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Heroes MAKE America Keeps Growing

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The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America hasn’t let COVID-19 slow it down. To the contrary, it has expanded and added new features in 2021 in order to prepare more members of the military community for manufacturing careers.

“The work we’re doing aligns so well with what our manufacturers are prioritizing,” says MI Vice President of Military and Veterans Programs Babs Chase. “We are continuing to serve a community that has sacrificed so much and will continue to sacrifice. We truly appreciate the manufacturers that are standing beside us.”

Growth during a pandemic: Heroes, which works with local technical colleges to provide certification and career-readiness preparation, increased its impact in the past year and has now placed graduates with more than 250 companies in 42 states.

  • Training programs at Fort Riley in Kansas, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Campbell in Kentucky continue to grow, and Heroes will soon launch a new training site in Georgia.
  • In August, Heroes graduated the first class of its new Fort Hood mechatronics training program, which combines electrical and mechanical engineering and computer technology with advanced manufacturing.

Going virtual: This month, thanks to the support of the Caterpillar Foundation, Heroes is officially launching a fully remote training program in a synchronous model that will incorporate hands-on simulations using virtual reality.

  • The new program is a partnership with Texas State Technical College and New York City–based tech startup TRANSFR, and will allow transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses to participate in Heroes regardless of their physical location—so long as they have access to Wi-Fi.

Connecting with Heroes: 2021 is also the second year of Heroes Connect, the program’s direct response to COVID-19. This virtual platform facilitates introductions between the manufacturing industry and military-community members seeking jobs.

  • In-person tours have always been a cornerstone of the Heroes program, and Heroes Connect provides another avenue for those essential introductions to manufacturing leaders and veterans already in the industry. Even as Heroes restarts in-person tours, Heroes Connect will remain a vital part of the initiative, says Chase.

As she put it, “Heroes Connect is continuing to break down barriers around physical location, showcasing manufacturers all across the country for Heroes participants as well as the greater military community.”

Diversity data: By the end of 2021, more than 625 students will have graduated since Heroes’ inception in 2018. These students are as diverse as the career opportunities available in manufacturing:

  • The graduates represent more than 136 different military occupational specialties.
  • Nearly half of all graduates (47%) come from minority populations.
  • Approximately 16% are women.
  • Only 47% of alumni have any post-secondary education.
  • Forty-one percent of graduates were in the military for 10 years or more.

Success stories: The Heroes program boasts too many success stories to recount in one place, but here are just two:

  • Former U.S. Marine Zachary Willis came to Heroes after health issues led to his departure from the military. “It’s been amazing,” said Willis, who earlier this year began a manufacturing job at Hodgdon Powder Company. “The ability to reach out and connect with other employers all around the country—from smaller companies to huge international corporations—is something you don’t see in very many places. I wish more people took advantage of programs like this.”
  • Then there’s Hugo Hinojosa, who served 22 years in the U.S. Army before starting the Heroes program. He now works as a business partner in the human resources division of WestRock Company, and says, “I’m working in a place where the values are in line with what I was brought up with in the military—integrity, respect, accountability and excellence.”

The final say: “For our team, serving the military population is crucial,” Chase said. “But equally vital is our service to manufacturers—and they recognize the value that this population brings to their teams.”

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