Houston & Peach

Warner Robins center receives grant to train veterans for high-demand electrician jobs

A center in Warner Robins that helps military veterans transition to civilian life soon will be able to offer accelerated training for a job that’s high in demand.

The Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource (VECTR) Center expects to offer an electrical technician accelerated training program in January, thanks in part to a $100,000 grant from an Atlanta-based foundation.

Retired Air Force Col. Patricia Ross, the center’s chief executive officer, said requests to add a program to serve the booming construction industry have been coming in since the facility opened its doors in August 2016.

“To ensure we met employer needs, we surveyed both commercial and residential construction companies across the state, and for skilled jobs, electricians were identified as the greatest need,” Ross said.

Moreover, state and federal labor data show that the demand for electricians is projected to grow by over 9 percent by 2026, Ross said.

Having received $3.9 million in state funds for expansion of the center, VECTR conducted the informal study to identify the type of labs that would help the construction industry the most.

The expansion was already underway for three new labs and programs. But additional money was needed to equip the electrical construction lab, once it was identified through the survey as one of the needed labs.

“While the state does give us some money for equipment, quite honestly, the technical programs, the hands on training that we do, requires some very specialized — and it tends to be very expensive — equipment,” Ross said.

Ross pitched the idea for the electrical construction lab to The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. The foundation agreed to provide the grant money through its Overwatch Fund that assists military and veterans.

In addition to the growing need for electricians, the foundation looked at unemployment rates of veterans transitioning to civilian life, according to a news release from Central Georgia Technical College about the grant. VECTR is under the administration of the college.

While the overall unemployment rate of 3.1% for veterans is slightly lower than the national average of 3.5% for all Americans, the unemployment rate for the group of veterans served by VECTR — post 9/11 veterans — is increasing, Ross said.

September’s federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show an unemployment rate for the post 9/11 veteran population of 4.5% compared to the national rate of 3.3%.for non-veterans, Ross noted. A year ago, the post 9/11 unemployment rate was 3.9%.

To break it down further, the male post 9/11 veteran unemployment rate was 4% and the female rate was 7%, Ross said. Post 9/11 veterans are defined in the data as Gulf War Era II, she said.

A 2018 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that post 9/11 veterans have a higher rate of service-connected disabilities than their predecessors because many previously fatal wounds are now treatable, Ross said.

The study reported that the rate for post 9/11 veterans was 41% compared to 27% in Gulf War I, 12.6% for WWII, Korea and Vietnam, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics news release.

Also, a 2015 RAND Corporation report found that a lot has been done to translate military skills into civilian skill sets in order for military personnel to find employment in the same field once they’ve separated from the service. But veteran employment efforts should also accommodate those who wish to pursue training in new career fields, the report said.

At the VECTR center, veterans learn how to identify their skill sets and how they can be applied to civilian careers that are in different fields than those they were in while serving in the military.

“If service members want to change career fields, this typically requires education and training,” Ross said. “Those wanting another career in a different skill set are who we educate at VECTR.

“They attend our accelerated courses in high demand careers to get a jump start and a household sustaining wage with employer partners across our region and state,” she said.

The center also offers a Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business class that helps equip veterans to open their own businesses.

In considering an electrical construction lab, another key factor was the pay for electricians, Ross said.

“Our goal is to be able to have our military members transition into a great career that is able to sustain their families, get them food, a house, all that good stuff, everything they need,” she said.

The median annual wage for electricians was $55,190 in May 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Dale Flythe, division manager for ACE Electric in Macon, said the company has felt the impact of few electricians available for hire.

“We’re currently trying to hire electricians now, but they are so few and far between that we’re hiring … green, or very inexperienced (employees), and we having to kind of (offer) an abbreviated (training program) internally now,” Flythe said.

By partnering with VECTR, “we know that they’ll be trained up to our standards that will alleviate the learning curb tremendously,” Flythe said.

He said the company is excited about helping with the military and veteran population in its recruiting efforts.

“We feel like that coming out of the military (with) veterans, you can get a better quality candidate for employees because they’ve had real work experience and they know what it’s like to come to work every day and they have a better mechanical knowledge as well,” Flythe said.

ACE electric is currently doing the electrical work for the VECTR expansion and also did the electrical work for the original VECTR building.

“We felt like it was in our best interest to get involved with this with both feet,” Flythe said of partnering with the VECTR center to hire electricians that successfully complete the accelerated training at the center.

About the lab

The center, which plans to offer the course in its fall and spring semesters, projects an annual enrollment of about 30 for its electrical technician accelerated training program, Ross said. Each semester is 15 weeks.

Those enrolling will have the opportunity to earn two technical certificates of credit and 21 college credit hours as part of the program.

“They’ll have additional on the job training,” Ross said. “This will put them about half way to a diploma, or about a third of the way if they wanted to get their associate’s degree.

“So, it would be up to them and their employer whether they continued their formal education,” Ross said. “But most of the companies that we’re working with have an apprentice type program where now they have the basic fundamental skills in electricity and power and then would get that additional training from whomever employs them.”

For more information about VECTRE services, check out their website at www.gavectr.org or call (478) 218-3900, or 1-833-44-VECTR.

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Becky Purser has covered breaking news as well as crime and courts primarily in Houston and Peach counties for The Telegraph. She’s now exploring topics that impact the lives of children, parents and the family. A graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville with a bachelor’s degree in communications/news-editorial sequence, Becky also has covered city and county government for Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia newspapers.
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