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New law to help vets get into workforce

POSTED: May 20, 2013 12:28 a.m.
Nat Gurley/The Times

Stephen McGruder, left, talks during a recent interview with The Times. Johnny Varner sits to his right. McGruder is the post commander of American Legion Post 328 in Flowery Branch.

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Retired Hall County military veterans Stephen McGruder and Johnny Varner hope a new Georgia law will aid them in helping vets seamlessly transition into the civilian workforce.

The law creates a committee that will determine whether veterans’ military training, skills and testing allow them to get a civilian license for the work they did in the military. The licenses covered include electrical contracting, journeyman plumber, conditioned air contractor, residential-light commercial contractor and utility foreman.

Military members coming back from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and those leaving the military have faced a problem with the military certifications they have not equating to civil certifications for many industries.

McGruder said he hopes the law expands in the future so more vets would be eligible for help.

“I think it’s a great start,” said McGruder, post commander of American Legion Post 328 in Flowery Branch. “It’s confined to certain careers, but there’s many careers that translate to the civilian world.”

McGruder was a master technician in the U.S. Air Force, and Varner was a radar technician in the U.S. Army.

Varner is a junior vice commander for the 9th District American Legion Post and works at the nonprofit Goodwill of North Georgia Career Center in Oakwood, helping vets find jobs.

“The Gainesville unit is mainly an infantry unit, so there’s not really that skill set that’s there for that particular National Guard unit,” Varner said. “The 802nd (U.S. Army Reserve 802nd Ordnance Company), they’re more of a different type of reserve unit, so there may be some people that fit that category for the bill that they’re trying to serve as far as veterans.”

Both men left the military in 2006 and found that they would have to start over in their previous careers even though they had much more senior positions and responsibilities in the military. They served 20 years each.

“After 16 years, I was able to become a senior or a master technician,” McGruder said. “In that capacity I was able to inspect and verify everything on the aircraft. In fact, I worked on something called a C-5 Galaxy, which is the largest aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory. I could sign off every job on that aircraft.”

He said in the civilian world, he couldn’t sign off on anything. He went back to school and now works for the Department of Labor helping disabled veterans with job skills, such as resumes and interviewing.

“There’s a lot of skilled people that are not being utilized to their full talent,” McGruder said.

The state estimated in 2011 that Hall County has about 12,360 veterans. Georgia is expected to have 60,000 to 80,000 veterans to return to the state by 2016.

Blake Ashbee, interim executive director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, said it focused on currently available openings that will continue to be available in the future. The law requires that the veteran apply within 180 days of being honorably or generally discharged or relocating to Georgia. The time limit was added so the training would be fresh and up-to-date, Ashbee said.

“There’s not like a set date that folks leave the military,” he said. “There’s a constant flow in and out of the military.”

Ashbee said his office wants to continue programs like this to help veterans. The bill also helps military spouses who hold licenses in these careers that meet or exceed Georgia standards.

The committee will have several members, including members of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development and members of the relevant divisions of the licensing board for the profession in which the applicant wants a license.


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