By Samantha L. Quigley
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2006 – Transitioning from the military into the civilian work force can be as simple as trading one type of headgear for another through "Helmets to Hardhats." Helmets to Hardhats helps people leaving military service find careers in the construction industry, said Sarah Hayes, the not-for-profit organization's general manager. She noted that National Guardsmen and reservists also can benefit from the program.
Program participants must receive an honorable discharge from military service. Interested veterans can register on the program's Web site, www.helmetstohardhats.org. "When a candidate comes to the Web site, they give us their military experience, and they also tell us what they'd like to do," Hayes said. "We assess that, ... and we recommend specific construction careers to them."
Helmets to Hardhats has matched about 40,000 servicemembers with apprenticeships in construction unions around the country, Hayes said. The remainder of the 150,000 registered job-seekers are still looking for an apprenticeship in an area of their interest. The number of registrants grows each year, she added.
Program organizers helped Shane Anderson secure an apprenticeship with the International Union of Elevator Contractors Local 19, out of Seattle. "When I was getting ready to transition from the Army, I wanted to find a career that would be satisfying, financially rewarding, provide good benefits and a great retirement program," Anderson said in a Helmets to Hardhats news release.
Helmets to Hardhats focuses on 15 trades within the construction industry. Transitioning servicemembers can choose to apprentice as anything from a boilermaker or bricklayer to a roofer, carpenter or plasterer. "If they come in as a first-year apprentice, it usually lasts about four years," Hayes said. "On average, they actually make more than a college graduate after they finish."
Congress created the Carlsbad, Calif.-based organization in 2003 at the prompting of retired Marine Gen. Matthew Caulfield. Caulfield now serves as executive director of the organization, which is made up of the nation's top employers and union presidents. The organization received $5.1 million from Congress this year, Hayes said.
Also because of this program, governors in 22 states have signed resolutions stating that servicemembers are moved to the top of lists for qualified apprenticeship programs in the construction industry. That eliminates what could be a yearlong wait to get into such programs in those states, Hayes said.
The construction industry has welcomed servicemembers with open arms, Hayes said. "They're saving places for these military men and women," she said. "They have better skills; they're disciplined; they show up to work on time; and they know how to work in a team. Hayes also noted the military has "that brotherhood feeling." "And that is also true in the construction industry," she said.