There is a lot of talk going around about the skills gap — the more than 2 million advanced manufacturing jobs that will go unfilled due to a lack of skilled labor and an aging workforce. In an effort to fill those jobs, some companies are investing in apprenticeship programs or paying headhunters to find skilled workers.
However, one training facility in California may have found a better solution.
Take 2.3 million advanced manufacturing jobs that are expected to go unfilled over the next decade, add the more than 1 million veterans transitioning out of the military over the next five years, and it is a perfect match, according to Workshops for Warriors (WFW) founder and Navy veteran, Hernán Luis y Prado.
San Diego, CA based Workshops for Warriors is a nonprofit school that provides veterans with industry training, nationally recognized credentials and help with job placement in advanced manufacturing careers — at no cost to the students. The program is open to veterans or transitioning service members, and no prior experience is necessary.
To date, 338 veterans have graduated from WFW since 2011, earning a total of 1,400 nationally recognized credentials. Over 16-week semesters, students take courses in either machining or welding, while some students select to do both tracks. During that time, they earn an average of five to 15 nationally recognized credentials in either the machining or the welding program. Partnering with SolidWorks, Mastercam, the American Welding Society (AWS), the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Immerse2Learn, AMADA, Snap-on, Starett, Flow International, and the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), the school’s curriculum teaches students computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, machinery repair and maintenance, CNC machining and turning, CNC laser and CNC waterjet, and welding and fabrication.
“The idea is to bring in someone who has zero manufacturing experience and train them in the very best way known to man, on the best equipment possible and let them have lots and lots of hands-on experience,” Luis y Prado says. “Then you have a person who not only served their country while in uniform, but they are able to serve their nation for the rest of their lives.”
Workshops for Warriors got its start in 2003 as a group of veterans — recently discharged from the military either because their term of service had ended or medical release — working in Luis y Prado’s garage while he was stationed in the Washington D.C. area.
“They wanted to weld, machine, tinker in my garage,” Luis y Prado says. “But tinkering doesn’t give you credentials at the end; it doesn’t give you a career.”
As Luis y Prado relocated to stations throughout the U.S. — Rhode Island, Virginia, Mississippi, Michigan and California, to name a few — he bought more and more equipment for veterans to use in his garage. Finally, in 2008 he and his wife, Rachel, made the decision to go all in, and Workshops for Warriors was born.
“We kept thinking ‘we need to do something’,” Luis y Prado says. “The idea was to find something we can teach them in three to six months that leads to a credential that is recognized anywhere in the U.S. or the world… Looking back, it’s so easy. But at the time it was like swimming through the ocean looking for a blue dot.”