The Veterans Electrical Entry Program recently graduated its second class, opening life-changing career opportunities for veterans and strengthening IBEW locals across the U.S.
VEEP participants often know more about the life of an electrician than a typical applicant and may even be able to slot into the second year of coursework, shortening their overall apprenticeship time.
“I think this is probably the best thing for vets,” said Nicholas Campbell Wardwell, an Army specialist who joined the Carolinas Electrical Training Institute in Charlotte, N.C. “I’ve learned so much about this field.”
VEEP works with base leadership to provide an opportunity for servicemen and women in their final six months of service to complete a pre-apprenticeship in an intensive, full-time course. The free, seven-week pre-apprenticeship training works in tandem with the more than 300 Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees across the U.S. to place servicemembers in IBEW apprenticeships based on their top three choices. When a servicemember or spouse applies, VEEP then contacts those programs to see if there’s room and to secure a direct entry agreement. Completion of VEEP training can also lead to advanced placement in the apprenticeship.
For servicemembers nearing the end of their time in the military, it can be stressful to envision the future. Once they’re out, they’re no longer guaranteed a job, a place to stay, or the structure that many have come to rely on. For those interested in the electrical trade, VEEP offers a bridge to not just a job but all that a job entails: a paycheck, health insurance and a sense of purpose.
“Active duty service members, veterans and their spouses benefit by having a huge stressor removed from their lives in that there is a smooth pathway to a rewarding career with great pay and benefits,” said the Electrical Training Alliance’s Greg McMurphy.
McMurphy notes that, from each graduating class JATCs get graduates who have proven they can succeed, know a lot more about the life of an electrician than a typical applicant and are ready to slot in the second year of coursework, which shortens the time to get another productive electrician out in the field. Longer term, the program gains exposure among the military, which can lead to stronger relationships between it and the IBEW. That’s a relationship that benefits both parties.
“[Veterans] make great candidates for apprenticeship. There’s no question about that. They’re disciplined, they’re responsible, they’re drug-free,” said Jon Medaris, former training director of the Alaska Joint Electrical Apprenticeship and Training Trust. “For any program that’s not recruiting from this pool … they’re missing a huge opportunity.”
McMurphy says 24 veterans have gone through the program so far, with the third cohort slated to start this fall. So far, the feedback has been very encouraging.
“I found myself humming at work, which hadn’t happened in a long time,” said Raymond “Jay” Droessler, a VEEP graduate who is now a member of Madison, Wisc., Local 159.
While the trades are known to be pretty veteran-friendly, Droessler noted that the timelines don’t often line up. But VEEP, with its ability to place someone in their local of choice, allowed him to really consider the option of transitioning to the trades.
The former Army major says he is now working for Staff Electric on the University of Wisconsin Chemistry Building complex. He’s on the new tower crew and has been able to work on fire alarms, switch gears, temporary lighting and more.
“The VEEP program helped me answer the question, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ as well as ‘Where do I want to be when I grow up?’” Droessler said. “Having those two significant stressors taken care of opened up a lot of mental bandwidth to deal with the rest of the move, help transition the family, and really enjoy the journey from military service back to civilian life.”
The program is also open to military spouses. Matthew Wallace’s wife served in the Air Force while he worked as a stay-at-home dad with their daughter. When it was time for him to transition back into the workforce, his wife learned about VEEP and he was accepted into the second cohort out of Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547.
“It seems so daunting to get on a job and have no experience. This program has prepared me to take my first steps as an electrician and I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity,” Wallace said. “I was also able to make friends with some awesome veterans and I’m excited to go through the apprenticeship process with them.”
That sense of camaraderie is shared by Army Specialist John Nyongesa.
“I like a brotherhood,” Nyongesa said. “With the union, they try to push you to go somewhere better. They try to make your life better. And you’ve got to start from somewhere to get where you need to go.”
McMurphy says the third cohort is slated to start this fall. For more information on VEEP, visit https://in2veep.com.