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Resource Guide for Military Veteran Contractors

Help for putting your valuable know-how to work in one of many skilled trades

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Military veterans have a tremendous impact on the American economy, a recent U.S. Small Business Administration study shows. The research, which examines the links between military service and entrepreneurship, reveals that veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than nonveterans. 

Transitioning from military service to the civilian workforce, and particularly to business ownership, isn’t easy. But many former service members find that the experience and character traits they built in the military — such as safety-consciousness, ability to perform well under stress, a strong work ethic and teamwork — are a great fit for the skilled trades, even for those who are diabled.

Civilian jobs such as home builder and remodeler, interior designer, architect, handy-person, house painter and landscape contractor present excellent opportunities for those transitioning out of the military. In fact, estimates range from half a million to a million veterans in these industries. And this guide can help pave the path.

Terrific Time for Skilled Tradespeople

The past two years have been a boon for the design and construction industries in many ways. Demand for services has skyrocketed, prompting a big labor shortage. And more than two-thirds of businesses in these industries surveyed expect demand and shortages to continue in 2022, according to the Houzz State of the Industry report. In fact, many companies expect the labor situation to worsen, even while the majority across all seven industry groups expect profits and revenues to increase.

Moreover, the full study also shows that 40% of general contractors, remodelers and builders expect to hire in 2022, as do about one-fifth of architects and interior designers.

The upshot? It’s an opportune time for veterans to enter the skilled trades.

Benefits of Working in Skilled Trades

Aside from the fact that tradespeople can work out in the field instead of being tied to a desk, some benefits of working in the design and building industries are:

  • Steady income
  • Job security
  • Benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans
  • Potentially flexible hours
  • Potentially high pay
  • Opportunity for advancement
  • Knowing you’re needed and valued

Moving From the Military to Civilian Work

For some, the military is a lifelong career. Others use it as a steppingstone to pay for college, see new places or learn skills. For the 250,000 or so service members who transition to civilian life each year (according to the Department of Veterans Affairs), there is plenty of help for transitioning into civilian life and careers. General help includes:

  • The Department of Labor’s Transition Assistance Program. It offers extensive resources, information, and tools to help prepare for the transition from military to civilian life, including one-on-one guidance, workshops and lists of occupations favorable to veterans.  
  • The VA’s Transition Assistance Program. It offers in-person and online courses, a downloadable guide and many other resources.
  • A military skills translator, such as this one on Military.com. Choose your service type from a pull-down menu and type in your job title, and the database will pull up relevant jobs.  

Which Skilled Trades Are Good for Veterans?

Construction/general contracting. There’s no shortage of residential projects due to consumer demand and quality construction advertising options for companies. Workers with specialized skills such as carpentry, plumbing, house painting, and electrical and masonry work are in high demand right now, as mentioned. A substantial number of veterans enter the construction industry each year. Veterans own 12.2% of all construction companies. Due to increased new construction leads, they are likely looking to hire. As a result, vets are more likely to favor vets when hiring for jobs. Note also that as of 2016, up to three years of military experience can be applied to the experience requirements for obtaining a general contractor’s license, according to Licenses Etc.

HVAC. HVAC technicians install heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. To do this, they must know how to read blueprints, operate tools and troubleshoot problems. As all enlisted service members complete basic training that includes HVAC installation and repairs, they have a head start in this area.

Trade Schools and Licensing

Most skilled trades require licensure to work legally. To become licensed, you must pass a test offered by a state board and pay the fees. Trade schools offer hands-on training in skills and will help prepare you for licensing; many even allow installment payments. Almost all of these schools are approved by the VA and accept GI Bill benefits. Just make sure the school is accredited

Helpful resources: 

Paying for Trade School

The average cost of a trade school ranges from $10,000 to $40,000. Vocational high schools, which offer courses in everything from plumbing to cosmetology, usually take between two and four years to complete and cost around $30,000. 

GI Bill benefits will pay for your full tuition costs as well as pay a monthly housing allowance plus $83 for books and supplies. 

Some financial and information programs: 

Apprenticeships and Other On-the-Job Training for Veterans

The Veterans Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA) provides funding for apprenticeships and on-the-job training for veterans. It also ensures that veterans are given equal opportunity to compete for certain positions under an agency’s merit promotion procedures. The Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) is a federal grant program by which grantor agencies support projects that seek to design evidence-based program strategies. It also funds community development projects that address workforce needs.

Check out these apprenticeship and other training programs:

Some individual companies also offer on-the-job training using their construction CRM and other tools to vets and others; you can inquire directly with any company. These tools allow employees to take notes, record videos, and connect with different company departments to help the customer's experience.

Employment Assistance for Veterans Starting in Skilled Trades

The CareerOneStop website provides information about job openings and career advancement opportunities at federal agencies; the Vet Jobs site lists jobs at private companies nationwide, and the Military Friendly Companies program helps veterans find military-friendly employers.

The VA also provides veterans with an extensive list of resources through the Veteran Readiness and Employment program (previously known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment), which helps unemployed individuals who are interested in furthering their knowledge, developing their résumé or learning job skills. 

Additional resources:

You can also search for job fairs in your area. They likely will not be veteran-specific but can be great places to find out about job openings.

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