The labor shortage is no secret in the HVAC industry. Layoffs in other sectors of the economy have more people considering the skilled trades as a career, and one segment of the population — veterans — continues to offer quality candidates for HVAC contractors looking to hire.
Veterans Bring Values
“Veterans are incredible,” said Daphne Frontz, program director for Transition to Trades, a career skills program that allows transitioning veterans to attend Total Tech trade school, which is owned by Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, and Electrical. “They’re the best. They’re some of the best employees that an organization can have.”
Frontz explained that Hiller partnered with Fort Campbell to develop the Transition to Trades, which trains military members in their last six months of duty and then assists them in employment within the trades across the country. In the first year of the program, Hiller hired around 30 to 40 veterans, according to Frontz. Now four years into the program, Hiller has hired a total of around 160 military members. Frontz said that a third of Hiller’s staff are veterans, and at least a quarter of each year’s new hires are veterans.
“We found that people go into the military and learn skills that civilians can’t learn, yet the skills they learn don’t translate into the civilian workforce,” said Frontz. “But they learn the core values that every company is looking for: integrity, hard work, professionalism, teamwork, and a heart for serving others. They’re very trainable and will do what it takes to get the job done.”
Frontz said that Hiller has found that veterans’ values align with its own, and as long as core values are there, veterans can be trained to do the trades. She said that many military members lack professional skills due to the time invested in serving their country, but they have the values, which is the most important thing.
Frontz explained that she interviews every military member before they enter the program. She said that instead of focusing on what they already know about a trade such as HVAC, she gets to know the military members as people, asking about their reasons for serving in the military. As they discuss their time in the military, she often finds that veterans especially valued the camaraderie during their service.
“This is what you want veterans to carry into a company: camaraderie, teamwork, and the willingness to help others,” Frontz said.
Frontz also said that when looking for a career and company to belong to, military members are looking for what they are leaving. They want the structure and the family-like environment that the military gave them, and they want to feel like they are valued. They are also looking for stability, longevity, and advancement opportunities.
“Veterans bring different thoughts to a company,” she said. “They’ve seen and done things that we haven’t seen and done. If you’re leading a group of 15 guys over in Iraq, you’re doing something different, and you can take that knowledge and bring it back to an organization.”
Service members will often learn leadership skills, communication skills, and effective problem solving.
Frontz said that if a contractor is interested in hiring more veterans, they can reach out to her directly, since she helps place veterans in trades companies across the country.
From The Veterans’ Perspective
Chaunte Hall, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, and founder of the Victory Trades Alliance, spoke with U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Chris Albert on The Warrior Soul Podcast. The podcast’s audience consists of U.S. veterans, and the two of them discussed why the skilled trades make an excellent fit for veterans.
Albert explained that the trades offer veterans a very solid career opportunity, despite the stigma that trade schools can occasionally suffer from.
“[Skilled trades] professions are where the money is at right now,” said Albert. “You will be earning a fantastic income, you will not be incurring debt … you will have a fantastic career where you will learn about things like sales, marketing, how to run a business, and customer service, and you’re going to learn a skill that’s essential.”
Hall explained that the Victory Trades Alliance works to change the narrative surrounding the skilled trades, proving that they are a great career.
“When I’m looking at the comfort of my home, the electricity needs to work, I need the plumbing, and I need the a/c on,” said Hall. “We’re looking at essential personnel, and these are available opportunities right now for our military service members to transition into.”
Hall explained that people do a disservice when some positions are referred to as “white collar” and others as “blue collar.” She explained that she is not telling people not to go to college and get an education, but that people should know that the economy post-COVID is uncertain, and the skilled trades have immediate and available positions that will allow veterans to provide for the safety and security of their families.
“When we think about where we want this country to go, the veteran community is the sleeping giant in this country,” said Albert. “There is so much we have to offer, and there are so many leaders amongst us.”