There are many paths to success. For some, that choice is clear-cut: take on some student loans, get a degree, and work from a desk. For others, that means joining the military and serving the country.

Sometimes, this path might end up being a mash-up of experiences to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Jared Anderson, 29, is one of those folks who finally found what he was looking for after experiences involving college, active military duty, and the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

A native of Houlton, Wisconsin, Jared graduated from Hudson High School in 2008, and confronted several important questions every high school grad needs to answer: Is college the right choice? How much does college cost? What about trade school? Would the military be a better fit?

Jared spent a year at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls before choosing to join the military.

“Going straight to college after high school was challenging,” Jared explains. “I didn’t feel at home there.”

He spent four years on active duty, followed by three years in the Reserve. Jared earned the rank of staff sergeant for the U.S. Air Force before taking on a full-time active reservist role.

“Serving in the military definitely changed my life,” says Jared. “When I joined at 19, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. The military gave me a sense of responsibility, and of learning how to report up to senior leaders. I had to grow up really fast to succeed.”

After earning his associate’s degree in the Air Force, Jared enrolled at Saint Paul College after his honorable discharge from the Air Force to study machining.

“It didn’t take long for me to realize that college still wasn’t a good fit for me,” Jared says. “It pushed me back to full-time military.”

So Jared rejoined the Air Force Reserves and worked in Ordinances (he trained in munitions while in the Air Force). It was while working in Ordinances that Jared learned about Helmets to Hardhats, a program that would change his life’s direction.

“My superior had me escort this sheet metal crew that was working on our building (because of the higher security requirements related to that area). I did this for about two months and one of the guys, Foster Hachet, suggested that I check out Helmets and Hardhats when he learned that I was starting to think about what I was going to do after the Reserves,” Jared recalls.

Helmets to Hardhats is a non-profit that helps veterans in the transition to civilian work. The program serves members of the National Guard, Reserve, and retired or transitioning active duty service members by connecting them with career opportunities in construction. The program gives veterans the chance to transition without stress and apply skills they’ve learned in the military.

In the Air Force, Jared worked with tools in hands-on maintenance every day. When Jared connected with Helmets to Hardhats, the program introduced him to an apprenticeship program with the Sheet Metal Workers Union. The program allowed Jared to start working full time right away and gave him the opportunity to attend classes conducted by the union to build his expertise.

Leveraging his G.I. Bill and VA housing benefits has given Jared the cushion he needs to learn as an apprentice. Jared will become a journeyman in five years, at which point, he will earn $42 an hour, miles above the current minimum wage, working with sheet metal.

In addition, Jared’s union – Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 – provides him with a strong sense of community he found in the military. The union acts as a brotherhood and sisterhood for Jared.

“Everyone helps each other out – just like in the Air Force,” Jared explains.

“I love my job,” Jared says. “I love my company and the mindset of the union. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. It’s like the military – hard work pays off.”

Valuing hard work is essential in Jared’s line of work, especially in opportunities to advance.

“Every 1,000 hours I work, I get a pay raise,” Jared says. “I also build hours towards a pension through a 401k-like program.”

By developing his skills, saving for retirement, and working for raises, Jared can continue to serve his community and build a future for himself and his family.

“I own a house, I bought a truck, and I’m getting married. There’s no doubt I can raise a family through this work,” Jared says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

While Jared’s path to success may be somewhat unique – trying a little bit of everything, from college to military to construction – he does have some words of advice for those in the military looking to make the transition to a career in a different field.

“Give the trades a chance,” Jared recommends. “Transitioning is easy, because, in a way, it’s kind of like the routine in the military — you’re expected to show up on time, be prepared to work, and work hard. Pretty simple.”

“Use your G.I. Bill,” Jared adds. “Use resources like Helmets to Hardhats. I tell everyone I meet about this program so it can benefit them like it has benefitted me.”

While neither college nor a life-long career in the military were a good fit for Jared, taking advantage of resources has allowed him to find work that does matter. Careers in construction – where you can work with your hands every day – is an option open for anyone looking to explore new, exciting paths outside of the ordinary.

To learn more about Helmets to Hardhats, click here.