A local union that’s part of a movement to help military veterans successfully transition into civilian life, is urging other local building trades to join the effort.
Local 663, representing plumbers, steamfitters and welders, is one of several in Canada’s construction industry backing Helmets to Hard Hats, a program that helps veterans find work in the trades.
Ross Tius, business manger for Local 663, said it has already approved six candidates from the program for entry into the union, and he’s challenging other building trades to do the same.
“Given the sacrifice they’ve gone through, we owe them some form of respect and allegiance,” Tius said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
One apprentice from Helmets to Hard Hats is already working in Sarnia, Tius said, noting the other candidates are expected to be in place in the coming weeks.
He said veterans have proven themselves in adverse situations and bring leadership skills and discipline to the workplace.
“I think it’s a great fit for us.”
Like other sectors of the economy, Local 663 is facing demographic challenges with a number of its 1,250 members approaching retirement. Tius said that’s why it’s working to renew its membership through general recruiting, as well as programs like Helmets to Hard Hats.
“We feel that we could probably replace 100 in the next two years,” he said.
Executive director Greg Matte said that in the 20 months the Canadian Helmets to Hard Hats program has been running it has registered approximately 2,100 veterans, and has been dealing with more than 400 union locals, across 14 trades.
While every veteran is different, they can face similar challenges moving into civilian careers, he said, including being unfamiliar with how to search for jobs, or having specific military training that may not easily gain civilian accreditation.
“There are many occupations in the military that look very similar to civilian ones, but because of what we do and where we do it, it doesn’t quite meet the requirement,” he said.
Aside from those issues, finding a good cultural workplace fit for veterans accustomed to the support of the tight-knit military community can often be the biggest challenge, Matte said.
The organization has spoke with several veterans who have moved from job to job since leaving the military, in part, because “they just don’t feel that they’ve found the place where they feel welcomed, respected and able to contribute,” Matte said.
“This program, as it turns out, is wonderful for them because the building trades is a fraternity that is very similar to the military.”