Helmets to Hardhats: Helping Canada’s veterans transition to civilian life

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Special to Ontario Construction Report

Honouring veterans is a daily commitment at Helmets to Hardhats Canada.

“The vision for Helmets to Hardhats is to support transitioning veterans into the skilled trades as a second career while simultaneously filling labour market shortages” said Joe Maloney, international founder of Helmets to Hardhats and Canada’s Executive Director of Helmets to Hardhats (H2H).

The Canadian skilled trades sector has been wrestling for a long time with the challenge of a shrinking workforce that has increased with the large number of workers who have retired early because of the COVID pandemic. The Canadian forces annually have more than 8000 regular and reservist personnel who retire from the forces and their average age is 32.

A registered non-profit organization started in 2012; H2H is “the leading construction industry gateway for the men and women who have served in Canada’s military.” The organization partners with company owners, employers and Canada’s 14 building trade unions to provide a reliable and effective process to meet their mission of “assisting veterans, reservists, senior cadets, military spouses and dependents and Afghan interpreters who are transitioning from military service, into well paid, highly-skilled second careers in construction”.

“The program has been very successful in meeting its objectives,” stated Maloney. “More than 2500 former military members have moved into skilled trades over the last ten years with a retention rate of 90%. The key to the program is to emphasize that this is a second career that includes significant benefits from the apprenticeship programs they enter including excellent wages and high quality training at no cost.”

Maloney went on to say that veterans have been very appreciative of the opportunities offered by H2H and stressed that many of the skills learned in the military are directly transferable to the trades. In addition to actual trade skills many of them have learned while in the military, skills such as leadership and teamwork are invaluable to their new careers. The industries involved in the program are also appreciative of the military vets and the experience and work ethic they bring into the skilled trades.

Helmets to Hardhats simplifies the process for veterans to move into apprenticeship programs, skills training as well as career placement. The vision of H2H is “to harness the valuable skillsets that veterans gain through their military experience and transfer those assets into second careers in the skilled trades to the mutual benefit of Canada’s unionized construction industries and the veterans themselves.”

The process

The H2H process includes a wide range of services to the eligible military personnel. Eligibility includes those in the regular and reserve forces and their families, senior army, sea and air cadets, Afghan interpreters and people retired from the military. Registration is necessary with a professional resume. Successful registrants chose from a list of services/support to access the jobs that interest them including

  1. How to transfer their military training into civilian credentials.
  2. Choosing a skilled trade.
  3. Help creating a professional resume for the registration step.
  4. A “roadmap” of how the H2H process works.
  5. How to access financial assistance.

For those interested in apprenticeship opportunities, there is a wide range of trade union partners affiliated with H2H throughout the country who have openings in the electrical, millwright, carpenter, labourer, plumber & pipe fitter and other trades. “It should be noted based on this magazine’s readership that the most popular trade area for registrants in H2H is the mechanicals sector,” said Maloney.

In addition, H2H partners with employers that offer jobs beyond the skilled trades such as administration, planning, logistics and security. These employers include OPG, Suncor, Bruce Power, VIA Rail, Johnson Controls, Syncrude, Irving Shipbuilding, TC Energy and Hydro One.

Partnering

Maloney and other supporters of the program spend a great deal of time each year speaking with employers and trade unions about the program. Their hard work has paid off with the establishment of a large support base for the program in the private sector. “There are more than 61 various occupations within the 14 building trades unions that nationally participate in the program,” said Maloney. “On our website there is a long list of trade positions in locations across the country that unions have communicated to H2H and are looking to fill. The program is as straight forward as possible so veterans can move forward with their new careers”.

Veteran Affairs Canada is a strong supporter of H2H as well as some of the provincial ministries who deal with the trades and veterans. “Our job is to have are partners understand the skills that military veterans bring to the workplace,” says Maloney.

Another objective is to reduce as much of the stress as possible for the veteran who is adjusting  to civilian life. This can be a very difficult for veterans and their families after their lengthy time in the military environment. Their lives have been centred on a system where virtually everything is regimented and provided for them. Civilian life can become a very stressful and anxious transition.

Veterans simply have to register with H2H and choose the type of position they would like to pursue. Maloney also pointed out that H2H is working with homeless shelters to identify veterans and to assist with their transition into civilian life.

Going forward

The program has been a great success and has met the objectives that Maloney was looking for when he proposed establishment of the organization. Though H2H’s accomplishments over the last ten years have been satisfying, Maloney recognizes there is always more to do for the program to grow and bring in more veterans.

“As I have said so many times, the key is to have the veterans understand that they are starting a new career,” said Maloney. “The opportunities offered by H2H continue to make sense to veterans with the high quality training and excellent wages. We encourage industries that are looking for apprentices to consider veterans and call us at Helmets to Hardhats.”

For more information on H2H, go to https://www.helmetstohardhats.ca/.

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