ACHR News: Program Helps Soldiers Transition to Careers in HVAC, Skilled Trades

Original article posted here
Written by Maria Taylor

 

When Jarred Cannon finished his Army career this summer, he started civil- ian life with a new job, a new paycheck to support his wife and kids, and a brand-new career as an electrical technician at Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical in Nashville, Tennessee. Cannon is one of about 100 soldiers in the latest class to graduate from Transition to Trades, a U.S. Army Career Skills Program partnership with Hiller and Total Tech school. Now in its second year, the program trains transitioning soldiers in a trade, then either hires them at Hiller or helps them find new employment in the civilian workforce across the U.S.

Daphne Frontz is program manager for Transition to Trades and the HR coordinator at Hiller. “Transition time, for a solider, is one of the scariest in their lives,” she said. “Most of them don’t know what they’re going to do; they’ve got a mortgage to pay, a family to take care of, car payments, [they need] food on the table … The whole goal is that before they get their last paycheck with the Army, they’ll have a job somewhere else.”  Frontz said the program draws soldiers of all ranks, ages, and services. “Originally, it was set up to target more of the 21- to 28-year- olds: your infantry guys,” she said. “When you’ve been in the infantry, what transfers into the civilian workforce? Nothing does. This gives the option of, rather than getting out of the Army and going to college … literally within 30, 60, 90 days, the soldier has learned a skill that will get them a job anywhere in the United States — or in the world.”

Transition to Trades started in 2016, initially in response to the labor shortage. “Anybody in the recruiting business has a hard time, especially in the skilled trades, where there’s not as much interest,” said Frontz. “You can’t find many people who can pass a background check and a drug screen and want to work.” But, luckily for her, Frontz realized that Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was just an hour away. In the last six months of a soldier’s duty with the U.S. Army, they are allowed to do an apprenticeship or take a class to help set them up for the civilian workforce.  “I realized that since we have Total Tech training school, it was a logical partnership,” Frontz said. “If we can find a potential employee who has the core values and the soft skills, we can teach them anything.”

Total Tech is a state-of- the-art trade school that pairs classroom instruction with hands-on learning in a 15,000-square-foot laboratory. It’s Hiller’s contribution to replenishing the skilled trades workforce. Through Transition to Trades, anyone in their last six months with the Army can apply to Total Tech. Once they get signoff from their commander, there’s an interview with Frontz “to make sure that they’re going to give 120 percent.” Those who are accepted can choose from three 30-day classes: HVAC, plumbing, and electrical — or, they can elect to take all of them. Most do, according to Frontz. “It makes them more marketable,” she said.

Cannon is a former infantry soldier at Fort Campbell. He graduated from the trade pro- gram on June 22, and as of May 7, he’s already a Hiller employee. Cannon heard of the program from a buddy and decided to sign up, too. “It was awesome,” he said. “The guy in class was a supervisor at Hiller for the commercial electrical department — he could see what we knew, he knew where we were at … I had a job lined up after we finished the classes. It helped me tremendously: I didn’t have to worry about going out to find a job. They were with me every step of the way.”

In addition to classes,Cannon did ride-alongs with Hiller employees in the commercial electrical department — his field of choice — in the two months leading up to his hire. “Whatever job they had lined up, I would go with them and help,” he said. “I learned a lot before I even started.” The GI Bill pays for the school itself, and things like the ride-alongs are free of charge. So is job-seeking assistance. “If they’re staying anywhere within a 50-mile radius of Fort Campbell, I try to hire them,” said Frontz. “If a soldier’s going somewhere and we don’t have a partner in the area, I do all the back-end work. I start Googling and then shoot [the prospective employer] an email: I’ll send the curriculum, ask them to do an interview.”

And companies are eager to hire them. Many candidates  have been hired after just a phone interview. “In the Army, they teach loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, professionalism, and dedication to the pursuit of excellence, which makes these men and women ideal candidates for any employer,” said Jimmy Hiller, owner of Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical. “After graduating from the Transition to Trades program and completing their Total Tech courses, these exceptional individuals also have the highly specialized technical skills required to succeed in our industries. Transition to Trades graduates have been strong assets to our teams across the region, and at some branches, they even outperform seasoned technicians because of their strong foundational values and hunger for success.” And while it’s a change from the military lifestyle, Cannon said he’s adjusting — and enjoying it far more than an office job. “You have to think on your toes because every situation is different,” he said. “It’s something new every day: there’s jobs in different places. And I’m home every night with my wife and kids.”

Over the next year, the Transition to Trades program has plans to expand through PRAXIS S-10, a national success college and network for contractors, which will allow Hiller to place soldiers in positions with over 150 businesses across the U.S. With new Army Permissive TDY (Temporary Duty) regulations, soldiers are now permitted to move between the states to attend career programs like Transition to Trades. Hiller plans to significantly expand its trade school to accommodate the additional soldiers, and Terry Nicholson, CEO of PRAXIS S-10, pledged full-time employment opportunities to every program graduate with one of the partner contractors.

For Cannon’s class of new technicians, graduation was June 22. As of that day, Transition to Trades has produced 322 graduates. The event was attended by Tennessee gubernatorial candidates; local dignitaries, including keynote speaker Rep. Marsha Blackburn; the Fort Campbell Garrison Team and Career Skills Program Managers/Companies; and members from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Operation Stand Down, Hiring our Hero components, and other veterans’ organizations. Over 100 soldiers graduated, and about 30 were present at the event. For the other 70, skipping graduation day is the best thing that Frontz could hope for: They already have employment, and they’re busy on the job, continuing their service in a new civilian career. “In the trade skills, it’s hot outside, it’s cold outside, it’s raining, it’s snowing; they’re used to that — used to working long hours and working hard to get the job done,” she said. “We compare it to, you’re still serving. You’ve got a mom with a young baby, and the heat’s out; you go to their house and fix it, and you become their hero.”