(UPI) — The Home Depot on Thursday announced a $50 million commitment to train 20,000 construction workers over the next 10 years to help fill a growing labor gap in the United States.

“We want to bring shop class back, from coast-to-coast,” said Shannon Gerber, executive director of The Home Depot Foundation. “We’re thrilled to train 20,000 next-generation plumbers, electricians, carpenters and beyond. It’s a true honor to welcome our first classes of separating soldiers as they transition to civilian life and into successful careers in the trades.”

There are 158,000 unfilled construction jobs in the United States, a number that’s expected to significantly increase over the next decade as tradespeople retire, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which notes that unfilled positions are at the highest levels since 2007.

Last year, The Home Depot Foundation launched a pilot training program for exiting military members at Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Bragg, N.C. The first set of students in the 12-week program will graduate this month.

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The pre-apprenticeship certification program uses an industry-based curriculum recognized by the Department of Labor that mixes work-based learning with technical and academic skills. Job placement rates of more than 90 percent are exected after completion of the program, which will soon begin at U.S. military bases nationwide.

“Our program prepares men and women for high-growth careers in the industry after leaving military service,” said John Courson, CEO of the Home Builders Institute. “With 200,000 service members separating from the military every year, our partnership with The Home Depot Foundation enables us to serve more veterans across the country.”

The Home Depot Foundation also is establishing an advanced training program in partnership with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia for residents in Atlanta’s westside community. During the next decade, the foundation will expand training to include the broader veteran community and underserved high schools across the United States.

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