said. And it leads to a well-paying career with good benefits.
“There’s a lot of interest in the program and there’s really no downside,” Kaiser said.
The International Office recently rolled out a veterans committee, with one representative in each district. International President Lonnie R. Stephenson is encouraging locals to set up their own committees as well.
“Our vets have given us so much. This is our chance to give something back,” Stephenson said.
Visit alaskaelectricalapprenticeship.org/veep for more information.