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Workshops for Warriors Boosted This Veteran's Earnings - Enhancing His Life

Category: Smartforce By: Catherine Ross, Director of Education, Smartforce Development, AMT - The Association for Manufacturing Technology Nov 9, 2021

“After the army, I lived mostly paycheck to paycheck at jobs in security. I really did not believe that I would ever have a career. I can honestly say that Workshops For Warriors changed my life.” – U.S. Army Veteran Randall Uerkvitz

Workshops for Warriors® (WFW) is the San Diego-based program that changed Randall’s life and career trajectory. WFW provides training for veterans and transitioning service members to develop skills and earn nationally recognized credentials for careers in manufacturing technology.

More than 70 different machining and welding credentials can be earned, all of which are portable and stackable. WFW programs are recognized by NIMS and the American Welding Society, among the top manufacturing standards bodies in the U.S.

Training and coursework only take about four months, and WFW provides scholarships for students. Housing is typically covered as well.

“To date, more than 850 people have graduated from our program, and we are currently training about 150 people a year,” said Keshia Javis-Jones, director of operations and deputy academic officer, WFW. “Our goal is to expand that and be able to train about 500 people a year.”

From Hourly Jobs to a Career Salary
In the 1980s, U.S. Army veteran Randall Uerkvitz served four years in Hawaii as a single channel radio operator in an infantry division. This experience didn’t transfer well into a civilian-world career. After leaving the army, he lived paycheck to paycheck for decades.

“I was 52 and working in a security position in a veteran’s homeless shelter,” says Uerkvitz. “They were happy with my work. I was eventually promoted to a tent coordinator, where I helped homeless veterans secure training for employment and housing, which is how I learned about WFW. I was telling other vets about the program and getting them interested in it. Then, I thought maybe I should get the training myself. I enrolled in the program for CNC machining. I really did not believe that I would ever have a career. I can honestly say that WFW changed my life.”

Starting Salaries Are High
The average starting salary of a WFW graduate in 2020 was about $52,000. Hiring events on campus include companies from all over the United States who come and interview students. WFW is understandably very proud of their 94% success rate in employment.

WFW is not funded through government grants, so all financial support comes from the private sector. Current corporate sponsors include Ford, Boeing, SpaceX, Caterpillar, and others.

Training and coursework in CNC machining and welding include machine operation, turning, milling, measurement tools, CAD/CAM programming, training on CNC lathes, shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, flux cored arc welding, and more. Training also includes professional and personal development workshops; all training takes place at WFW’s San Diego facility.

“I had no technical training or math background, and the classes were intimidating at first. But soon I started successfully cutting parts and running the machines and my confidence grew. Upon graduation, WFW offered me a position as teacher's assistant in the program, and I’ve worked in this position ever since,” says Uerkvitz.

WFW Helps Vets Succeed
“Part of my job is to do for others what was done for me – to ensure that vets are successful with the training, regardless of their skill level. We give the personal attention and support that is needed to help someone make it through if they are having challenges. My other key responsibility is to provide hands-on training in the shop to support classroom training, teaching students how to run machines safely, and how to identify problems, including the codes that they’ve written to run the machines,” said Uerkvitz.

Training veterans for careers in advanced manufacturing is a critical need for the tens of thousands of underemployed U.S. veterans and the thousands of manufacturers who need workers. Workshops for Warriors is an important part of the solution.

Workshops for Warriors rightly recognizes veterans as an immense talent pool that’s prime for upskilling and redeployment – this time to the private sector. WFW programs empower not only the vets, to whom we all owe so much, but also the manufacturing industry that enables all corners of society: military, consumer, and commercial.

About the Author

Catherine Ross is an advocate for career-tech education and the future of work. In her decade-plus in U.S. Manufacturing, she has directed quality accreditation programs, organized national STEM events and student competitions, and served as liaison and manager for federal workforce initiatives.

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