Veterans Day on Monday was more than just a day to recognize the brave men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. Every year, the day is an opportunity to reflect on what we as a country can do to empower veterans with the tools, resources and support they need to transition back into civilian life and thrive in a modern economy.
A step in the right direction is to increase investments in skills training programs that expand opportunities for veterans and prepare them for good paying jobs in growing industries — like health care, medical technology, IT, software and advanced manufacturing.
Skills training programs at community colleges and community organizations enable veterans to avoid four-year degree student debt and become qualified for good jobs quickly. Skills training works so well that many companies prepay tuition for qualified veterans and expedite their transition through apprenticeship programs.
According to a new poll by National Skills Coalition, less than half of veterans (41 percent) say they “felt well prepared to enter the civilian job market” after returning from active duty. That number swells to 45 percent among veterans without a college degree, 58 percent among veterans of color and 67 percent among female veterans.
The poll also shows that 69 percent of veterans agree that the federal government is currently not doing enough to help them readjust to civilian life. So it makes sense that 95 percent of them support increasing investment in skills and technical training, with a majority of veterans (55 percent) “strongly” supporting more investment.
What does increasing investment in skills training look like? It means reversing the nearly 40 percent of spending cuts in workforce development programs over the past two decades. It means listening to the 80 percent of veterans who want to be able to use GI benefits for support services like child care and transportation assistance, so veterans in job training and apprenticeships can complete those programs. It means making federal financial aid available to veterans and their family members who seek skills training, not just those pursuing college degrees.
America spends about $139 billion each year on federal student aid but only 14 percent goes to skills training programs. This is completely at odds with the realities of today’s economic landscape, where a majority of U.S. jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training, but not a college degree.
Investing in skills training programs can create closer partnerships between community colleges, community organizations and businesses. Educators can train veterans for good-paying jobs with career advancement potential. Businesses can provide curriculum direction so graduates have the skills companies need.
The economy is changing. Technology keeps improving. Nearly two-thirds of American jobs are expected to change significantly in the coming years because of automation and artificial intelligence. Businesses and educators must work together to prepare veterans for the jobs of the future.
Doing that at a scale that our country needs would require significant public investment in skills training to complement what business and educators are already doing.
Ask any military veteran at Minneapolis-based Ajax Metal Forming Solutions who has gone through the Ajax job training program and they’ll tell you how it increased their economic well-being and opened doors of opportunity for good jobs and stable careers.
U.S. Army veteran Arthur “Patt” Patterson spent 14 years on active duty and is now an Ajax tool room lead. In just under six years, Patt went from filling boxes to supervising others. Another Ajax colleague, Mike Alziebler, operates a million-dollar fiber laser machine after serving 10 years in the U.S. Army. Master Gunnery Sargent Jose Chavarria spent 24 years on active duty and is now a Class A Journeyworker who operates advanced manufacturing equipment such as computer-operated punch presses and brake presses.
Ajax has learned how to benefit from military training by investing in veterans such as Patt, Mike and Jose. Additional federal investment would magnify the investments of companies like Ajax and launch thousands of new careers among veterans who have earned our support.
Veterans serve our country with bravery — the least we can do is to be brave and bold in our commitment to their economic security, stability and success when they return home.
Curt Jasper is a retired Command Sergeant Major who served in the U.S. Army for 29 years. He is currently Director of Operations at Ajax Metal Forming Solutions.
Rachel Unruh is Chief of External Affairs at National Skills Coalition, a broad-based coalition working toward a vision of an America that grows its economy by investing in its people so that every worker and every industry has the skills to compete and prosper.
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