Helmets to Hardhats: Former soldiers, employers invited to create construction careers soldiers

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By Anja Karadeglija

Special to The Canadian Design and Construction Report

The federal Helmets to Hardhats program is now officially in service, with the website, which links employers and veterans looking for jobs, launching in September.

The program helps individuals in the Canadian Forces find apprenticeships and jobs in the construction industry.

Employers interested in taking part can sign up on the website. While the program was created in partnership with the Canadian Building Trades, companies can also advertise non-union positions, provided the jobs fulfill the criteria.

Executive director Greg Matte – himself a retired brigadier-general – says the program is about finding second careers, not minimum-wage jobs.

“The bottom line is that whoever is going to employ these soldiers, we want them to be providing the benefits these unions provide in the sense that they’re going to be getting paid good wages, there’s going to be benefits such as health and dental, pension plans are required, and so on,” he said. “It’s about finding a second career, and a rewarding career that they can grow into and do well for themselves and their families.”

Companies of any size can get involved as long as “they’re treating these people well,” he explained.

Matte said it will take a while to get the program up to full speed and that they are still working out some kinks, but that military members have started signing up.

“It will take time for people to become aware of the website and find it. Once they do, it will become, I think, a very useful tool for everyone involved,” he said.

He doesn’t have a goal of a specific number of individuals that he hopes eventually go through the program, but hopes it’s “as many as are interested in going through it.” In the United States, more than  85,000 people have gone through the American Helmets to Hardhats program in the past nine years.

There’s a number of reasons veterans and the construction industry are a good fit for each other, he said.

The construction industry needs skilled workers, while the experience and abilities of individuals with a military background serve them well in a career in construction. For instance, they are used to hard work and working outdoors, as well as adapting to different worksites and jobs.

“This is largely sponsored by the 14 international unions that are involved in this program, and as I like to say to the business managers of the various unions across Canada when I meet them, there’s a cultural similarity [between the military and unions] that only became apparent to me very recently,” Matte added. For instance, both look after their members, and members look after each other.

Practically, 14 of the 85 occupations or specialties within the military translate directly into the trades, like electricians or sheet metal workers. Such workers would likely only need an exam to achieve journeyperson status, Matte noted.

He said employers who get involved in the program will benefit because former military members make adaptable, professional, dedicated and committed workers.             They’re also very accustomed to learning and developing their skills and knowledge.

“Furthermore, you have to understand that because of the nature of the business of the military, they’re very accustomed to working in teams, and not only are they accustomed to taking direction and working as a team member, but they can very easily take up the role of a leader,” Matte explained. “So if they don’t necessarily initially have the initial trades skill, it might take a few years for them to become a journeyperson, but thereafter, they can quickly grow into positions of leadership, whether it’s being a site foreman, or a general foreman, or manger, general manager – you name it.”

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