November 01, 2012
The Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA) gathered for its fall conference in beautiful Colorado Springs in September, and over breakfast one morning we all learned some sobering facts.
During the next five years, more than a million veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan will have trouble finding jobs.
The U.S. unemployment rate for all workers ages 16 and older was 7.8% in September. Numbers for specific age groups are higher; almost 23% of 18- and 19-year-olds and 12% of 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed. But the unemployment rate for returning veterans in the entire 18-to-24 age group is over 23.5%; for African-American vets, that number rises more than 5% to 28.9% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
I can’t imagine what it would be like to return to the country I had served to find there was no job for me.
Happily, some great opportunities are coming through a unique industry collaboration that promises to benefit veterans (with jobs) and service agencies; many of whom are desperately in need of young, qualified techs.
For example, Chicago-based TechU24/7 is an eLearning community offering interactive training courses to get students started in careers as commercial food equipment service technicians. Included in the course catalog is the CFESA: Basic Technician Training program. Once the student goes through the program (a pupil can train anywhere with computer access), he or she can take a competency exam at one of 180 proctor sites around the country—all of them CFESA member offices.
“Testing on site, the trainees get a face-to-face with a company that might be able to hire them,” says George Nicholson, president and CEO of iM3 LLC (TechU24/7). “But even if that particular agency has no opening, trainees have access to a growing database of more than 600 companies interested in hiring graduates of the program.”
In September, Nicholson’s company, iM3, got the nod from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Licensing and Certification Approval System (LACAS) for the TechU24/7 CFESA program.
Although the program’s enrollment costs $1,795, the LACAS reimburses qualified veterans up to $1,000 when they successfully complete the program and receive their certificate. Paying for the program, however, can be prohibitive; most vets don’t have the funds up front.
Enter Carol Multack, president and CEO of A Legacy for Learning Corp., a Chicago-based organization (501(c)(3) pending) that provides financial assistance to veterans who want to acquire training and find jobs when they return from duty. It raises donations through private and corporate donors; currently, it’s underwriting scholarships for the TechU24/7 CFESA program. Multack first tries to work with vets to find the $1,000 and get the LACAS reimbursement if possible. When veterans are able to pay the reimbursable expense up front, A Legacy for Learning can provide two veterans with scholarships in the program for the cost of one veteran.
Initial fundraising targets are industry manufacturers; so far, Ecolab, ACP, Hatco and Glastender have stepped up. But Legacy also will look to restaurant chains, service companies, parts suppliers and other organizations in our industry that benefit from well-serviced equipment. A Legacy for Learning hopes to raise $1.8 million to put 2,000 returning veterans to work servicing equipment. If you’d like to help, contact Multack through alegacyforlearning.org.