Skilled to Work: Veterans use service experience to transition into the skilled trades

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2018, 18.1 percent of all veterans were working in either construction or manufacturing.

Posted: Mar 28, 2019 2:14 PM
Updated: Apr 5, 2019 9:03 AM

Many of the women and men don’t decide to stop working once they take off the uniform for the last time. Many of them eventually decide to trade their fatigues for business attire.

Former Army combat medic John Rehfeld chose a polo and jeans.

Dozens of veterans, transitioning military members and spouses turned out to find jobs at the Warriors to the Workforce job fair on March 27, 2019. Dozens of veterans, transitioning military members and spouses turned out to find jobs at the Warriors to the Workforce job fair on March 27, 2019.

“You spend months training to become a soldier, learning to be this thing that they need you to be. They break you down and build you back up and there’s nothing like that for getting out,” said Rehfeld.

He spent four years in the Army. Rehfeld deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Wild Boars.” He was in the east Baghdad area from November 2007 to January 2009.

After leaving the Army, he spent a year just with his kids and tried his hand at commercial diving for a couple of years before making his way to Huntsville and trying college. He said it didn’t really pan out.

“Wasn't really sure what goal I was working towards and kinda flailed for a little while, honestly. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” said Rehfeld.

With some help from the Huntsville-based organization Still Serving Veterans, Rehfeld steered toward the construction field and became an engineering technician with the firm S&ME.

And he is far from the only one to make such a move. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, 6.4 percent of all veterans in the United States worked in construction and 11.7 of them turned to manufacturing.

Rehfeld believes those numbers are driven in part because these fields provide veterans with a tangible mission.

“Whether it’s building a building, whether it’s laying down pavement for a parking lot, there’s always an end goal. And everybody knows their part. Everybody's doing something specific to advance towards that goal and that’s very similar to the military,” said Rehfeld.

An annual list of top 25 hot jobs for veterans published by the group Military Friendly also found that for last year, “construction supervisor” ranked number 18 on its list. Other skilled trades included “electrician” at 13, “welder” at 19 and “aircraft technician” at 21.

Ron Husa was a CH-47 Chinook repairer who started in the Army back in 2003. He left the service in 2014 and brought his know how to defense contractor, Y-Tech Services, in Dothan before moving to Huntsville to work at Yulista earlier this month.

“Extremely seamless. It was like being in the military, but I wasn’t. A lot of the employees within Yulista are prior service and it’s great. It's kind of like being with your brothers,” said Husa.

In fact, while at Y-Tech, he ran into a very familiar face.

“One of the employees out at Y-Tech Services was prior service with me. We actually almost died together on a Chinook helicopter. We had an RPG fired at us. So when I came to work and I saw that he was working there, it was like being back with one of the guys in the military,” said Husa.

At Wednesday’s Warriors to the Workforce job fair, Air Force Master Sergeant Geoffrey Alexander hoped his 24 years of service and experience in aircraft maintenance would land him his ideal job.

“I think I’m kind of done with the “turning wrenches” part, but definitely some type of management, I think I would enjoy,” Alexander said.

Meanwhile, Rehfeld said the trades are something any veteran leaving the service should highly consider.

“There's good money in the trades and, you know, it provides you an opportunity that you may not otherwise find in such a short period of time,” Rehfeld said.

To learn more about local options for veterans looking for work, click here.

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