Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Workshops for Warriors is expanding rapidly.

I feel responsible for the guys who have come back and are left to drift. Hernán Luis y Prado

Over the past 15 years, America has been reintroduced to the human toll of war. Most every community across our nation – through friends, neighbors, and family that have served – now shares a personal connection to the military theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq. But while we recognize the hardships that these service members face overseas, that is not where their difficulties end. Veterans are most in need of our help when they return home, surrounded by those who extol their heroism.

Ironically, it is here that many are left to drift.

Hernán Luis y Prado, founder of Workshops for Warriors, recognized this disconnect while still on active duty in the Navy. He began helping his fellow troops by volunteering with the Wounded Warrior Battalions. Inviting these veterans into his house, they naturally congregated in the garage. Hernán, a tinkerer and builder by nature, had a stockpile of tools and equipment worthy of a professional construction crew. The vets showed a natural proficiency with these instruments, and Hernán expanded his toolbox to meet this growing demand of eager students.

“Initially, this was not about certifications,” Hernán said in an interview. “It was decompression for soldiers.”

For eight years, Hernán kept the project active and expanding as he moved from one duty station to the next. During this time he also had three combat tours. Hernán remembers serving alongside great people, and felt that his duty to them did not end when their tour concluded. He remembered seeing these veterans “literally sinking,” as he watched soldiers transition back into the civilian world

“People love veterans … but they won’t give them a job,” he explained.

Hernán Luis y Prado

By 2008, Hernán knew it was time to take his vision out of the garage. His wife urged him to formalize the training that his veteran protégés were receiving so that they could gain certifications for highly paid, skilled civilian jobs. That was when Workshops for Warriors was born.

The San Diego-based organization trains veterans in nearly a dozen different highly skilled areas, including welding, fabrication, computer aided design, computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling, and advanced manufacturing techniques. As it continues to grow, the organization is looking to expand into robotics training as well. It must be emphasized that its rapid growth and expansion is due to donations of people and companies dedicated to helping veterans. Anyone can assist in their efforts.

Between 2011 and 2015, Workshops for Warriors has graduated 238 veterans, provided over 720 nationally recognized credentials, and has a 100 percent placement rate for its graduates. Hernán and his eight instructors cannot keep up with demand, even though they hold classes six days a week.

But it may be getting bigger yet. Hernán says Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has flown him out to his state three times to discuss workforce shortages in the state. What’s more, Hernán says the Obama administration has expressed interest in facilitating a ramp-up of the program across the country.

Workshops for Warriors can fulfill two vital missions. First, veterans are excellent candidates for manufacturing jobs as they are well-trained, reliable, hard-working, mission-oriented and team-focused. Second, as America loses a significant chunk of its current manufacturing workforce to retirement, tens of thousands of highly skilled soldiers transition out of the military every year. With more Workshops for Warriors locations around the country, every one of them could gain the certifications needed to pursue high-wage jobs in advanced manufacturing.

When compared to other non-profit organizations dedicated to helping veterans, Workshops for Warriors clearly stands head and shoulders above most others in terms of real results. In January of this year, Hernán organization received its license to operate by the Bureau of Post-Secondary Private Education, making the school eligible for GI Bill tuition reimbursement in summer 2018.

The work that Hernán is doing is perhaps the most impressive effort to help veterans that I have come across. Students are so eager to participate in his program, Hernán says, that one actually hitchhiked from Florida just to gain the training he needed for a good job.

But while that veteran was accepted to the program (and, according to Hernán, is now a machinist making $23 an hour) many more soldiers are waiting to get in. The future of Workshops for Warriors depends on the effort of Americans like yourself. You have an opportunity to serve those who have risked everything to serve us. Please visit the Workshops for Warriors website and see how you can play a part.