Today, I was honored to welcome the First Lady of the United States to the Labor Department, where she made a truly inspiring announcement: More than 100 companies in the construction industry have committed to hiring more than 100,000 of America’s veterans over the next five years.
Mrs. Obama’s Joining Forces initiative has made a powerful difference in the lives of so many military families. As she wrote in a Wall St. Journal op-ed this morning, the companies “made this commitment not just because it’s the patriotic thing to do, and not just because they want to repay our veterans for their service to our country, but because they know that it’s the smart thing to do for their business.”
Almost two weeks ago in his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a vision based on the basic principle of opportunity for all. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from − through hard work and personal responsibility, everyone can succeed in living out their highest and best dreams. And who deserves opportunity more than the veterans who’ve put their lives on the line defending it?
We were also joined by two veterans who spoke powerfully about their transitions to civilian employment, and about living out those dreams. Larry Melton is a graduate of the Citadel and a Marine Corps veteran who served in Desert Storm. As a civil engineer for Bechtel he’s working on a project to build a train to Dulles Airport. It’s one of the largest construction projects in the U.S., and Larry has been helping lead the effort for many years.
Army veteran Katie Sanicky also spoke. When she spoke of her military service, she said, “I wanted to be an image of courage and strength to the women who I served with and the women who came behind me.” Those remarkable attributes were with Katie as she went through training in the Helmets to Hardhats program and became an ironworker apprentice in Cleveland, Ohio. When she was finished, all of us were moved, and Mrs. Obama told her so.
As we continue our economic recovery, construction will be one of the industries leading the charge. It’s expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, creating more than 1.5 million jobs by 2022. And these are good jobs with good wages … jobs that provide economic security … jobs that can’t be outsourced or sent overseas.
We have testimonial after testimonial from construction industry employers who couldn’t be happier with their veteran hires. They use words like motivated and mature; dependable and dedicated; responsible and reliable.
What we have here is a perfect fit – veterans who are ready to work and the construction industry that needs exactly what veterans have to offer. But we have to do more to make the right connections, build the right partnerships and take the best practices to scale.
Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec.