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There are around 19 million veterans in the United States today, and close to 1 million of those former service members are currently employed in the construction industry. The qualities and skills developed in the military closely align with those valued in construction: themes of leadership, integrity and teamwork coalesce with experiential attributes, such as managing accelerated learning curves or respecting the importance of procedure, which altogether position veterans to not only succeed in the construction industry, but thrive.

For many veterans, adjusting to life outside of the military is challenging: Nearly half of post-9/11 veterans report difficulty in transitioning to civil life, with 32% describing the transition as “somewhat” difficult and 16% identifying it as “very” difficult. That a full 5% of these new civilians find comfort in construction speaks volumes about the industry’s potential to support our nation’s veterans in the next stage of their careers.

On this Veterans Day, I want to recognize the loss of direction that many of my fellow veterans have faced upon their return home, and offer up a potential path forward within the construction industry.

Built-in veteran community

Given the sheer number of veterans in the construction industry, many newcomers find that an existing network of former service members is already built into their firm. Working alongside colleagues that understand military life firsthand allows many veterans to feel more supported than in other industries. That bond is further strengthened through shared work practices, such as adaptability and an overriding sense of team unity, building upon habits established while within the military.

Moreover, more than 11% of construction companies are actually owned by veterans, setting the stage for a wealth of career opportunities that not only welcome veterans, but are in fact veteran-focused from the ground up.

Intentional veteran recruitment

For many veterans, the civilian job application process is unfamiliar, just as the oftentimes competitive environment of the civilian office can feel foreign and discouraging to former service members acclimated to the inherent teamwork of the military. With those facts in mind, many construction companies — even those not owned by veterans — continue to actively recruit veterans, breaking down the application process into an accessible path toward a collaborative work environment.

Industry mentorship and support

The construction industry’s long history with veteran employees has allowed firms to establish veteran-specific mentorship programs and other support systems. Buoyed by both managers and colleagues that seek to lift up their new veteran peers, these former service members are better equipped to tackle the adjustment period. Launching a new career after the military can be incredibly daunting for many (and a wide variety of general resources exist to help ease that transition), but starting off with industry-specific support helps many veterans settle into construction more rapidly and more confidently than those without that supportive community.

“There are many positives that come from being in the military,” said Gordon Childress, executive vice president and general manager at Skanska USA. “There’s amazing camaraderie, and the organization gives people a structured, meaningful life that they may not otherwise have had. Many veterans have returned from war struggling, and those who seek out help face atrocious circumstances. We can’t fully understand what veterans have faced, but we can be a support system. I’m humbled to work alongside Skanska Veterans, and we’re fortunate to have these men and women and the diversity of thought and skills they bring to make Skanska better.”

The construction industry actively works to welcome veterans into its ranks with open arms, supporting the heroes that have served our country as they return to civilian life. It can be a rewarding opportunity for veterans looking to find new purpose in the next phase of their career.

Don Petersen is a general superintendent at Skanska USA Building. Before joining Skanska, he enlisted in the military and served in the United States Navy for 16 years as a civil engineer. His time in the Navy consisted of four years of active duty with three combat deployments, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. While serving in Iraq, he helped to build the longest floating bridge since World War II with the Construction Battalion. He took part in more than 150 projects over the course of his time in the military. Today, Petersen is a Commander (O5) and serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

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