November 16, 2007 Volume 108 Number 22

Craft unions welcome veterans into training programs

National Guard and reserve members who are returning from war are finding the welcome mat is out at union apprenticeship training programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

At a Veterans Career & Benefits Fair Nov. 3 at Clackamas Community College, more than a dozen of the 58 informational booths were sponsored by union training programs.

“Apprenticeship training (and construction work) is a perfect fit for a lot of our people,” said Oregon National Guard Brigadier General Michael Caldwell, deputy director of the Oregon Military Department. “Labor unions have been superb working to get soldiers plugged into their programs.”

An estimated 700 veterans — including many who recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan — attended the career fair, which was open to all military veterans, including those from Vietnam.

Because of their military experience, Caldwell said veterans bring immediate special skills to the workplace: They are disciplined, they can follow instructions, and they are not afraid to work hard. “But making the right connections can be difficult,” he explained. “Many of these young kids are not aware of this opportunity.”

To help military veterans transition back to civilian life, the Oregon National Guard and the Oregon Apprenticeship and Training Council have made arrangements that gives veterans special consideration for apprenticeship placement. Military veterans also can get credit for previous work experience, which allows them to advance more rapidly to journey-level status.

“Servicemen and women will receive the best training in the trade of their choice. They will be paid while learning, and they will come out with a union career in the construction industry — a career that pays a living wage and provides great family benefits,” said Glenn Shuck, executive director of Labor’s Community Service Agency. Shuck helped coordinate the process that resulted in the agreement between the National Guard and the Apprenticeship and Training Council. LCSA also is a contract partner with the Veterans Workforce Investment Program, which assists veterans with training, job placement and other services when they return from active duty.

Joe Luna, apprenticeship coordinator for the Portland-based Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers and a former Marine, said veterans can apply for the bricklayer, tilesetter and terrazzo workers program at any time and that the program has a procedure for direct entry for soldiers with the proper skill set.

Luna also said that veterans in his program can use GI Bill benefits while enrolled. “It’s like going to college,” he said.

“Most training programs are approved for the GI Bill,” confirmed Mel Lowney of Helmets to Hardhats, a partnership program between the national AFL-CIO Building Trades Department, the signatory Construction Industry Employer Associations, and the U.S. military services.

For more information about the Helmets to Hardhats program, go to

Ric Olander, assistant director of apprenticeship at the HVAC & Metals Institute in Portland, said that not only do apprentices in the Sheet Metal Workers program qualify for GI Bill benefits, they can also earn a two-year associate of applied science degree in the sheet metal technology program at Mt. Hood Community College.

“That makes them eligible for financial aid through the college. Those are huge benefits,” said Olander, who is president of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16.

To a person, all of the apprenticeship staffers attending the career fair said that soldiers have what their training programs and contractors are looking for — someone who shows up on time, works hard, wants to learn, is drug-free and is a team player.

“Veterans make great candidates for our apprenticeship program,” Luna said.

“It certainly gives them a leg up in getting accepted into our program,” Olander said.

The Veterans Career & Benefits Fair was sponsored by the Oregon National Guard in conjunction with Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, the City of Portland and Clackamas Community College.

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