Next Big Opportunity for Transitioning Vets May Be in the Construction Industry

Construction worker hardhat laborer
Construction worker hardhat laborer

Darrell Roberts is the Executive Director of Helmets to Hardhats, a nonprofit organization that, over the past 15 years, has connected nearly 30,000 veterans to federally-approved apprenticeship training programs and careers in the construction industry.

Did you serve in the military? Do you have a son or daughter, a husband or wife, or even a neighbor or a friend at church, who served?

Returning home can be an overall overwhelming experience. With that said, this Veterans Day, I have a challenge for you.

Talk to a veteran, and tell that veteran that once he or she returns to civilian life, there are groups that want to help -- and, more importantly, there are viable pathways to new, fulfilling careers waiting on them.

I lead an organization that focuses on connecting veterans to career opportunities in the construction industry: Helmets to Hardhats.

Helmets to Hardhats is a national nonprofit designed to support transitioning active-duty military service members. We work every day, in every part of the country, to ensure all service members understand that hope and opportunity await them upon their return home.

While many companies and groups claim to help employ veterans, are those veterans connected to jobs, or are they connected to careers?

There is a big difference.

This is why Helmets to Hardhats introduces transitioning service members to promising career providers and vice versa. Because that is what they deserve: careers.

Veterans must simply create a profile with us to help training directors determine what transferable skills the applicant acquired during his or her military service.

I know the challenges associated with coming home. I served in both the Navy and the Army National Guard.

This is why I am exceptionally proud of the work we do – of the apprenticeship training programs with which we are affiliated. Each of our efforts feeds into a comprehensive approach, creating viable pathways to success for our nation’s heroes.

Helmets to Hardhats has made nearly 30,000 successful career transitions thus far. That means we have helped roughly 30,000 hard-working men and women find a place in the unionized construction industry.

And our work is far from finished.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the female veteran population and the minority veteran population are both on the rise. Our organization works with all populations, including historically underserved communities and disabled veterans, to be sure all veterans have a fair shot at succeeding.

Here is how it works: Our regional managers hit the pavement each day to get more veterans registered for the federally-approved apprenticeship training of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). Along with our boots on the ground, we also use the digital space to ensure all veterans are aware of, not only the apprenticeship training, but also the good-paying careers associated with this training.

What’s more, the training is privately funded, provided by the trade organizations themselves at no cost to the veteran. And no prior experience is needed. Most successful placements are veterans who begin with little to no experience in his or her chosen field.

Veterans even earn wages and benefits as they work through the earn-while-you-learn training. And, since these apprenticeship training programs are regulated and approved at both the federal and state levels, veterans can supplement their incomes by also utilizing their GI Bill benefits.

That means two checks: one from the contractor and one from the GI Bill.

It is worth mentioning that this apprenticeship training does not cost taxpayers a dime. Union members, along with their signatory contractor partners, invest more than $1.3 billion annually to fund and operate nearly 2,000 apprenticeship training facilities across North America.

In today’s hyper-partisan climate, it can be difficult to find programs that truly work, and even tougher to enjoy support from both sides of the aisle. Yet NABTU’s apprenticeship training does just that.

What’s not to like?

If you take away one piece of information after reading this, please know that this is not about finding jobs for veterans. This is about so much more. This is about connecting our brave service members to life-changing, lucrative careers.

By working alongside both labor and management, veterans are empowered to succeed – and there is no greater deed than helping a brother or sister who has served our country. So, even if you tell just one veteran, I challenge you to pass this message along:

Veterans should know that when they get home, Helmets to Hardhats is here. Apprenticeship training is available. Careers are waiting for them.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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