Returning military personnel a labor resource for construction industry

The dwindling pool of potential labor for the construction industry is getting an injection from a largely untapped source – returning military personnel.

The non-profit Helmets to Hardhats is helping returning military staff, guardsmen and reservists find careers in the industry. The group has provided more than 17,000 apprenticeships and job opportunities for veterans since its inception in 2003, thanks largely to the recent conflicts in Iraqi and Afghanistan.

“These young men and women come out of the military with a fantastic work ethic,” said Connie Anderson, H2H marketing coordinator. “That work ethic is engraved, a part of them.”

H2H works by allowing both prospective workers and employers to register online. To list career opportunities, of which there are currently more than 37,000, employers that aren’t members of approved employer associations must meet specific criteria, including proof that their apprenticeship program is federally approved. They also must show a record of providing health and workers’ compensation insurance.

Apprenticeship and job candidates register on a separate H2H site, filling out an extensive questionnaire detailing their military and work experience. After an electronic match is made, a representative from a specific employer or union contacts the candidate.

“Making the transition into the [construction] trades is really fairly easy,” Anderson said.

Most of the users of the H2H service are 24 to 25 years old, and married with children. “These men and women are at a prime age [for the construction industry],” Anderson said.

But she said there are also many older veterans from the Vietnam and Korean wars that are searching for work.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics deems job opportunities for construction laborers to be good due to the numerous openings arising each year as laborers leave the occupation. Employment for the industry is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through 2012.

H2H is co-sponsored by all 15 building and construction trade unions, as well as their employer associations, which together represent about 82,000 contractors. Because it receives federal funding – about $6 million in fiscal 2005 – H2H is not limited to union-only programs.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.