By Guest Columnist JOHN KANE, a residential technical trainer for Southface and a veteran who spent eight years in the U.S. Navy

The most recent employment numbers show that opportunities are improving across the nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the September 2014 national unemployment rate of 5.9 percent is the lowest it has been since the beginning of the Great Recession.

However, this downward trend is not distributed equally across the states. Georgia has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, tipping the scales at 7.9 percent. This presents an added challenge for veterans in Georgia, who make up 10 percent of the state’s population – a fact that hits close to home as we approach Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

John Kane
John Kane

Georgia is not the only state in the Southeast to struggle with unemployment rates above the national average — Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina all have unemployment rates of 6.6 or higher.

The transition from military service to civilian life is difficult for many, including myself. Identifying transferable skills and competing for jobs in a tough market equates to a challenging road to employment for many veterans. At the age of 22, while working as a carpenter, I decided to join the U.S. Navy in order to acquire the skills necessary to become a nuclear power plant technician.

During my eight years of service, I worked on aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarine tenders while stationed in Florida, Idaho, Washington, California, South Carolina, Virginia, Japan and Guam.

In 1997, while stationed in Guam, I decided to leave the Navy and return to the States. I’d become disenchanted with my career path in nuclear energy due to environmental grievances, and I wanted to pursue my passion of helping others lead happier, healthier and more sustainable lives.

When I arrived in my chosen city of Atlanta, jobs were in short supply. I found work first in the commercial construction field, and then as a home improvement contractor.

John Page performs a BPI (Building Performance Institute) test (Photos:  courtesy of Southface)
John Kane performs a BPI (Building Performance Institute) test (Photos: courtesy of Southface)
John Kane performs a BPI (Building Performance Institute) test (Photos: courtesy of Southface)

In 2008, Southface caught my attention with its annual Greenprints conference – one of the premier green building events in the nation.

Southface has worked for decades to improve the indoor air quality, comfort, durability and energy efficiency of homes and businesses, providing a combination of education, research, advocacy and technical assistance – a mission that closely aligned with my career goals.

Later that year, I jumped at the opportunity to join the Southface team as an EarthCraft House Technical Advisor. Six years later, I now work as a residential technical trainer at Southface where I teach weatherization and home performance professionals, builders, remodelers, architects and tradespeople about sustainable building and performing energy efficiency upgrades on existing homes, helping others find their way into the fast-growing home performance field.

There are many skills that I developed in the military that complement my career in the green building industry. The math, physics and thermodynamics concepts that I learned while working as a nuclear power plant technician help me understand how heat, air and moisture move in buildings.

Softer skills I acquired in the military, such as responsibility, a strong work ethic and good people skills have also served me well. I enjoy the work that I do because I am always solving new problems in new situations and meeting new people – the same qualities that attract many to military service.

John Page out in the field
John Kane out in the field
John Kane out in the field

Southface was recently approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to accept veteran education benefits from students who have served in the military, who are currently on active duty, or are dependents of a disabled or deceased veteran for most Southface courses.

I teach many of these classes and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with fellow veterans. Classes include Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Building Performance Institute (BPI) courses, Lead Safety, OSHA Construction Safety, the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) and many more.

With a nationwide reputation for quality and student success, Southface courses open doors for employment in a wide variety of home performance, building, remodeling, home inspection, HVAC and energy-efficiency consulting companies.

The construction industry has shown a consistent upward trend in 2014 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with more than 230,000 new construction jobs added between January and September of this year. Based on industry growth paired with funding for training, I encourage fellow veterans to explore the opportunities offered at Southface.

Please visit the veteran education benefits webpage on the Southface site to learn more.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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