Apply, We Need You
A special thank you to Recondo Theory for writing this article up about the opportunities in the construction industry.
You just got out of the military. You have no plan. You think you have no skills. You worry 4 plus years of your life hasn’t set you up to succeed in the rest of it. You scroll through dozens upon dozens of jobs on glassdoor, and its just as you feared. You don’t qualify. You have a couple choices, reenlist, or blow that GI bill on college. You feel held back, maybe even trapped. Don’t. Let me introduce you to the trades.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of the trades before, the catch all for kids that didn’t go to college, sort of like a continuation school for adults. All the trades do is throw their backs out, dig ditches, and take-home meager amounts of cash for their efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Right now the construction industry is booming, all while more and more of its workforce is retiring. We are desperate for tough, motivated, fit, hard working guys and we are paying good money to keep them. As a foreman for a glazing contractor (glass and aluminum) I am heavily involved in the hiring process, and usually I get the final word on whether or not we hire someone. From there, I monitor them during their probationary period and recommend cutting them, or giving them a raise and more responsibility. While the industry booms, field leadership has waned, and the need for quality individuals with a basic understanding of leadership has never been higher. That’s you.
If you’ve ever perused the internet looking through the basic qualifications for a job, especially straight out of the military, it might feel like nobody wants you. In the trades at least, that is largely untrue. We post application requirements with high qualifications to
- Drive down the amount of apps we get
- Give us more leverage in the interview
- Weed out the kids
Never write off an application because you don’t meet the initial qualifications. Apply anyway. I cannot say this enough. APPLY ANYWAY. When I took my first job in the trades I had zero experience, zero training. My best employees that I currently trust to handle complex issues in the field, zero experience at the time of hire. I’ve also fired guys with far more experience than me, because they couldn’t be trusted, lacked discipline, lied, did drugs etc. experience is nice, but its not nearly everything. We are desperate for mature self-starters, who can take a personal interest in the job, and strive to do well at the tasks they are given.
It all comes down to how your resume looks, and then how you interview. Turn that “4 years enlisted infantryman/tanker/water purification specialist into a detailed recounting of your leadership skills. Pass yourself off as a motivated, hard working individual with a high level of personal accountability. As an infantry man, you were tasked with accomplishing complex tasks in the field with little to no information. Your marksman medal is proof of your dedication to your job. Mention good conduct medals, anything you got. Have your commander write you a letter of recommendation. You didn’t pull watch, you managed your platoons safety during complex and dangerous live fire exercises. In your initial blurb of the resume explaining who you are, talk about how the military has made you a capable leader, team player, and well-trained management professional looking to move into the private sector. Spend time putting together a good, clean, one-page resume, and fire it off at any trade job you can find. You will get an interview.
Next comes that in person meeting. Dress appropriately. Just because it’s the trades doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be well groomed, and at least in business casual attire. Make sure everything you do, is with the aim to impress. Present your resume confidently, but humbly. You are jumping into a completely new career after all. You do need to convince them that you are their guy, and that you are great at following instructions. This doesn’t mean talk down about yourself, your military service, or your experience. Think of it like switching MOS’s, you are an asset because of your past, but you are stepping into a whole new world. Demonstrate how your past will make you more prepared for a new career.
If you get the job, it will most likely be pretty middle of the road pay at first, but you will be receiving on the job training, and get plenty of opportunities to learn and demonstrate your qualities. Don’t sweat it. It takes about a year for a guy to truly be an asset if his head is screwed on straight, and in the grand scheme of things, a year is nothing. As you learn the job, make sure to ask questions, and always make sure you are doing things correctly, you might get teased a little at first, but that’s the trades. It doesn’t last long, and good dudes become beloved employees quick, especially if they are inquisitive, hardworking, and cheerful. After that initial year, you will really start to get the basics of your job. Each subsequent year you’ll make more money, learn more skills, and become more dependable. I’ve personally had guys go from zero experience to irreplaceable in less than three years. I can’t imagine college doing the same thing for anyone.
The civilian world, the trades, isn’t like the military. “Good NCO’s” aren’t left by the wayside, they get raises, promotions, good retirement plans, buy houses for their wives. Shammers don’t. DON’T SHAM. If your job sucks, update the resume and find a new home. Just don’t sham. We see shammers in the civilian side, and we shove them down dark holes where they languish with lousy pay, and no prospects until a tight time comes and we cut them loose. But all my “Good NCO’s”? I make sure they are doing fine even in the tight times. I give them big holiday bonuses. I make sure they get that week off in Hawaii, even though we are busy. Make sure you come into the civilian world with the goal of being a good dude. In a capitalist society, the shammer doesn’t win.
