Politics & Government

Solar power among industries offering ‘takeoff’ for troops

Installing solar panels. Managing a hotel. Running a company.

There are soldiers, airmen and other military service members who would be good at all of those jobs. The trick is connecting them with the right training and employment on their way out of the Armed Forces.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is trying to do more to make that connection for the 8,000 to 9,000 troops expected to leave the military each year for the next few years from the base south of Tacoma.

“They’re not asking for a soft landing. What they’re asking for is a strong takeoff,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commander of I Corps, said Tuesday.

Lanza spoke at a jobs summit for military, business and government leaders that was packed with announcements on new programs.

Speaking just after Lanza, Gov. Jay Inslee announced some of the participants, which included solar-energy companies, such as SolarCity, one of the biggest.

The first class of at least 15 service members will spend two weeks in December learning to install panels on residential roofs — enough to get their basic certification and land jobs at one of six companies.

The National Institute of Training and Education is training the first class at JBLM with money from Camo2Commerce, a South Sound job training and placement organization. The partners have a similar program in the works to train workers for Amazon data centers.

“I believe veterans ought to be treated like royalty,” Inslee said, “and the way you treat royalty is to put it to work.”

Later Tuesday came the announcement of another Camo2Commerce program, this one to help officers move into corporate management.

The 13-week Heroes Corporate Fellowship Academy will combine classroom time with hands-on training at companies and organizations that commit to hire the program’s graduates, including TrueBlue, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and ThyssenKrupp Aerospace.

Camo2Commerce said it will train at least 30 service members and then seek to turn the program over to Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

A separate program announced Tuesday will train service members as hotel managers through InterContinental Hotels Group, starting in January with two students going through a 20-week training.

The base has similar programs planned in connection with the Disney Institute and Starbucks.

JBLM was the first in the military to create a “software academy” that leads to work at Microsoft. It also hosts union-sponsored courses that help troops find work in pipefitting and in heating and air conditioning.

It’s all part of the military’s growing emphasis on preparing troops for civilian life while they’re still in uniform.

Those programs have accelerated since 2011 after Congress passed a bill written by Sen. Patty Murray that allowed military installations to free up troops leaving the Armed Forces to focus on their transitions to civilian life.

Now at JBLM, soldiers can start taking classes to ready themselves for that change a year before they’re scheduled to separate or retire from the Army. They can use that time for general classes on choosing careers or colleges, or they can enroll in apprenticeship programs that promise them work after they leave the military.

Murray said Tuesday that 85 percent of eligible veterans had attended the transition assistance sessions in January, February and March, including 90 percent at JBLM.

“And now we need to be doing more to help our service members transition into careers,” Murray said. “Careers that not only hone their skills and support a family, but serve as a launching pad.”

The nation’s unemployment rate for recent veterans remains persistently higher than the civilian rate. In 2013, 8.8 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed, higher than the civilian rate of 7.5 percent.

The disparity was worse among young veterans. Veterans aged 18-24 faced an unemployment rate of 24.3 percent last year, starkly higher than the 15.8 percent unemployment rate for their civilian peers.