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OP-ED: It’s time to serve those who have served

OP-ED: It’s time to serve those who have served

SC2013_DJC_320x320This column originally appeared in The Daily Journal of Commerce in Buildings Bridges and Roads
By: Mike Salsgiver

Mike SalsgiverDuring this time of year, we are reminded how much need exists in our communities. The construction industry has a strong tradition of giving back – donating time, skills or resources. Perhaps one of the industry’s greatest causes is giving back to and providing opportunities for our nation’s veterans.

According to the Labor Department, as of October 2015 there were 5.5 million job openings in the United States. Yet nearly 60 percent of construction firms report having some difficulty finding enough skilled workers to fill key professional and craft positions. We as contractors know that quality, comprehensive craft training is fundamental to the development of a skilled workforce. In turn, a skilled workforce is essential to a productive and sustainable construction industry in our state and across the country.

Today, more than a half million veterans are unemployed in the United States – a staggering figure. The latest Labor Department unemployment report released in March shows that the average unemployment rate among veterans was 5.3 percent for all veterans and 7.2 percent for post-9/11 veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Equally troubling, veterans between the ages of 35 and 64, the group with the highest financial obligations and the fewest available Veterans’ Affairs education and training options, continue to make up nearly two-thirds of all unemployed veterans. Overall, nearly one in 12 of our nation’s heroes cannot find a job to support his or her family, does not have an income that provides stability, and does not have work that provides confidence and pride that is so critical to a successful transition home.

In an effort to combat this unemployment among some of our nation’s brightest and most abled people, the Associated General Contractors of America announced earlier this year that it was joining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Hiring Our Heroes” program as part of the construction industry’s effort to add 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

Many construction firms report having a hard time identifying soldiers, sailors and airmen who are about to leave active duty and enter the private-sector workforce. Returning service members often possess advanced skills, certifications and education, know how to work effectively in teams, and display a strong work ethic. This new national partnership has enabled construction contractors to easily find, recruit and train highly qualified veterans and will be a large part of the association’s Workforce Development Plan.

Oregon’s construction industry – AGC’s Oregon-Columbia chapter, in particular – has been committed to our nation’s veterans for many years. The AGC Foundation has actively and regularly donated a portion of its funds to the Returning Veterans Project – a nonprofit comprised of community-based independent health care practitioners who offer free and confidential services to post-9/11 war zone veterans, service members and their families. The industry has supported RVP because of its mission to welcome veterans into the community and create a supportive network of community resources for them. By welcoming veterans home and re-engaging them in civilian life, networking and collaboration efforts have proven more effective.

A similar example of the construction industry giving back to and engaging with veterans is the annual “Get Wet for a Vet” golf tournament, which is held annually around Veterans’ Day. Initially started in 2002 by a group of veterans, the event has continued to grow with the help of sponsors, such as AGC, and the steadfast involvement of the construction industry. All help make an impact on the lives of active duty military and veterans. Over the years, the event has donated proceeds to many wonderful charities, including the Oregon National Guard Emergency Relief Fund, the Oregon Veterans’ Home, the Honor Flight Foundation, the Fallen Warrior Foundation and the Returning Veterans Project.

If we can find it within our companies and our industry to push for more involvement with the veterans of our state, our impact can become even greater. We can dramatically reduce Oregon’s 7.1 percent unemployment rate among veterans. Because of high-tech tools and more elaborate building processes and materials, the engineers, craft professionals and supervisors of the new construction workforce must be more than computer literate; they must be computer proficient and technologically competent. They also must maintain professionalism, take responsibility, exude a first-class image and have a global perspective – and these traits are possessed by many of the men and women who have served our country.

The future success of our industry is dependent upon our ability as industry members to attract the next generation of workers. If we add veterans to our focus – men and women already trained and ready to enter our workforce – and if we can tell our story, engage them in our industry and demonstrate the potential (both personally and professionally) that comes with construction careers, we will be well down the path of successfully meeting our industry’s future human needs.

Our commitment – and the industry’s commitment – to quality, industry-led initiatives aimed at welcoming, re-integrating and recruiting our veterans is essential to the successful development of our future workforce. As a group, veterans possess a strong technical foundation coupled with well-developed leadership skills and a broad worldview. All of these facts and many more are reasons to continue to invest our time and resources in recruiting veterans who are returning home to their families and loved ones this holiday season. They will be the central building blocks to ensuring high-quality construction in our state.

To view the column online, please click here (DJC subscription required).

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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