Maybe you really don’t want to be in the field forever, and I get it. Your knees and your back are devastated from your service and you know you can’t stick it out for two decades in a trade. That’s fine, by all means take construction-oriented degrees from a college with your GI bill, but find a college partnered with a large general contractor, who will give you entry level positions, and internships throughout your education. If you have trouble finding these programs, call around to various colleges with good construction management programs, and ask if they partner with any General Contractors. I would also do my best to get a part time job with a construction company while you go to school, because it will look that much better on your resume, and you’ll actually be able to hold a conversation with a construction guy when you start looking for jobs.
Should you graduate with a degree in some administration/project management/etc field in construction, understand that you are a lot like a butter bar coming into a brand-new unit. Yes you have a degree, but no, you don’t know anything. Treat everyone with respect, and be humble, because you have a lot to learn, from everyone, especially guys in the field. This is a huge reason I recommend getting a job while being in college. It will drastically help you transition into a construction role, and make you much better at it.
As with anything, finding a good career takes time. Expect to jump around every couple years from company to company within your trade, until you’ve found a good home. Don’t feel a misguided loyalty to a company that doesn’t treat you right. Conversely, the best job you’ll ever have might not be the most organized, or highest paying, but they love and respect you, and would bend over backwards for you. Money is one of your greatest motivating factors, but don’t ONLY consider money when making career choices, or you WILL REGRET IT.
Be willing to put the time in for a good result. Some of the happiest, and wealthiest guys I know are field dudes who were extremely good at what they did. I once met a carpenter who was making 200k a year AFTER retiring at 50, because he was so good at installing an intricate panel system that he could name his price. He put in the time and effort, had attention to detail, was motivated and hard working and created a niche for himself to thrive in. If you come in with the goal to be the best <insert trade here> guess what, you will be. A lot of guys in the trades are there to collect a paycheck. Its not hard to outshine them. And you will be noticed if you do. Don’t be the status quo, strive to SHINE!
The trades also afford you many options as you stick with it, not only for management jobs, but also the opportunity to start your own business, and work that niche you find you are good at. This can be a way you provide not only money for your own family, but opportunity. Imagine your children growing up with an avenue to learn a skill that can put food on their own tables should they choose. Imagine hiring other veterans, and providing for your brothers with your own success.
The possibilities are endless in the trades, and all this can easily be achieved by a veteran with the most nominal of military careers. All you have to do is apply.
What trades are there?
I honestly cant even begin to explain how many trades there are, or what they all do. Just know that the required skills to do a good job are directly correlated to how much money they make. Within trades, there are also sub categories that further effect the pay scale, and over all enjoyment of the trade.
I myself work in the glass industry. We are a commercial glazing outfit, which means we don’t work on houses typically, but big commercial buildings. We install everything from glass and aluminum doors, to mirrors, shower doors, storefront, the giant glass walls in skyscrapers, you name it. If its an aluminum frame with glass involved, we do it. This means we typically get raw metal materials in, pre painted or treated for the customers color of choice, and then custom fit it for whatever opening they desire. Then we order the glass to fit our custom opening, and install it, all while making sure it is secure, water proof and pretty. Glazing is a great trade for a vet to get into. Our apprentice ships require very little experience to get started in, and because there are so many critical aspects to glazing, both from a looks, and function perspective, the pay is great.
Another great trade to get into is electrical. Electricians require more training than most other trades, but the pay is very tough to beat. Typically electricians don’t need to be able to lift as much, as often as other trades either, as their work is very technical, and almost always involves proper sequencing and diagnostics rather than muscling a 60 pound piece of glass into an opening.
Another great trade is carpentry, as it has a wide variety of specialties one can pursue over the course of their career. Everything from the basic structure of a house, to custom cabinets, intricate wood panels, carpentry has something for everyone who wants to give it a shot.
Plumbing is another trade similar to glazing in that the pay can be outrageously good, but it won’t be hard to get your foot in the door with your military experience. There just aren’t enough good plumbers out there. It’s a job that has to be done correctly, involves a lot of problem solving, and alooooot of emergency work. It is hands down one of the most profitable trades to get into. I’ve never met a plumber who wanted to do something else.
There are other trades out there like auto mechanics, concrete, iron workers, elevator mechanics, etc and almost all of them are hurting for good employees. You, as a veteran have what it takes to get your foot in the door in all of these, JUST APPLY!