As veterans in Ohio transfer out of military service, some will soon be able to enter into a workforce training program that will lead them to a new career.
The program, slated to start this fall, is a partnership between Ohio University, the Virginia-based National Warrior Workforce, and Tri-County Career Center in Nelsonville.
After the two-week training at Ohio University — with the option for students to take a longer, specialized training at the career center after that — and a certificate in fiber splicing, veterans will enter into a one-year apprenticeship.
But those behind the partnership say that it will not only give good jobs to veterans, but will help thousands of people gain access to the internet in southeast Ohio.
“Ohio, like many states, is going to have more infrastructure built in rural America in the next five years than it has in the last 50, and it would be a shame if we didn’t figure out how to leverage young men and women who served our country to give them an opportunity to serve in a different way, and also a way that serves their careers and missions,” said Kelley Dunne, CEO of the National Warrior Workforce company.
Dunne, a veteran, has been helping transitioning veterans find employment for about 10 years, and has done similar initiatives in Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas for the past year.
The program will teach underemployed veterans and reservists to work in infrastructure positions installing fiber, 5G and clean energy, Dunne said.
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A confidence-builder for veterans
The hope is that veterans will see the possibilities beyond the certification program.
“They start to think, ‘Wow, I could be working on my degree, I could continue my education,’” Dunne said. “It’s like a confidence-builder because they’ve been serving their country for four to six years. Rather than throwing them in the deep end of college, they start getting a certification and working. … We encourage them to go to school, even if it’s part time.”
Dunne knows what it’s like to transition out of the military, and said something people may not realize is that the transition can come with isolation and the loss of feeling part of a team.
“You’ve lost your tribe,” he said.
But going into a certification program can help veterans “establish that sense of purpose.”
It can give veterans something to plan and work toward, Dunne said.
Workers in the field earn anywhere from $18 to $40 per hour, said Julio Aráuz, director of the McClure School of Emerging Communications Technologies at Ohio University.
“There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of households in southern Ohio not covered with broadband,” Aráuz said.
A job boom in broadband
Once trained, veterans could be a big part of the crews around the state and the nation installing fiber to homes so they can get high-speed internet access, Aráuz said. Once people have internet at home, they have more opportunities, and that access can be a driver for economic development.
“There’s not enough people that are trained to do this,” he said.
In the next five to seven years, there will be a boom of jobs in the broadband field, and for fiber installers across Ohio, Aráuz said.
“After that is where it’s important for institutions of higher education to be involved to provide a next step,” he said.
Ohio University has had an undergraduate program that includes instruction on broadband and 5G for nearly 40 years, he said, which is part of why it wanted to be part of the effort to bring the internet to more Ohioans.
“Some of the students eventually will want to move one step up and get a college degree, maybe in a couple of years,” Aráuz said. “That’s where we come in. Part of the educational experience for the certificate happens at Ohio University, and basically they get acquainted and understand how OU works, what are the programs, the facilities.”
“We think we can contribute really nicely to long-lasting careers rather than just providing a certificate,” Aráuz said.
Most students will be veterans who will get the program paid for via the GI bill, but others can also get involved, Aráuz said. The goal is that students will pay nothing or very little for the training. For students who aren’t veterans, National Warrior Workforce will help cover the training with workforce development funds.
More information about the certificates can be requested through firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ohio University’s pilot program in May
A one-week pilot program hosted at Ohio University in May had eight students enrolled, said Aráuz. Going forward, classes will be 10 to 12 students, and he expects the program will enroll 150 to 200 students per year.
Tori Swarm was one of the people involved in the program. The 30-year-old lives just outside of Athens and works at the university as an advisor. She participated in the pilot so she would be able to tell students about the program, but it made her consider a career switch for herself.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Swarm, who signed up for another training in November. “It was nice to do something hands-on and also get out and really get to experience what it was like to do the job.”
The training included 10 hours of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and a certificate. After that, the training was more interactive, Swarm said, with information on CPR, first aid, Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and blood-borne pathogens.
Students went out and did some fiber splicing and were trained on how to dig underground to lay pipes, she said. They also learned to work in confined spaces and were taught about radio frequency and radiation.
“We need a lot of workforce development,” Swarm said. “Even though it’s taking place on a college campus, not everyone needs a college degree.”