Veterans Day is an important reminder of the service our nation’s heroes have given in defense of America. As we celebrate and honor our veterans today, we can also celebrate the efforts to support them with finding new career opportunities during COVID. For Army veteran Stephen Hampshire, a two-year internship-based program at Hennepin Technical College is helping him retrain while he works a full-time job that he loves, reports the Star Tribune. 

In April, Hampshire connected with Dale Boyenga, the instructor of Hennepin Technical College’s medium and heavy truck technology program in Brooklyn Park. Fixing trucks was a job that would pay well, give Hampshire more stability and feed his soul. Boyenga liked his go-getter attitude and mechanical background, and connected him with Central Truck Service in East Bethel, which immediately hired him.

“Not only is my tuition covered [through GI Bill benefits], but I get to earn a paycheck while going to school to cover all life’s other expenses,” Hampshire said. “Starting at my new job was the best first day of work ever. They put me to work taking apart this big old massive engine they use on tugboats, taking it apart, cleaning and studying the parts. And I loved it.”

And given the demand for skilled workers, Hampshire is filling a workforce need as well, the Strib continues.

There’s such demand for diesel mechanics that nearly all students in the medium/heavy truck program receive job offers as soon as they enter the program.

What Boyenga, himself a Navy veteran, sees for veterans is an opportunity to make up to six figures annually in a truck repair industry that’s often short on people.

“There aren’t as many people willing to do what I call work for a living—to get their hands dirty—and that’s true for any blue-collar trades,” he said. “They’re all screaming for people. So the pay and benefits have skyrocketed because of it.”

The unemployment rate of military veterans in Minnesota is actually lower than the nonveteran population in the state and nationally, according to the Strib. 

In October, the national unemployment rate was 6.8% among nonveterans but 5.9% among veterans, according to the Department of Labor. Minnesota figures show the same trend, with veterans posting slightly better unemployment rates than civilians. Those numbers are a significant improvement over April, when unemployment spiked, but even then, veterans fared better, with an 11.7% unemployment rate compared with the overall rate of 14.4%.

Such trends are a significant improvement from a decade ago, when Minnesota’s youngest soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq had among the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

The different job retraining avenues veterans can access for new career opportunities, such as apprenticeship programs or on-the-job training programs, are important pathways to highlight as we continue to work on better supporting those who gave their blood, sweat and tears to preserve our democracy.

Thank you, veterans!

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