Troops To Trades helps U.S. returning veterans gain skills, employment

Troops To Trades helps U.S. returning veterans gain skills, employment

CONTRACTOR had an opportunity to talk with Mercurio about his vision and what inspired him to want to help veterans.  “My two best friends joined the Marines,” said Mercurio. “They both became RECON Marines, and they ended up serving in the same unit. They are both extraordinary people with a lot of talent. When they came back from service, I was able to watch how they reintegrated into society. These guys are having to come home where there are no jobs for them."

LITTLE CANADA, MINN. — Keith Mercurio, sales trainer for Nexstar, had an idea that would help returning servicemen and servicewomen, the plumbing and HVAC industries, and the U.S. as a whole. When Mercurio sat down for lunch, about a year ago, with Jack Tester, CEO of Nexstar, he spoke with Tester about his idea.

The Nexstar Legacy Foundation Troops To Trades poster.

Mercurio was advised by Tester to propose the idea to The Nexstar Legacy Foundation, and the Troops To Trades program was created by The Nexstar Legacy Foundation to help U.S. veterans obtain the necessary skill sets to work in the trade industries.

Mercurio wrote up the proposal, including the goals of training and helping employ returning veterans. The Nexstar Legacy Foundation adopted it as one of their programs.  

CONTRACTOR had an opportunity to talk with Mercurio about his vision and what inspired him to want to help veterans.

“My two best friends joined the Marines,” said Mercurio. “They both became RECON Marines, a Special Forces division of the Marine Corp, and they ended up serving in the same unit. They are both extraordinary people with a lot of talent. When they came back from service, I was able to watch how they reintegrated into society — one of my friends didn’t have much to do, he was just home. These guys are having to come home where there are no jobs for them. He was having a tough time.

“While I am seeing this happen to my friends, I am also listening to how our businesses are having trouble finding good people,” added Mercurio. “And both of these situations just didn’t make any sense to me.”

Then it occurred to Mercurio that the only thing his friends were missing from their skill sets was professional training.

“But they did get all the skills from training in the military that anyone would ever hope for in a human being — they are reliable, respectful, disciplined, hardworking, noble and honest,” said Mercurio. “They are these extraordinary people without professional training.”

That’s when Mercurio talked with Tester about opening up Nexstar training to veterans regardless of if they work for Nexstar companies. Nexstar would give veterans the opportunity to grow professionally.

“I said to Jack that I think it will be amazing for both of them, and the other guys in our classes, and he said, ‘Keith let’s do it,’ ” said Mercurio. “He didn’t even hesitate. He told me to write up a proposal, so we can submit it to the Nexstar Legacy Foundation.”

Mercurio wrote up the proposal, including the goals of training and helping employ returning veterans. The Nexstar Legacy Foundation adopted it as one of their programs.  

“Just the access to technical training and job placement that this program offers is an extraordinary opportunity for us, aligning veterans with employment opportunities,” said Mercurio. “This is an amazing program. It’s good for the country to payback our veterans and it’s also good for sustaining the wellbeing of our country by putting good people into the trades.”

Employees receiving grants

Josh Savage, owner of Uptown Heating and Cooling, Minneapolis, Minn., has two employees receiving grants from the Troops To Trades program. 

“A guy like Bryan Daleiden is an amazing example of why a program needs to be around like this,” said Savage. “He really made a big sacrifice serving our country. And he has great skills too, such as communication skills, a get-it-done attitude, and he can overcome any challenge. However, his technical skills from the military weren’t very strong, so he’s being sent to two weeks of technical school. This is hands on technical skills training, so when you are done, you walk out of school with the necessary skills that you need to be effective.”

“I decided I wanted a career in the trades when I joined the Army,” said Daleiden. “My grandfather had a small heating and cooling shop that always fascinated me, so after joining the military it was an easy choice to pursue this path.”

Daleiden started working in the office at Uptown Heating and Cooling about two years ago. The first year was office work, but his bigger goal was to get out into the field since it pays better and that is what he really wanted to do, said Savage. At the moment Daleiden is a service technician.

“The problem is we didn’t want to give him up in the office,” said Savage. “We see that in all organizations, that people get trapped in roles because they are scared to lose them. But now the company is stronger because he’s in the field and we replaced him in the office.”

“I applied for the scholarship with my boss a couple months back, he presented the opportunity to me and I was eager to get started right away,” said Daleiden. “This scholarship will help me obtain my goals by continuing education for an ever changing industry that requires up-to-date knowledge. Anytime there is an opportunity to achieve higher learning in something I'm passionate about, I seize it. The more knowledge I can share with my customers the better I can serve them.”
 

Another Uptown Plumbing and Heating employee, John Weber, also received a grant.

“One of my friends was an HVAC technician, and I like mechanical and hands-on work, so these two things helped me decided I wanted to go into the field,” said Weber. “At Uptown plumbing I have been working in the service and maintenance departments. Now I’m doing installation work right now. I plan to go into service and maintenance after attending this training.”

“Weber has six years of military service, and he is very professional and gets things done,” said Savage. “This opportunity will help give him a jump start.”

“The program at Ultimate Tech Academy in North Little Rock, Arkansas, is pretty phenomenal,” added Savage. “This is all about training on residential equipment that is specific to the industry.”

Nexstar Legacy Foundation  

Nexstar Legacy Foundation is partnering with the American Legion, and just recently the Pentagon has aligned with the foundation too.

“The Pentagon has offered its support and alignment, and the endorsement of trades in the nation,” said Mercurio.

Troops To Trades offers grants for veterans interested in working in a commercial plumbing, heating/cooling/ventilation or electrical service businesses. Training grants are all expense paid and typically last two to four weeks.  

Nexstar Legacy Foundation has five training opportunities available to veterans seeking a career within the plumbing, heating and cooling or electrical service industries. All applicants must be a citizen or legal resident of the USA, Canada, Australia or Grand Cayman. Preference will be given to veterans who are returning from deployment overseas.

Also, Nexstar Legacy Foundation has a network of service industry businesses that are interested in hiring veterans. The Business Network provides veterans with business contacts, so they can learn more about and apply for careers as a technician in the residential service industry. By joining the network, businesses agree to help veterans who contact them to learn about a career in the industry. 

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