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Veterans, Manufacturing, and You

How Workshops for Warriors and ISA are Rebuilding U.S. Manufacturing, and What You Can Do To Help

By Mike Cornnell

Hernán Luis y Prado, founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors
Hernán Luis y Prado, founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors

The unemployment rate for veterans who have served after September 2001 is 5.8 percent, 1.1 percent higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. There are currently about 2.98 million post-9/11 veterans in the U.S., meaning 172,840 are unemployed. To put that into perspective, it would be as if one-half the population of St. Louis simply stopped working. By 2020, the Department of Veteran Affairs expects the number of post-9/11 veterans to be 3.71 million. If their current unemployment rate stays at 5.8 percent, about 215,180 veterans will be unemployed in 2020, equal to about one-half the population of Miami.

Veterans face a real and heartbreaking employment crisis. After serving our country, some are returning home and struggling to find reasonably compensating jobs.

Veteran unemployment is a serious issue, however, it’s not the only employment problem facing our country. Many manufacturing industries—including the industrial supply industry—face serious employment shortages in skilled labor. Older generations, especially the baby boomer generation, are on the way to retirement, and there is neither the population mass nor the skill training to easily replace them. According to a 2015 Ford Foundation report, more than 2.3 million advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States are unfilled, and over the next decade, an estimated 2.7 million baby boomers will retire from the manufacturing field.

It may seem paradoxical that we face both an unemployment AND a hiring crisis, but that is exactly the case. Industrial job training, both for veterans and the general population, is hard to find. The reasons are numerous and difficult to quantify (overseas manufacturing, higher college enrollment, and the myth that blue collar jobs cannot lead to a sufficiently high-paying career are all suggested reasons for the decrease in skilled industrial labor), but the result is the same: A lack of industrial job training results in fewer incoming candidates for many skilled labor positions, and their absence will have a real impact on your business.

Hypothetically, say an unfilled position costs a business about $14,000 annually, as some studies claim. Imagine those losses spreading throughout an entire industry, with some companies having multiple unfilled positions. The loss of revenue would be staggering, profoundly impacting the industry’s future success.

Workshops for WarriorsThere is, however, hope. Organizations such as Workshops for Warriors (WFW) are working to solve both the veteran unemployment problem and our industry’s hiring crisis.

Founded in 2008, WFW is a fully audited 501(c)(3) nonprofit school. Its mission is to enable veterans, transitioning service members, and other students to be successfully trained and placed in their chosen advanced manufacturing career field. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Industrial Supply Association (ISA), WFW is not only better able to combat veteran unemployment, but also to fight labor issues in our industry.

“ISA’s current chairman, Craig Vogel, introduced our board to WFW and told us about the great work being done to help our heroes develop skill sets to thrive outside of military life,” says John S. Wiborg, president and CEO of Stellar Industrial Supply Inc., current ISA vice chair and incoming ISA chair. “The more I learned, the more impressed I was with WFW and their work. There’s a direct tie-in to our industry and there’s a great need. WFW is highly effective and efficient in addressing that need. As far as a cause that ties in to our industry, I can’t think of a more worthy cause to support.”

ISA first became involved with WFW about a year ago, taking its Emerging Leaders group on a tour of the WFW facility in early February. Shortly after that, ISA raised $7,000 at its annual IMR summit, and another $13,000 at its annual convention. Additionally, ISA past president, Steve Short of Updike Supply, and his family have pledged to match the first $100,000 donated to WFW in the name of ISA.

“My family decided to support Workshops for Warriors because we feel strongly about helping our returning veterans,” Short says. “What better way to do it than by supporting efforts to teach them life-changing skills with which they can earn a meaningful living in an industry that has been very good to my family and me? The passion displayed by Hernán and the WFW team at the ISA Convention was infectious. I was hooked that weekend!”

ISA has always been dedicated to furthering the health and welfare of the industrial supply industry, and now, with Workshops for Warriors, it will be able to change both the lives of countless veterans and the manufacturing employment problem.

All that’s missing is your help.

Founded by Hernàn Luis y Prado, a U.S. Navy officer with combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, WFW provides veterans and transitioning services members with advanced manufacturing training and industry-recognized certification for careers in welding, machining, and fabrication, all at no cost to the veteran.

“I saw many of my fellow service members feeling lost with no path to a successful civilian life,” says Luis y Prado. “I needed to change that.”

At WFW, veterans choose from 4-, 8-, 12- or 16-month programs. The school offers two primary programs of study: welding and machining. It teaches and certifies to the nationally recognized standards of the American Welding Society, National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Mastercam University, SolidWorks, and Immerse2Learn, which are portable and stackable credentials. Students gain skills through classroom education and extensive hands-on-training on 11 CNC HAAS mills and lathes, an AMADA laser, Flow Water Jet, and 18 welding booths. The organization enrolls about 60 students a semester, and has an exceptionally high job placement rate.

Funded through private donations, 87 percent of WFW’s revenue goes toward training programs. It costs $12,000 per semester to fund a student. In 2016, Workshops for Warriors received its license to operate by the Bureau of Post-Secondary Private Education, making the school eligible for GI Bill tuition reimbursement in the fall of 2018.

The campus is currently located in San Diego, near one of the largest veteran populations in the country.

WFW is quickly becoming one of the best solutions to the industry’s skilled labor shortage problem.

“WFW is currently the only nationally viable advanced manufacturing training pipeline that can be replicated across America and scaled to meet the nation’s need for a skilled manufacturing workforce,” Luis y Prado says. “With over 2.3 million manufacturing jobs left unfilled in the U.S. due to lack of skilled labor, WFW is helping to kick-start America’s economic engine.”

The organization’s ability to “kick-start” the America’s manufacturing engine is partially due to its unique position between employment supply and demand. “Over the next five years, one million military service members will be transitioning out of service,” Luis y Prado says. “WFW is providing veterans, wounded warriors, and transitioning service members the advanced manufacturing skills and nationally recognized portable and stackable credentials they need to help fill America’s advanced manufacturing skills gap.”

“Workshops for Warriors’ biggest challenge is funding for operating expenses, and our $15 million capital campaign,” Luis y Prado says. “WFW simply does not have the space to hold more inventory, or the funding needed to maintain and train on new equipment, as our staff is dedicated to training, not warehousing.

“WFW has been tasked to open 103 locations throughout the nation by White House officials, senior officers at the Pentagon, and Fortune 500 CEOs,” he adds. “Our expansion begins December 2018. With over 500 students on our waiting list in San Diego alone, WFW’s training program simply cannot keep up with industry demand. Our Capital Campaign is our first step in advancing our efforts by creating a facility that can train over 500 instead of the current 100.”

You can donate to Workshops for Warriors at:

ISA members should select “Use my donation to support the ISA Matching Campaign” on the WFW dropdown menu to make sure the donation is applied to the $100,000 match. You can also donate when signing up for any ISA event, such as the IMR Summit or Annual Convention, or for certain event activities, such as the annual ISA 5-K Run/Walk. These donations will also be applied to ISA’s $100,000 match.

“My hope is that everyone in ISA makes a point of educating themselves about WFW and their incredible work,” Wiborg says. “I respectfully request all ISA members to support WFW in any way they can. It’s good for business, it’s good for our country, and it’s the right thing to do for our heroes.”

Mike CornnellMike Cornnell is associate director, marketing communications, for the Industrial Supply Association. For more information on WFW, visit or call (619) 550-1620. For more information on the ISA Donation match campaign, email or call (215) 320-3862.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2016, Direct Business Media.


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