On Record: Helmets to payroll

It has all the earmarks of an excellent idea: actively recruit the 200,000 men and women leaving the military each year to turn the wrenches in our shops and fill our crews. Many come with specific training for these jobs – and even if they don’t, they’ve been through the rigors of boot camp, have served an honorable tour of duty and know what it takes to complete a mission.

Construction has a great leg up in recruiting this sought-after force: Helmets to Hardhats. As we’ve reported previously, this program began in 2002 connecting National Guard, Reserve and just-released active-duty military with construction training and jobs.

Today, Helmets to Hardhats receives about 10,000 registrations a month from those with a military background, according to Robert Williams, public relations manager. “We get so many registrants because we actively talk it up to those transitioning out of the military,” Williams says. “The program has great word of mouth.” Once registered, these applicants can search through the website’s current 87,000 posted jobs.

The good news for employers: posting a job is free. All of the expenses of the program are paid for by Uncle Sam.

One thing disturbs me when I view this website, though. The union presence is so overwhelming that non-union contractors might think it’s not for them. Not so, Williams says. “We just want to make sure the jobs listed offer the best pay, benefits and training,” he maintains. When asked if that means the prevailing union wage in an area, he says no, it just means a “decent wage.”

The experience of one Helmets to Hardhats recruit does follow the union route, though. After serving in the Marines for a full term and then being recalled to Iraq for an additional eight months, Erik Hickerson found himself floundering. “I had a new wife and I was starting to get worried,” he says. That’s when his former first sergeant reminded him about the Helmets to Hardhats presentation he had heard while still active. “I hadn’t paid much attention then, thinking construction was just hard work and bad pay,” Hickerson comments. “I was wrong.”

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Helmets to Hardhats hooked him up with Local 547 of the Carpenters’ Union in San Diego in 2005. “It was an outstanding outcome to a Hail Mary,” he now says. “It helped me pull everything together. It’s one of the best programs for those leaving the military.”

I’m delighted Hickerson has found a home in construction. And I hope this taxpayer-funded program matches these premium recruits with the entire construction industry, not just one segment of it.

To post your job on Helmets to Hardhats, go to: this site.