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Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at a National Symposium on Veterans' Employment in Construction, A Joining Forces Event

U.S. Department of Labor
Washington, D.C.

11:35 A.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you all.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  You all rest yourselves.  It is a pleasure to be here with all of you.  And thank you all for joining us.

Before I begin, we have to just take a moment to acknowledge Katie and Larry.  Their remarks, they serve as shining examples of just what we’re talking about.  I don’t know what you were nervous about, Katie, but -- (laughter) -- you handled yourself.  And, Larry, your story is inspiring.  It’s the kind of story that we want to see repeated over and over and over again.  So please, let’s give both of these individuals a round of applause.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. 

I also want to recognize our outstanding Secretary of Labor, Secretary Perez, and -- yay for our Secretary.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank him and his VETs team for the terrific work that they’re doing on hiring our veterans.  You guys are really showing up and making it easy for our veterans.  So I’m so proud of you.  Glad to be here with all of you. 

And of course, I want to recognize the construction industry leaders who are here with us today, as well as their public and private sector partners.  Now, these are some of the biggest companies in the construction industry, many of whom are direct competitors -- companies like Jacobs Engineering.  But they are here together.  They’re also regional leaders like Cianbro Construction, as well as leading organizations like NCCER, the Homebuilders Institute, the Associated General Contractors of America, and the Building Trades.

And today, I am thrilled to announce that altogether, these companies and more than 100 others have committed to hiring more than 100,000 of America’s veterans over the next five years -- 100,000.  (Applause.)  Now, that’s a number that gets me out of bed in the morning, so that’s why I’m happy to be here.  This is huge.  It’s a huge deal.  And I have to tell you that it’s days like today that remind me of why Dr. Biden and I started Joining Forces in the first place.

We did this because we wanted to inspire businesses and organizations across the country to ask themselves one simple question, and that is, what more can we do to honor and support our veterans and military families?  And today, you all answered that question with this incredibly strong commitment.  And I am so proud of all of you, and so thankful for everything that you’re doing.

And I know that you all have made this commitment not just because it is the patriotic thing to do, which it is.  You’ve done this because you know that it is the smart thing to do for your businesses, because you know that America’s military turns out some of the highest-skilled, hardest-working employees this country has ever seen.  And that’s particularly true when it comes to the construction sector. 

As the Secretary mentioned, just think about the kind of work our men and women in uniform have done every single day all across the globe.  They have built cities in the middle of deserts halfway around the world.  They’ve built schools in remote villages.  They’ve repaired complex machinery in combat zones in the middle of the night.  In short, 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.

So when it comes to the attitude and experience needed to thrive in construction jobs, our men and women in uniform are second to none.  And with the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan winding down, hundreds of thousands of these men and women are returning home, and they’re hanging up their uniforms, and they are looking for good civilian jobs.

Many of these veterans have technical skills that are directly relevant to the construction industry.  And plenty of veterans who don’t have those skills are eager to learn them.  And with the right training, we know they have the discipline, we know they have the determination that is necessary to succeed in all kinds of construction jobs.

And the good news, as the Secretary pointed out, is that those jobs are out there.  In fact, the construction industry is currently one of fastest-growing industries in America, and companies like those here today are desperate for highly trained workers from welders to pipefitters, to engineers, to electricians and more.  And these are good jobs with good salaries.  And they’re also good careers, as well.  And Larry’s story is a perfect example.

Now, Larry told you a little bit about what he does, but he’s still a little modest, even though he’s an ex-football player and now -- what is it, senior vice president of the world?  (Laughter.)  You’re in charge of everything now -- working on it.  But he didn’t tell you that he went straight from the Marines to some of the most exciting transportation construction projects in the country.

He has had some very challenging assignments like managing global transportation projects in San Francisco to working on the JFK Airport redevelopment program in New York.  And as you have heard, he was so good at what he did that Bechtel promoted him to a senior leadership role here in D.C., working on, as you heard, our Metro.  And with each new job, Larry climbed higher, he improved his resume, he improved his salary -- which I know made your wife happy -- (laughter) -- and took on more responsibility. 

And Larry’s story highlights the fact that these jobs don’t just give our veterans the chance to collect a good paycheck, but to build careers for decades in the future, careers that give them the ability to support their families and climb the professional ladder.  And I believe, and my husband believes, that our men and women in uniform should be able to start pursuing these careers the minute they hang up their uniforms. 

But unfortunately, what we have learned is that this transition from military to civilian life can be difficult for too many of our troops, because while they get excellent training, they don’t always know how to translate that military experience into good civilian jobs.  And that’s why, in June of 2012, my husband launched the Department of Defense Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force.  And we’re already starting to see results. 

Today, service members across the country are participating in apprenticeships and accredited civilian training programs right near their bases, so when they leave the military, they’ll be ready to start a good job the very next day.  And the Department of Defense is also working to help service members apply their hard-earned military training toward earning civilian credentials, particularly in high-demand fields like plumbing and HVAC.  In addition, my husband has ensured that veterans can use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for career and technical training in industries like construction so troops who didn’t get the training they need in the military can get that training as a civilian.  And, finally, we have 2,600 American Job Centers across the country where veterans can go to find jobs and companies can go to find qualified employees.  

So make no mistake about it, in the coming years, more and more of our men and women in uniform will leave the military with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive in this growing workforce.  But, ultimately, today’s commitment isn’t just about putting high-skilled individuals into work in high-paying careers.  It’s also about providing our companies with the very best workers so that they can keep growing, and they can keep creating even more jobs and strengthening our economy for decades to come. 

And it’s also about modeling a certain set of values for our communities and for our country.  You see, by making these kind of commitments -- and this is why I’m here -- you all are sending a clear message that in this country, we honor those who’ve sacrificed for us, and when they return home we are going to have their backs. 

And that’s really my message to all of the veterans who have joined us today.  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, 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.

So I want to end today as I started, by once again saying thank you.  Thank you to all of the companies and organizations here today for giving more than 100,000 of America’s heroes the chance to keep serving the country they love.  And thank you to all the veterans who will soon be hard at work building the homes, schools, factories and offices that will strengthen our communities and fuel our economy for generations to come.

I look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead.  And I always send a message out to other businesses and other industries out there to roll up their sleeves and find a way to match this commitment.  We can keep doing more.  Thank you all.  God bless.  (Applause.)

END
11:46 A.M. EST

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