Guide for Veterans Choosing a Trade Career
Many returning service members worry about choosing a civilian career they’ll like—and that will give them the quality of life they deserve. The skilled trades offer a work environment that many veterans like, along with steady, reliable pay.
Why choose the skilled trades?
Training in the skilled trades gives you knowledge that is always in high demand, and the chance to earn high wages.
Best of all, it’s easy to find the training and job placement assistance you need.
Many skilled workers can expect employment opportunities to grow over the next decade. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects faster than average growth in these skilled trades:
Higher demand for these trades will mean more job opportunities—or even the opportunity to use your knowledge to start your own business.
Skilled tradespeople can expect to earn tens of thousands more over the course of their lives than they would making minimum wage. And they can expect to start earning a much higher starting salary than many college graduates do. Salaries for the skilled trades vary based on industry and location, but it’s not unusual for skilled tradespeople to earn starting salaries of $50,000 and more.
Here are the average salaries for several fast-growing occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Abundance of resources
Without skilled tradespeople, buildings don't get built, equipment doesn't get repaired, and the economy grinds to a halt. That's why many skilled workers were considered "essential workers" during the COVID pandemic.
Businesses are very motivated to train and promote new skilled tradespeople—especially as the baby boomer generation begins to retire.
Training programs are available for many of the skilled trades industries, for anyone with a high school degree. Service members often can receive additional benefits to help them complete these programs.
Rewarding, hands-on work environment
Offices aren't for everyone. Office jobs result in a lot of sitting, a lot of working on the computer, and a fair amount of personal schmoozing and cajoling in order to accomplish more or move up the ladder.
Work in the skilled trades is usually more task-oriented and more hands-on than office work. In many skilled trades, your place of work changes day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, as you move between different job sites. The skills you learn are also much more transferable in case you decide to move to a new place.
Which skilled trades align well with veteran skills?
Below is basic information about the most common skilled trades professions:
Industrial machinery mechanics
HVAC mechanics and installers
Aircraft mechanics and technicians
Which skills are most common?
Challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life
Approximately one in four service personnel say they find the transition from military to civilian life difficult, according to a Pew Research poll. Steady, rewarding work in the trades industry doesn't guarantee a better transition, but may address some of the common challenges that transitioning veterans face.
Preparing to enter or re-enter the workforce
Re-entry to the workforce includes unfamiliar steps like creating a resume, participating in a job interview, and even choosing appropriate civilian clothes. Entry into the skilled trades smooths this transition. A high school diploma is all that's required, so you don't need to impress anyone with a perfect resume or outfit. Unions and businesses are always looking for dedicated, qualified people to join their teams.
Joining or creating a community
After discharge, some veterans miss the camaraderie of the service, and the satisfaction of working toward collective goals. The friendships that can spring from shared sacrifice are no longer as easily formed.
When someone becomes a skilled tradesperson, they are once again joining a community. Many of the skilled trades are part of unions, with their own leadership, customs, and history not entirely dissimilar from a service branch. Skilled tradespeople share unique talents, and there's a camaraderie that goes along with that.
The transition from having a clear chain of command to essentially being the boss of your own job search can be disorienting. Entering an apprenticeship or training program immediately reestablishes supervision for a transitioning veteran. The purpose of these programs is to gradually relax the oversight of the prospective tradesperson, so that they can succeed independently. This gradual approach may be just right for someone newly discharged or retired from the service.
The VA's Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is the primary resource for transitioning veterans. People leaving the armed forces, have access to these services as early as two years before retirement.
Available classes include the Employment Fundamentals of Career Transition (EFCT), Department of Labor Employment Workshop (DOLEW), and Career and Credential Exploration (C2E).
Each service branch also has its own transition assistance programs, including one-on-one coaching.
Employers support many different programs to help veterans identify a successful post-military career path.
Trade school and training resources for veterans
The GI Bill is the gold standard benefit of military service. But it's not just for college. Eligibility has been expanded, so veterans can use their GI benefits to pay tuition for non-college degree programs, such as an HVAC training school. For veterans enrolled in on-the-job training or apprenticeship programs, GI Bill benefits can be applied toward housing or training materials.
To find GI Bill vocational schools near you, or to check eligibility for a particular school or program, use the VA's online GI Bill Comparison Tool. The tool lists schools/programs, shows how much money can be applied toward tuition, and even shows how many other GI Bill recipients are enrolled.
GI Bill coverage rates for vocational training programs depend on the overall cost of the program. As of 2021, the GI Bill will cover up to $25,162 in annual tuition for vocational training programs.
Additionally, the Veterans Readiness and Employment program helps veterans with service-related disabilities, providing counseling, resources, and special tools to help them succeed in their new careers.
Trade job opportunities for veterans
Online resources make it easy for any veteran of any age to find trade job opportunities.
Job opportunity resources from the US government
The best place to start for veterans looking for job opportunities is Veterans.gov, a collaboration between the US Department of Labor, multiple federal agencies, and state employment services. The site provides links to a range of employment opportunities, including those offered by the federal government, which prioritizes hiring veterans.
Also, careeronestop is a job search site recommended by the VA and provided by the US Department of Labor.
Public/private job opportunity resources
This is a short list of trades industry jobs resources for veterans:
Job boards for veterans
Google provides a helpful interactive job listings site for veterans. Search "jobs for veterans" on Google, then scroll down to see a search box where you can enter your military occupation code to see a listing of applicable jobs.
There are many job boards specifically for veterans; here are some of the best:
Resources for employers and hiring veterans
Said former US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: "The best way to honor our veterans is to employ them."
The federal government provides many layers of assistance to employers who wish to hire veterans, from salary subsidies to accessibility technology. The best overall resource is the US Department of Labor's Employer Guide to Hiring Veterans. This in-depth guide has information about veteran demographics, best practices, and even sample job descriptions that will appeal to the veteran.
When you're ready to post a job, consider using the US Department of Labor's Hire a Veteran job page, which posts to a federal database and a database within your state.
Tax breaks for hiring veterans
Employers may also be able to reduce their tax bill by hiring and supporting veterans as employees.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit allows employers to claim a credit of up to forty percent of the first-year wages of certain employees, including some veterans. To qualify, the veteran who is hired must meet these criteria:
Make the next step a rewarding one
Returning service members will find camaraderie, structure, and a hands-on work environment in the skilled trades. A technical degree, apprenticeship program or on-the-job training—funded by the GI Bill—is the first step on the path to career with personal and financial rewards.
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