This free program trains military vets to fill the skilled labor shortage

NORFOLK — A nonprofit construction industry training program has opened its doors here to military members, spouses, and veterans and doesn’t require they tap into their education benefits or pockets — it’s free.

With funding from The Home Depot Foundation, 12 military members who are transitioning to civilian life recently became students at the Home Builders Institute since its opening in May and will graduate with apprenticeship credentials recognized by the Department of Labor and the U.S. Building industry.

Heather Prill is the senior manager of strategic partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation who said in a past news release, “in March 2018, The Home Depot Foundation committed $50 million to skilled trades training to put 20,000 new tradespeople into the market by 2028.”

To be eligible, military members have to be within 6-months of their military separation date and veterans should show their DD214 as proof of service, said Steve Kelley, HBI’s regional career development coordinator.

“As a nonprofit organization, we’d prefer members are still active when they enter the 12-week program so they continue to receive their military benefits and pay,” he said.

John Musey said his 38-years in the military and civil services has contributed to his “organized, structured, and repetitive” military instruction style which helps him to effectively teach trades like plumbing, electrical, and carpentry within the short span of the course.

Musey also said “a very big part” of the program’s primary initiatives is veteran job placement while filling the need for workers in the construction industry.

“This program was developed to capture these young military people separating so that we could give them a trade to go out and have gainful employment,” he said.

In addition to trades training at HBI, students also go through mock interviews and update their resumes to reflect their new skills before the organization’s administrators can find nationwide openings in the industry.

After serving 21 years in the navy as a weapons technician, Anthony Russell is retiring with a lot of leadership experience but said he hopes HBI’s job placement assistance will put him in touch with companies where he can get insight into the business side of the industry.

“My ultimate goal is to actually open a home remodeling business but I’d like to get more experience over a couple of years to see how they’re doing business and try to stay up to speed with what’s going on in the industry,” he said. “Then I’ll know which way I can go from there.”

Kelley said his 20 years of service in the Navy helps him to “be familiar and speaks the language” when he meets with active service members face-to-face where he routinely sets up a display and gives out program interest cards at Naval Station Norfolk.

“A lot of the commands send their people here for the ‘Transition, Goals, Plans, Succes’ class, but as time goes on, my intent is to participate in resource fairs because we’re a resource — a very good resource,” he said.

The Naval Station is the hub or annex, Kelley said, where Navy members from all over Hampton Roads go to attend TGPS, a required five-day course where military members write resumes and learn more about available resources within their last year before leaving the service.

Kelsey Peery is a diesel mechanic in the Navy and said she’d always been interested in construction or home design but had little-to-no experience in the field.

With the hands-on lessons inside HBI’s “lab” and on-the-job training through the program’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Peery said she can see the way forward to contracting opportunities and schooling for her project management degree after she finishes 7 years of service.

“We went out to a job site and laid the footers for the foundation of a building and that was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life but the most rewarding,” she said.

The Home Building Institute in Norfolk provides construction training for military members transitioning into the civilian workforce. (Southside Daily/Lucretia Cunningham)
The Home Building Institute in Norfolk provides construction training for military members transitioning into the civilian workforce. (Southside Daily/Lucretia Cunningham)

Kelley said he hopes to maintain a long-lasting relationship with the nonprofit organization that typically gets volunteers for construction work on the weekends.

“The partnership benefits everyone with Habitat for Humanity getting trained volunteers during the week and our students getting real-world on-the-job experience,” he said.

The school welcomes hiring managers and industry insiders around the community reach out so students also have the opportunities to network like they did when Claudia Cotton, CEO of the Tidewater Builders Association, stopped in to tour the facility and check out the curriculum, Kelley said.

“The HBI-Home Depot Foundation partnership will help create a pool of workers for the Norfolk community,” Cotton said in a news release.

To officially open HBI’s seventh location in the nation, the organization’s president and CEO Ed Brady will be here on July 18 for a ribbon-cutting.

Other locations serving military affiliated students include Fort Stewart Georgia, Fort Bragg North Carolina, Fort Bliss and Fort Hood Texas, Fort Carson Colorado, and Jacksonville Naval Air Station Florida.

For more information about the Home Builders Institute Norfolk, click here. 

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