WASHINGTON -- First Lady Michelle Obama announced Feb. 10 that more than 100 construction industry companies have committed to hiring more than 100,000 military veterans over the next five years.
Obama and Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez delivered remarks at the National Symposium on Veterans' Employment in Construction, hosted at the Labor Department.
The event brought together construction industry officials, government leaders and education professionals to highlight hiring commitments throughout the industry, and it addressed employment challenges and opportunities for transitioning service members and veterans.
The first lady called the commitment to veterans "a huge deal," adding, "It's days like today that remind me why Dr. [Jill] Biden and I started Joining Forces in the first place."
Joining Forces is a national initiative championed by the first lady and the vice president's wife to engage all sectors of society to give service members and their family members opportunities and support.
"We did this because we wanted to inspire businesses and organizations across the country to ask themselves one simple question: ... What more can we do to honor and support our veterans and military families?" the first lady said.
"And today all of you answered that question with this incredibly strong commitment," Obama said. "I know that you all have made this commitment not just because it is the patriotic thing to do, ... [but also] because you know that America's military turns our some of the highest-skilled, hardest-working employees this country has ever seen."
The kind of work men and women in uniform do every day includes building cities in the middle of deserts halfway around the world, building schools in remote villages, and repairing complex machinery in combat zones in the middle of the night, she said.
"Our troops have taken on some of the most challenging projects in some of the most inhospitable places under some of the toughest deadlines and constraints," the first lady said. "So when it comes to the attitude and the experience needed to thrive in construction jobs, our men and women in uniform are second to none."
As part of Joining Forces, the first lady and Dr. Biden issued a call to 50 U.S. governors to take executive or legislative action to streamline state licensing for service members, veterans and their spouses by the end of 2015. Today, 44 states have passed legislation that streamlines the process for service members and veterans to obtain civilian certification and licensure, according to a White House fact sheet.
In his remarks, Perez noted that the Labor Department's latest employment report indicates the private sector has created 8.5 million jobs over the last 47 months. The construction industry showed one of the most dramatic growth rates, he said, adding more jobs in January than in any month since March 2007.
The construction industry is expected to create more than 1.5 million jobs by 2022, Perez said, adding that the industry has long maintained a proven training and employment infrastructure.
"Through apprenticeships, certification and credentialing programs provided by labor unions and individual employers, veterans can translate their skills into in-demand civilian occupations," the secretary said.
"Nearly 8 percent of all registered apprentices are veterans," he added, "while 23 percent of apprentices are active military members learning skills in over 120 occupations ranging from airframe mechanics to firefighters."
The first lady said she and President Barack Obama believe the nation's men and women in uniform should be able to start pursuing such careers the minute they hang up their uniforms but that the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult.
"Too many of our troops ... get excellent training [but] they don't always know how to translate that military experience into good civilian jobs," she said. "That's why in 2012 my husband launched the Department of Defense Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, and we're already starting to see results."
Today, she added, service members nationwide participate in apprenticeships and accredited civilian training programs near their bases, and the Defense Department is working to help them apply military training toward earning civilian credentials, particularly in high-demand fields like plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
The president has assured that veterans can use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for career and technical training in construction and other industries, the first lady said, and veterans and companies can find jobs and qualified employees in 2,600 American job centers across the country.
Today's commitment is about putting highly skilled individuals to work in high-paying careers and providing U.S. companies with the very best workers, but it's also about "modeling a certain set of values for our communities and for our country," she said.
"By making these kinds of commitments ... you all are sending a clear message that in this country we honor those who've sacrificed for us," the first lady said to company representatives in the audience.
And to service members and veterans in the audience and watching online, she said, "Please know that America has your back, and if you ever need to be reminded of how thankful we are for everything you've done for us, take a look around this room.
"You've got representatives from some of the leading companies in America," the first lady added, "many of whom have traveled a very long way to be here. And they're all here because they want to serve you as well as you've served this country."