Helmets to Hardhats founder retires after a decade of helping former Canadian military members find skilled trades careers

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- Labour Minister Monte McNaughton with H2HCanada’s Alex Lolua and Joe Maloney launch a new poster campaign informing homeless veterans of opportunities at H2H.

By Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction Report

Even with his retirement just around the corner, Joe Maloney is still very much focused on spreading the word about the value of military veterans as employees and increasingly managers in the building trades.

“These young men and women  bring great knowledge and life skills that they’ve learned in the military,” said Maloney, who retired May 26 from his position as Canadian executive director of Helmets to Hardhats (H2H), a  non-profit he founded in 2012 that helps transition veterans into civilian construction jobs while at the same time alleviating labour shortages in the industry.

“They can work in a team environment, they know how to take orders and they come in with  good attitudes,” Maloney told Ontario Construction News. “We’re seeing a lot of them advancing very fast into management positions because they shine on the job.”

Maloney, a Toronto-born father of two who has been married to his wife Jeanette for 45 years, has had a distinguished career as a union representative, serving as international vice-president of Canada for the Boilermakers Union after joining Boilermakers Local 128 in Toronto in 1974 as an apprentice fitter and rigger – before assuming roles from steward to president and finally as business manager. A graduate of Harvard University’s Trade Union Program, he was also director of the Canadian Office of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Council before returning to the Boilermakers in 2005.

“Joe’s dedication and commitment to military veterans is on constant display wherever he travels,” said Maloney’s replacement as Boilermakers international vice president of Canada Arnie Stadnick, noting that Maloney has promoted veterans in presentations to various groups across the country.

“He is a true believer that our veterans deserve a place in civilian life.”

While working as the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ director of Canadian affairs, Maloney spearheaded the U.S. Helmets to Hardhats organization, with Engineering News-Record magazine naming him “2005 Man of the Year” for his work in creating the “innovative and outstanding program.”

When he left BTU to take the position as international vice-president for the Boilermakers in Western Canada, he also led the effort to launch the H2H program in this country, receiving the Meritorious Service Cross for his work.

Ottawa-based H2H Canada now has 10 employees, seven of them veterans, and an annual budget of more than $800,000 funded largely through one cent per hour worked contributions from unionized construction workers as per collective agreements, Maloney says.

The organization partners with company owners, employers and Canada’s 14 building trade unions to assist veterans, reservists, senior cadets, military spouses and dependents and Afghan interpreters in finding rewarding second careers in some 61 unionized construction occupations.

More than 2,700 former Canadian military members – from about 8,000 regular and reservist personnel who retire from the forces each year at an average age of 32– have been referred into the skilled trades including 360 last year alone. Maloney said the retention rate is 90 per cent, with many starting on the job after receiving high quality training at no cost through the program.

Maloney said he was inspired to begin building H2H when he realized that veterans were effectively an under-represented group. “It certainly was a dream many years ago but from concept to reality was very difficult.”

He said the military had to be convinced that the intention was to talk to people already leaving while the construction industry had to be shown the value of veterans as employees, a process that took time.

His lobbying ultimately gained support from then-NDP leader Jack Layton as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper who provided  seed money in the 2012 budget, with provinces including Ontario and Alberta, unions and employers contributing as well. Looking forward the program is focussed on attracting more veterans among women and the lgbtq2+ community as well as Indigenous people and individuals from other under-represented groups as the industry attempts to replace a wave of retirees.

James Hogarth, a pipefitter by trade who has been president for the past decade of the Ontario Building and Construction Trades Council representing more than 150,000 workers across 12 trade unions, takes over as H2H Canada executive director effective May 29.

“I’ve told my successor if you need anything at all just give me a call. I’ll always be there,” Maloney said. “Jim is a very competent individual but if he needs advice I’ll be here.”          Otherwise, he said he intends to spend more time with his family including his grandsons.

“I started in the trades when I was 17 years old and now I’m 67 so it’s time to kind of slow things down a bit.

“I am confident that James and his dedicated team will continue to advance our mandate,” Maloney said, adding that he would like to acknowledge the advocacy of employees, trade unions and (Veterans Affairs) Minister MacAulay and (Ontario Minister of Labour) McNaughton. “for recognizing the value added to the construction industry by a veteran.”

Asked if he plans anything special on his retirement day he said nothing is expected.

“It’s just been an honour to do what I have done. I’m just glad that I was able to do my little part. I found it very rewarding to help veterans, who are so deserving, to get opportunities in construction working for the safest, fairest employers.”

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