Helmets to Hardhats celebrates 10 years of helping Canadian veterans

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By Heather Kirk

Special to Ontario Construction Report

Dedicated to assisting veterans, senior cadets, active reservists transitioning from service, and Afghan interpreters who have assisted Canadians forces, into well paid, highly-skilled second careers in construction and related industries, Helmets to Hardhats has celebrated a decade of supporting those who have served.

Joseph Maloney, founder and national executive director of H2H, says the organization’s mission is simple: “In partnership with construction trade unions, governments and industry, H2H streamlines the pathways to apprenticeship, advanced training and career placement opportunities in the construction industry with registered employers who support those who have served our country.”

COVID was challenging, he said, but now the organization is gearing back up to do what it does best – connect veterans with promising second careers in construction. “The construction industry remained strong throughout COVID though challenged with restrictions and access to materials. Now though things are busy, employers are looking for apprentices and direct hires and the opportunity for those seeking meaningful employment is strong.”

H2H is largely funded in carrying out its mission through trade unions and employers. Supported by recent grants from the federal government, Maloney said H2H was able to hire two new outreach specialists who will work across the country spreading the word and raising awareness to both employer and veteran groups. “Part of our focus will be connecting with women and those in the LGBTQ community to be sure they understand the opportunity and what we have to offer.”

Maloney says all levels of government, and leaders including from Lawrence MacAulay, the minister of Veterans Affairs and Monte McNaughton, the minister of labour, training and skills development in Ontario, have been tremendous in supporting H2H and its initiatives and efforts.

Working directly with employers looking to hire, with veterans and organizations serving veterans to ensure they are aware of trades in-demand, H2H intends to pave the way for veterans and reservists to identify their next career. “Many of these folks are coming out of service in their early thirties so they still have full working lives ahead of them. They are not looking for jobs, but for careers where they can contribute, thrive and succeed.”

He says veterans coming out of military service are often in prime position for apprenticeships, having learned basic skills in areas such as plumbing, welding, electrical, or even having obtained large vehicle licenses that may be transferrable to civilian life. Some will have acquired enough skills on their resumes to move forward as direct hires.

Further preparing those veterans to hit the ground running, and to help employers looking to support veterans, H2H offers free safety training to equip workers with the required safety competencies and perspectives that will be required. Maloney says it saves employers both time and money, and ensures workers are equipped with additional skills that are required for jobsites either legislatively or through collective agreements.

Outside of the new energy focused on women and those in the LGBTQ community, H2H has always maintained a focus on connecting with homeless veterans.

“These service members leave the military, where food and shelter had been covered and some will fall through the cracks as they transition to civilian life if they do not have solid connections. We work with shelters in a number of cities across the country to try to identify homeless veterans, and with the Good Sheppard Ministry in Toronto. Through their veteran-focused programs it is that much easier to identify and connect with those we want to reach.”

The organization also works with Fanshawe College and Loyalist College to engage with military-connected students seeking opportunities within the trades, with Ontario Legions, and with trade unions and organizations supporting a range of interests including the nuclear industry.

Over its 10-year history H2H has referred 2,500 veterans for the opportunity to earn high wages, benefits and to be part of an industry that is strong and growing. “When people register with us, they start with a resume, so we have that snapshot of their skills. Then every single one will get a phone call so we can walk them through the process and their interests, get more information if it is needed, and then assist in the decision-making.”

Maloney says, as with everything, there are instances when an initial placement may not be a good fit, so H2H remains a resource. “We want to be sure people find a place they are happy, that they are well-positioned to move forward.”

“Coming out of the military veterans and reservists are disciplined, they know how to work as part of a team, but they are also great leaders. It is important that we always think about veterans, as we are hiring and recruiting, as we are looking to engage with various groups within the community, because they have so much to offer and this is something we can do to assist them as they transition out of military life.”

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