With more than 60,000 contractor jobs expected to become available in Georgia by the year 2020, the state legislature has relaxed its skilled-labor licensing laws to help military veterans and their spouses find work.
Starting July 1, the “Veterans Licensure Bill” will go into effect in Georgia, granting a newly created state workgroup the power to speed up the certification process for military families seeking employment in five in-demand occupations – plumber, electrician, heating and air specialist, residential lighting and utility foreman.
The legislation – passed by the General Assembly in March and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April – has been touted as a bipartisan jobs creator that rids military families of the “long delays and excessive tests” they once faced when entering the state’s trades.
Under the new statute, certification requirements, such as insurance costs and renewal fees, remain unchanged. However, veterans and their families no longer have to furnish reference letters or wait up to a year to take licensing exams to satisfy labor union regulations, as in years past.
Now, a committee, made up primarily of members from the Governor’s Workforce Development Office, can issue certification waivers and immediately approve military veterans and their spouses for professional licenses if they meet or exceed the levels of training, experience or testing required for state permits.
“Georgia is a military state, with more than 770,000 veterans living here, but many of our veterans returning from deployment face challenges finding employment,” said Deal, whose office has been working on the legislation since last year. “The licensure bill will better serve our returning heroes by ensuring that they move into qualified trade positions more quickly upon their return.”
State Rep. John P. Yates, R-Griffin, was among the first lawmakers to sponsor the bill.
As a 91-year-old Army veteran and chairman of the Georgia House of Representatives’ Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, Yates said he knows the anxieties military officers face when exiting the armed services and used his experiences to strengthen the state’s veteran employment laws.
“I knew from the moment the governor contacted me about this bill that it would be important to people in the service, because when I was off fighting the war, I was worried if I would get a decent job, when I returned home,” said Yates, who served during World War II.
According to Yates, the initial draft of the Veterans Licensure Bill – also known as House Bill 188 – was “flimsy.” Detractors expressed concern that the bill would lower requirements on skilled workers, and as a result, lessen protection for the general public.
After a series of five meetings with plumbers, electricians and contractors last winter, Yates said all parties were assured the new law would accelerate the hiring process and that no veterans would have the opportunity to go into a field for which they were not trained.
Deal said by 2020, Georgia expects more than 60,000 vacancies in the five skilled trades named in Veterans Licensure Bill .
On top of that, Yates said by 2016, Georgia will see more than 60,000 members of the military leaving active duty for civilian life.
The unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 – a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans – declined by 2.2 percentage points to 9.9 percent in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The jobless rate for all veterans fell by 1.3 percentage points to 7.0 percent.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 66,000 veterans in the Augusta area, 27,000 of whom are under the age of 45. The state and federal government do not keep records on veteran unemployment in Augusta or Georgia.
“Like all bills, we have to get the word out before we can know what the impact will be,” Yates said of the success of the Veterans Licensure Bill. “At first glance, however, I think it can only help.”