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Nate Kowallis: Tapping the Well of the Veteran Workforce

The McCarthy Building Cos. exec says, "In a time when companies are experiencing a gap in their workforce, we should be tapping into the well of veterans."
By Nate Kowallis |

On Veteran’s Day, our hearts and minds turn to those who so willingly served our country. We may think about the training and deployment of our military personnel around the world, we think about their brave actions and sacrifices, and we offer veterans our gratitude for what they did on behalf of the country.

Nate Kowallis, McCarthy Building Companies

What many may not understand is many veterans find assimilation into civilian life difficult and many experience underemployment and/or extended unemployed. Each year 200,000 veterans transition out of the military, and as business leaders, we should determine how we can provide veterans a place in the workforce.

Construction continues to be a strong industry in the region which causes a strain on construction companies to find skilled labor. Military veterans are a segment of the labor force that I believe is untapped and deserves attention. Construction requires teamwork, leadership, and a commitment to quality and safety – skills inherent in the work veterans regularly encountered in their former roles.

Last November McCarthy launched a partnership with Adaptive Construction Solutions (ACS) to recruit and train underserved groups and veterans for careers in the construction trades. Through the ACS program, each apprentice builds skills through the combination of on-the-job training, mentorship, and technical instruction. The curriculum is designed to help veterans understand and develop the skills and knowledge essential to be successful on construction projects and supports McCarthy’s national craft workforce training initiative as the apprenticeship program can lead to full-time employment.

McCarthy has a growing solar construction business and we were proud to pilot our accredited apprenticeship program on two large utility-scale solar projects in Corsicana and Ennis with approximately 70 apprentices–45 of those were Texas veterans. On Nov. 10, we celebrated the commissioning of the Ennis solar project and the veterans who helped build it. An exceptionally poignant moment of the celebration was hearing from a veteran apprentice and new McCarthy employee about how this training and job completely changed his life.

As we have successfully completed the pilot program, these apprentices are now utility installers who will be employed on other solar projects here in Texas. Because of the overwhelming success of this program, we are doubling our efforts to hire Texas veterans while also looking for veterans in other states to go through the apprenticeship program.

With construction firms increasingly short on labor, it’s time to stop searching for candidates that have every skill on a pre-determined list and instead look at training candidates who already possess the soft skills as well as the aptitude to learn the technical skills. Some resources to find veteran workers include Adaptive Construction Solutions, The Warrior Alliance, and Helmets to Hardhats.

Since there is such a large need for job placement assistance within the veteran community, there are incentives and programs to support employers in this effort. For example, the Texas Workforce Commission is very supportive of veterans; other resources companies could use include:

  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) incentives for training and wage reimbursement.
  • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) incentivizes employers to hire “underutilized” workers, including veterans. A company can receive a tax credit of $2,400 to $9,600 for a veteran’s first year of employment.
  • Veteran Tax Credits (VTC) is an organization that helps veterans get approved for WOTC. VTC also assists employers in understanding how to utilize the WOTC program. An employer also can bring on a veteran as an apprentice, paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), if approved by the GI Bill. The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers veterans entry-level wage and a monthly housing allowance.
  • Under the DOD Skill Bridge Program, an employer can train vets to work on a temporary basis for up to six months — and it doesn’t cost a dime because the Department of Defense covers these costs
  • VA Special Employer Incentive Program provides reimbursements for portions of veteran salaries. Vets in this program participate in the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program for veterans with service-connected disabilities or employment handicaps.

Bottom line, in a time when companies are experiencing a gap in their workforce, we should be tapping into the well of veterans. Hiring a hero is a win-win for everyone.

Nate Kowallis is senior vice president for the Dallas business unit of McCarthy Building Cos.

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