Hiring Our Heroes: Military Vets Could Be the Answer to Construction Staffing Challenges

Published: 21/12, 2021

As construction companies struggle with finding skilled labor, military veterans are a segment of the labor force that deserves attention. Vets currently make up about 7% of the U.S. construction workforce and each year approximately 200,000 vets transition out of the military. Those construction firms that have been successful in recruiting and retaining veterans say their hard and soft skills as well as attitudinal characteristics make them great new hires. Here are some reasons why:

Veterans are highly trustworthy. “They know how to take orders and show up for work in the morning,” says Bob Nilsson, a retired veteran and former president of Turner International, which has a long history of hiring vets. 

Veterans know the importance of discipline and teamwork. “Because of their military training and experience, veterans tend to have a strong sense of discipline, focus, team-orientation, and leadership“ says Erica Gilliland, director of Craft Recruiting for McCarthy Building Companies. “We know that we can teach technical skills, but it’s more complicated to teach those types of soft skills that are so important on our project teams.”

Veterans are adept at skill transfer. Military personnel are often trained in one area and moved to another. They have to quickly embrace change, train, learn and adapt. At the same time, they learn how to leverage their existing training, skills and knowledge in new roles.

Veterans are comfortable in discontinuous environments.  “A military member could be sitting in an office one day, and the next day they could be deployed to a disaster area or war zone,“ says Julie Davis, AEM Director of Workforce Development. A willingness to travel translates well to the construction industry where employees move from project to project as needed. 

Veterans have advanced technical training – “The military is always on the leading edge of technology,” says Davis. “Military veterans have been conditioned to be very technology-minded, always thinking about how innovation could advance their mission.” 


Easing the transition

For many veterans, moving from the very structured environment of the military to an unstructured civilian work environment can be difficult. 

“Veterans are scared to death about the civilian world,” says Nilsson. “What we found at Turner was that we had to not only pay attention to hiring vets, but to keeping them employed.” She adds that a mentoring program pairing new hires with employees with a military background proved highly successful in improving retention. 

For smaller construction firms that may not have formal training programs Gilliland recommends working with organizations that provide construction trades training for service members while they are still in the service, including Home Builders Institute (HBI). For veterans who have completed their service, there are groups like Adaptive Construction Solutions, The Warrior Alliance, and Helmets to Hardhats.

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