The nation’s largest hardware retailer wants to bring back the bygone era of shop class, with a $50 million commitment to train thousands of skilled laborers over the next decade, representatives for The Home Depot Foundation announced Wednesday.

The bulk of the funds will go toward programs for approximately 15,000 transitioning service members and veterans, with classes on military installations in carpentry, plumbing and related fields.

“There’s a gap between supply and demand for skilled trade workers across the country,” said Shannon Gerber, the foundation’s executive director. “During the recession, many people left the trades industry and haven’t returned.”

This commitment — which builds on an earlier $250 million pledge to veterans causes — aims to bridge that gap and also get rid of the stigma that trades-based careers are a consolation prize for people who don’t go to college.

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“These are highly valued, lucrative jobs,” she said.

The Home Depot Foundation launched a partnership with the nonprofit Home Builders Institute last year to offer free, 12-week training programs at Fort Stewart in Georgia and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The first cohorts of students will graduate this month, and Gerber said the group plans to expand the program to 10 other military bases within the next few years.

The program’s curriculum is recognized by the Labor Department and is 75 percent hands-on, said HBI CEO John Courson. Graduates receive a pre-apprenticeship certification, as well as resume and job placement help.

The hands-on training was of particular interest to Army Capt. Jason Gillespie, who plans to start a home inspection and handyman business, in addition to working for a construction company, when he retires in August.

“I had the same home inspector for both of my houses that I bought, and I was really interested in what he was doing — not to mention the fact that he came for an hour and a half, and I paid him $300,” he said.

Gillespie earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s while in the military but lacked practical trades skills, he said.

“I’ve been able to learn what right looks like. If I walk into somewhere, and I see some plumbing that’s not right, this program here has taught me the right way to do things, the right way it should look,” he said.

Service members who go through the skills training at Fort Stewart receive a pre-apprenticeship certification recognized by the Labor Department, as well as resume and job placement help. (The Home Depot Foundation)
Service members who go through the skills training at Fort Stewart receive a pre-apprenticeship certification recognized by the Labor Department, as well as resume and job placement help. (The Home Depot Foundation)

Courson said the program can be a good fit for service members who like to work with their hands, or as a team.

Plus, he said, “for many in the military, when you’re framing a house in Alabama in August, that might be one of the better climates you’ve worked in over your last two deployments.”

The Home Depot Foundation will also use a portion of the $50 million for programs that train unemployed or underemployed veterans in phase two of the commitment that will roll out next year, Gerber said. Additionally, the foundation is looking to fund trades classes as elective credits in high schools and other initiatives that will reach 20,000 new tradespeople over the next 10 years.

Gerber said the initiative has been in the works for a couple of years, calling it a “work of love.”

“The gap continues to widen,” she said. “It continues to grow, and when we look at the issues that veterans are facing, we see a natural intersection of how we can play a role in that.”