Eight Bridges Starts Veteran Training Program

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Brewmaster Justin Beardsley may soon have to be called “Professor Beardsley” at the rate he is going.

The head brewer of Livermore, California’s Eight Bridges Brewing is the first craft beer production facility to team up with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and use the Post 9-11 GI Bill to employ a military veteran through on-the-job-training.

Kurt Heuer, a former Army MP that served one tour of duty in Afghanistan over his seven years of service, joined the brewery officially on Dec. 1, 2015 after asking to help around the brewery earlier that year.

Along with his father George, a veteran of the Air Force, Beardsley decided to work toward a program that would pay Heuer a minimum wage job at the brewery while also getting him his education in becoming a brewer and earning his stipend from the government.

“There are so many veterans coming back looking to get into different industries, and it just made sense for us to be able to open this up to them and they can earn a decent income,” Beardsley said. “One of the biggest issues starting at a small brewery is the salaries really start at the bottom, pretty much minimum wage, especially here in the Bay Area. It makes it difficult to live on unless you have roommates or a spouse, so this program is nice to give them a cost of living allowance.”

This isn’t the first time a commercial brewery has used this program, but Beardsley said it is the first craft brewery to do so.

“It’s an industry that doesn’t typically use [the GI Bill] but it’s one that can,” he said. “It’s nice because it goes along with their education benefits. They can use it for trade school or to learn an industry that they are interested in.”

Heuer brought up the program to Beardsley and they started the process of getting the paperwork done. It took about two months of reviewing his daily routine at the brewery, which opened in 2013 and produced a bit over 1,000 barrels last year, and fleshing out the details to make a curriculum that would satisfy the educational needs, which make up a 1,000 man hours of work. Beardsley said it will take 16 months for Heuer to graduate from the program.

“What does it take and how long does it take to go from nothing to a brewer is the way I set the program up,” Beardsley explained.

Working with State Representative Eric Swalwell’s office, the brewery was able to get the approval to get the program going late last year.

“They go over everything with you,” Beardsley said.

He said there are lots of files the brewery has to keep, just like an educational institution.

“We have to keep records of when they are here, what they learn, what they do each week and track the hours of progress,” he said. “It does turn into a school. The burden is on us to get them through it but it ends up being worth it because you get a well-trained person at the end.”

For now, the program is set up as a 1-to-1 instructor to student ratio, but once Heuer graduates in March of 2017, he could become an instructor as well, which would mean the opportunity for Beardsley to bring on more future employees.

George Beardsley pointed out that if any other breweries wanted to pick up the syllabus for the program that they would be happy to help.

“I think it’s important to do it in today’s environment,” he said. “This program is very tangible and from a vet’s perspective it’s the kind of thing they deserve. We are happy to do it and we found a way in a business sense to make it work as well.

“This is a growing segment of the economy that has a strong need for workers who have to be trained. It’s not something you can walk into. This is great for veterans because they come into a growing economy.”

Justin Beardsley also noted that the group of candidates that they can choose from are outstanding.

“Financially for us, we get great people without necessarily having to pay them that stellar wage for the first 16 months of their training,” he said. “They don’t have to stay here, but we trained them and would like to see them stick around. The expectation on our end by the VA is that a job will be made available to our trainees that complete the program.”

Added George Beardsley: “These people are pretty extraordinary in terms of the level of training they already had in their previous life. You just have to go to the various military outsourcing programs once and you discover the quality of individual that are there.

“We are really happy with the fact that it’s a veterans-supported program because most of the people that come out of these programs have really strong work ethic, they are team-oriented and they just have a lot of pluses. It’s an opportunity to grow people that have long-term potential for an organization that is trying to grow. It provides for future managers and leaders as we do grow. It’s a win-win all the way around.”


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