How the Construction Industry Can Welcome Home Veterans

Veterans Day is about more than just honoring the men and women who give their lives to provide civilians freedom, but also about how we can honor them ourselves. Whether that be through volunteering at non-profits, participating in fundraising events, or assisting veterans adjusting to the civilian lifestyle, we can help in plenty of ways. The construction industry alone has taken significant action in not only bettering the lives of veterans, but also their families. Many companies are also veteran-owned or have direct philanthropical partnerships. By definition, a veteran is a ‘person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable’. This means those enlisted in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are all able to receive veteran status when they leave the service if they participated in active-duty work and left the service due to any reason that isn’t deemed dishonorable. Prior to 2016, members of the National Guard were unable to be referenced as veterans when they left unless they served 180 days or more in an active-duty call. Now, they can receive veteran status if they have served 20 years or more regardless of served duty status.

This day has been significant for over 100 years, however, it hasn’t always had the same name. Before World War 1 ended upon signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations took place seven months prior. This ‘temporary cessation of hostilities’ began on November 11th, in turn creating Armistice Day, which was commemorated by President Wilson in November 1919. In May 1938, Armistice Day would be made a legal holiday on November 11th due to a new act to honor the veterans of World War 1. Unfortunately, World War 2 would have record breaking numbers for military presence and usage, which influenced an update. In 1954, the act would be updated to commemorate November 11th as Veterans Day instead to honor those from all wars instead of just one.

As of 2020, there were over 1.3 million active-duty members and 1.5+ million others that were spouses, children, and/or adult dependents to those active-duty members. An estimated 250,000 active-duty members leave the service every year, with hopes of building a new life with their family, but nervous of entering the life of a civilian. This transition can be very unsettling for some as the civilian life is much more laid back. Ones purpose for themselves may be questioned when your entire lifestyle changes within a short time. The process of finding a new career can also be very challenging for veterans as most jobs are not placing the worker in deeply mentally tough situations repeatedly as they’re accustomed to. Many jobs are also not as physically extensive as the military where recruits must pass multiple fitness tests just to continue with bootcamp.

Veterans have strong backgrounds in physical ability, commitment, and trust; these traits make them ideal candidates for the construction and trades industry! In 2020, veterans made up 7% of the construction industry. With their high levels of trust, companies can count on veterans to always bring their best efforts to the table and bring the best outcome possible for any project regardless of size. They are trained to be as ‘perfect’, so they subconsciously have no room for mistakes. They also are trained to be quick and precise, meaning they will complete any tasks you give them in a timely manner, but not rushed or too slow. With this industry, companies are always looking for workers who want to work hard daily and appreciate the project throughout all phases. Helping build businesses, homes, and other structures can help heal negative thoughts of having no purpose as you are helping establish someone’s future with your own hard work and succeeding!

Graphic: Construction Productivity Blog, linked.

There are many companies and non-profits that are dedicated to helping veterans find careers after leaving, and many  agree that construction is one of the best ways to go. Tony DeStefano, Vice President of Human Resources for Skanska and a former captain in the U.S. Army, explained that ‘military personnel learn to function in very diverse teams, and have ingrained skillsets that can seamlessly transfer to the construction industry and jobsites.’ He commends them for the ‘high focus on teamwork and safety’ as those traits are required of the military, as well as construction. By finding similar, if not identical, goals in the new career veterans pursue, it helps ease the feeling of having to change your work ethic to a new environment. Helmets to Hardhats, a national non-profit, helps connect veterans, as well as National Guard and Reservists, to career opportunities in the construction industry that best match their skillset and interests. They provide apprenticeships that range from three to five years and are free to the veteran. They help put together resumes, network to companies, and teach about all the available trades in the industry that are hiring! Since 2003, Helmets to Hardhats has assisted over 30,000 veterans find careers in construction, and they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon!

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Samuel Gainey, 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron, Civil Engineer Flight, connects two modular sections of a tent during construction at AB 101, Niger, Feb. 6, 2023. The size of the tent the CE Airmen constructed, can be built and covered in a single day - providing the ability to create a usable structure in a short amount of time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Matkin)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Savannah Smith, a 554th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (RED HORSE) structures journeyman, applies joint compound to a building partition at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Sept. 10, 2020. The 554th RED HORSE Squadron specializes in large-scale construction projects including airfields, facilities and aprons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Carlson performs underwater cutting operations while working with divers assigned to Underwater Construction Team 2 in Apra Harbor, Guam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez)

There’s also similar programs all over the country such as Veterans Who Build or Habitat for Humanity! Habitat for Humanity offers employment with their organization and education within finances to veterans once returning home, as well as a direct partnership with the Home Depot Foundation that offers critical home repairs to veteran homeowners. Another great organization is Veterans Next Mission, or VNM. They are ‘devoted to helping United States Military Veterans successfully transition from military service to civilian life – starting with giving them trade skills, but also while walking alongside them in life’. A large majority of their workers are veterans, and they perform renovations to kitchens, bathroom, basements, construct deck, and offer Design & Build services! Outside companies and individuals can help by donating, purchasing tools needed for their job, or by volunteering on projects!

Apart from training veterans to work in construction, there are also construction non-profits that are dedicated to serving veterans and their families. Building Homes for Heroes was started in 2006 after Andy Pujol volunteered during the search and rescue efforts following the September 11th attacks. The organization ‘builds or modifies homes, and gifts them, mortgage-free, to injured veterans and their families, while providing support services to enable them to build better and brighter lives and reach new heights’. Since the beginning, Andy has donated his CEO salary to the organization every year, and 93% of every dollar from donations goes straight toward their cause. Charity Navigator has rated Building Homes for Heroes 100% for accountability and transparency, which is highly impressive and inspiring. By the end of 2022, they will have gifted over 300 homes to veteran families equating to one home every 11 days. Their big goal is to reach 343 homes by September 11th, 2023, to honor the 343 FDNY firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11, and 400 homes by 2024. Their dedication to providing veterans not only a safe home, but an accessible one, is truly heartwarming, as many veterans unfortunately do face struggles upon the major life adjustment.

While there are many opportunities available to veterans in every industry, the construction industry has strong similarities towards the work ethic and expected attitude of the military. The lifestyle will be different, but construction can help ease the nerves of entering civilian life and bring a sense of familiarity. For veterans who are unable to perform full-body physical work, the construction industry still has their back in providing homes to that have been through so much already. Like many in this country, the construction industry is incredibly grateful for the sacrifices the men and women of the service have made. If you know a veteran, please comment their name below and thank them for their service; or share this blog with them via the icons below if they are returning home and looking for a new opportunity!

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