Unions, companies look to expand apprenticeships for airmen

— Twelve miles south of the gates of Joint Base Lewis McChord, separating troops are planning for their future in a cloud of welding sparks.

The United Association's Veterans in Piping program, headquartered in a concrete concert building in an industrial park south of the sprawling Air Force and Army installation, selects a group of 18 separating service members for an intensive, 16-week program to get them certified in welding and pipefitting and set them up with jobs. The program is part of a new push to hire the wave of veterans leaving military service. Typically full of soldiers, the programs are clamoring for airmen and their skills, and Air Force officials say they want to make programs like this more accessible.

"These are really good folks we are hiring," said David McMichael, the trust administrator for United Association Local 26, which oversees the Veterans in Piping program for troops at Lewis-McChord. "I'm very impressed by the caliber of people we are getting from the armed services. Work is picking up, and it is picking up very rapidly, and we are going to need a lot of people."

First airman

Joe Pinkham had made it 20 years, and was retiring as a technical sergeant and fuel craftsman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. While going through the transition assistance program on base last summer, he was asked to check out a video from the plumbing and pipefitting union United Association. The union, since 2008, had run the "Veterans in PipingPlumbing" program that put transitioning troops into welding workshops to get them certified and set up with a jobs before they retire. Since its inception, only soldiers had gone through the

But Pinkham decided he wanted to join the ranks of veterans-turned-plumbers. be the first airman.

"It was a bit weird, I was the first Air Force guy," he said. "They are trying to branch out. No airmen had gone through from the active-duty standpoint."

After the video, Pinkham set up an interview with the union. Eventually, he said down with a panel of union members. He was accepted, but there was a catch. The Army has been more lenient in granting permissive temporary duty assignments for its transitioning soldiers to go and train. Pinkham was able to get his commander on board, but the 19-week temporary duty assignment had to eventually be approved all the way up the chain of command, ultimately at the Air Mobility Command headquarters , Air Mobility Command level.

"It was an anomaly for the Air Force," he said. "I took it to my commander, who had to go up to the MAJCOM. Nobody in the Air Force side had heard of the program. The Army had pushed it, and everyone else in my class was all Army.

"I had only heard of it because it is a joint base."

The program is starting to pick up steam Air Force-wide. In August, Chief Master Sgt. Victoria Gamble, the command chief of Air Mobility Command, highlighted the McChord programs, and Veterans in Piping, ABOVE WE SAY VETERANS IN a conference room full of enlisted airmen as an example of new possibilities for separating airmen.

"Recently, out at Joint Base McChord, they have some great programs there where some local unions have come in and are training soldiers and airmen and all service members on how to do [heating, ventilation, air conditioning] and fully license them," Gamble said at the Air Force Sergeants Association Conference Aug. 18 in Jacksonville.

Currently, these programs are fragmented by base, but she said. But there will be more options coming soon across the service, she said.

"Air Force-wide, stay on the lookout," she said. "There's some big programs coming to help you with the transition because we know how important that is to you. We value what you do in the Air Force, and we want you to take it outside."

Transition changes


The Air Force, in October, announced a change to its transition assistance program that will have an airman focus on their post-military career as soon as they enter the service. The Military Lifecycle model, implemented on Oct. 1, will require an airmen to prepare a plan and life goals to keep during their career.

The goal of the change is to move transition planning away from a one-time course, and instead have it involved at milestones through an airman's career. An airman will be prompted by the Military Personnel System to evaluate their goals, and will also meet with their supervisor to review the progress of their plans.

Some examples of the goals and milestones are:

At an airman's While at their first permanent duty station, airmen they are expected to prepare an individual development plans, budgets and education program reviews. At re-enlistment, an airman they will would review their education program, budget, career goals and licensures and certifications with their supervisors. WITH WHO?. At promotion, the Military Personnel System will prompt airmen review their budget, professional resume and military occupational crosswalk. THIS NEEDS A LITTLE WORK

During performance feedback, and airman should review their financial and career goals. When mobilizedFor mobilization, theairman would airmen will be directed by MilPers to review their budget, education and the virtual transition assistance program. During major life events, such as marriage or birth of a child, airmen the airman should review financial plans and long-term professional goals. Finally, during retirement or separation, airmen the airman should go through the transition assistance program.

"Integrating [transition assistance program] objectives into the [military lifecycle model] takes us a step closer to the goal of embedding military to civilian transition planning across the military life cycle, rather than waiting until airmen get ready to retire," Wendy Link, the Air Force Personnel Center Airman and Family Sustainment Branch community readiness analyst, said in a news release. "Providing airmen with this type of training throughout their career ensures they have the time and resources to prepare for a smooth transition from the military."

McChord as model

McChord has served as an incubator for these training programs, based on local industries that want to work with the base and its service members. In addition to VIP, Microsoft has started its Software & Systems Academy at the base, which has spread to other installations across the country, including Fort Hood, Texas, and Camp Pendleton, California. The Microsoft program is a full-time, 16-week information technology training program for active-duty troops getting ready to separate. Graduates have moved on to jobs as software developers and testers, server and cloud administrators and database administrators, among others. Graduates are offered an interview for a full-time job at Microsoft or partner companies, and can earn about $63,000 a year to start.

The base is also working on apprenticeship programs with Disney, Starbucks and Home Depot, among others. There are also veterans in construction, electric and painting programs.

The Veterans in Piping program has graduated 18 groups of service members, who are guaranteed a job if they agree to go where the jobs are available. Wages start out at $20 to $21 per hour, with raises every six months as long as they work until they reach journeyman status, which takes four to five years, McMichael said.

The VIP program, which has moved to other bases across the country including Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Carson, Colorado. As the program grows, though, the association is looking to pick up more airmen, McMichael said.

"The Air Force has a lot more technical people," McMichael said. "When we start looking for HVAC workers and all electrical, you would think they have a lot of people who would excel at that."

Pinkham finished with two certifications, but said he wanted to stay in the area around McChord. He got picked up as an apprentice with the union and has been working on contracts in Seattle.

He said he recommends the opportunity to anyone who is willing to put the work in.

"You're home every night as a rule," he said.

"And you get a lot of money for being good at something. You learn a lot, and you work with great people who have been doing it a long time. It's an amazing trade."

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