CAMP GRAYLING — The plight of American service men and women coming home from tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq to bleak job prospects has taken a turn for the better through a training program DTE Energy helped create.
DTE says Michigan has the highest veteran unemployment rate in the country — 30 percent — and for some Michigan-based military units, unemployment is nearing 40 percent.
DTE Energy is hoping to help change that. The company has played a leading role in the creation of a new Natural Gas Boot Camp, a seven-week pilot program that’s preparing Michigan veterans for jobs as maintenance fitter apprentices. If successful, the program is expected to be a model for programs nationwide.
“Our veterans are a highly skilled, tough-minded, physically fit group of people, and the government has already made a significant investment in their training,” said Bob Richard, DTE Energy senior vice president of gas operations. “They’re a tremendous resource, but despite the unemployment statistics, they’ve been difficult to recruit.”
The idea for the Boot Camp emerged last spring in meetings between DTE Energy and Brigadier Gen. Michael Stone of the Michigan National Guard. While DTE has been trying to boost its veteran recruitment, the Michigan National Guard, with support from Gov. Rick Snyder, has been looking for solutions to the state’s veteran unemployment that could be applied nationwide.
“Training veterans for maintenance fitter apprentice positions seemed like a natural place to start,” Richard said. “These are tough jobs and veterans, in addition to their skills, possess many of the other qualities needed such as physical fortitude and strong determination.”
DTE Energy was instrumental in developing the Boot Camp curriculum and bringing in key partners to build the project, including Local 223 of the Utility Workers Union of America, Consumers Energy, Alpena Community College, Schoolcraft Community College, the Center for Energy Workforce Development and the Michigan Workforce Intelligence Network.
More than 20 veterans began DTE’s Natural Gas Boot Camp training last month at Camp Grayling, a Michigan National Guard training facility. They have completed four weeks of classes taught by Alpena Community College instructors in Grayling, followed by three weeks of hands-on instruction at Camp Grayling. A second Boot Camp, sponsored by Consumers Energy, is running concurrently in the metro Detroit area.
Students were selected and pre-screened by the National Guard based on their skills, experience and aptitude for the job. While there is no guarantee of employment, Boot Camp students are expected to be well-qualified and ready to start careers in the energy industry upon graduation.
Gen. Stone noted that the Boot Camp program itself could be replicated by other utilities throughout the country and used for training vets for other jobs besides maintenance pipe fitter apprentice.
“This is not just about finding a job for Michigan’s veterans; it’s about helping our heroes enter into meaningful careers,” Stone said. “While our civilian population spent the time right after high school seeking higher education and developing careers, these men and women spent their time fighting the wars of this nation. Our goal is to build and test drive a program that will benefit veterans and employers here in Michigan and throughout the country.”
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