Advanced manufacturing helps veterans transition to civilian life

November 3, 2017

Workshops for Warriors graduating class

With 6,190 establishments offering 168,347 jobs (as of 2016), Advanced Manufacturing was identified as a Priority Sector by the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) in 2014. It is, however, still an oft-misunderstood sector. Advanced Manufacturing—which has seen seven percent more jobs in the 10 years since 2006—uses advanced technology and processes to create goods for consumers and businesses, including industries as diverse as electronics, aerospace, fabrication metals, biotechnology and maritime.

One Advanced Manufacturing establishment in San Diego has been helping veterans and transitioning service members reenter civilian life with a viable career since 2008. Workshops for Warriors (WFW) provides transitioning military, wounded warriors and low-income veterans training, certification and job placement into high-paying entry-level jobs in advanced manufacturing in four to eight months, and at no cost to the veteran.

Workshops for Warriors Manufacturing Day: Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, Hernán Luis y Prado Founded by CEO and 15-year U.S. Navy Officer Hernán Luis y Prado, WFW is the only 501(c)(3) accredited nonprofit organization in the U.S. to do so.

Given that only 17 percent of people who do a particular job in the military do that same job after they leave service, it is imperative veterans pick up new skills in order to find a job in the civilian world. With less than a week to prepare for this transition back to civilian life, significant barriers are often not addressed prior to service members’ exits. U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate more than 10,000 veterans are currently unemployed and 16,000 are living in poverty. Challenges including difficulty finding employment contribute to a suicide rate twice as high as that of the general population (according to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Mental Health).

Luis y Prado was inspired to found WFW after he saw many of his peers turn to drugs or suicide after exiting service. With its certification program, WFW is solving two fundamental problems—veteran unemployment and a declining pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers.

In the U.S., the average age of the manufacturing worker is 59 years old. With many in the workforce due to retire and not a pipeline of skills younger workers to take their place (a 2014 study by Accenture and The Manufacturing Institute showed that half of U.S. manufacturers expect to increase production in the next five years), many employers are having difficulties filling vacant positions in the U.S.

Students participating in WFW programs get to be a part of a group again after military service, creating camaraderie and pride.

WFW is funded through corporate, foundation and individual donations; it relies on no federal or other government funding.

Thanks to a White House Champion of Change Award recognition in 2012 for Luis y Prado, Workshops for Warriors was asked to create 103 training facilities across the country (with headquarters remaining in San Diego).

“We currently do not receive any federal or state funding, so support from our community is crucial to our growth and success,” says Luis y Prado. “Until our organization receives GI Bill funding in April 2019, Workshops for Warriors remains committed to keeping classes free for all veterans, wounded warriors, and transitioning service members. Eighty-three percent of all donations go straight to training programs and we are incredibly grateful for San Diego’s community support.”

To date, more than 421 students have graduated from WFW programs, earning 2,350 nationally recognized credentials in welding and machining and placed into positions in the U.S. manufacturing industry earning $37,000 to $55,000 per year.

In 2016, WFW joined San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s One San Diego 100 initiative, which calls on 100 business to offer jobs and paid internships to local high school and college students, with a focus on students from low-income neighborhoods. One San Diego 100 partners SDWP’s youth employment program, CONNECT2Careers, which help young adults secure employment and internship opportunities, and provides in-person work-readiness training.

To learn more about the school and how to support its programs or apply, visit