Helmets to Hardhats for our veterans

We offer vets free training for good jobs in the building trades.

The unemployment rate for our military veterans is roughly twice the national average. This is perhaps the most overlooked statistic in stories on the U.S. economy.

American troops have fought overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan for 13 years now — the longest sustained military engagement in our nation’s history. Our troops have been bloodied, bruised and battered on those faraway battlefields.

The last thing U.S. servicemen and women should have to face is a perilous battle to piece together a successful career and fulfilled life after military service comes to an end.

America has always maintained a solemn promise to its military veterans to ensure them a successful transition to civilian life.

At his second inaugural, President Abraham Lincoln urged the nation “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.” On signing the GI Bill in 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt maintained that “what our servicemen and women want, more than anything else, is the assurance of satisfactory employment upon their return to civil life.”

It is upon this promise that the “Helmets to Hardhats” program was founded. Helmets to Hardhats is a nonprofit entity that connects transitioning veterans to the best careers in the construction industry. Veterans receive world-class apprenticeship training in the skilled trades (plumber, electrician, ironworker, etc.) from North America’s Building Trades Unions. No prior construction experience is needed.

Training lasts from three to five years and is offered at no cost to veterans, who can use Montgomery GI bill benefits to supplement their incomes while they learn.

Veterans like Marcel Henderson have found the program a life-saver. Marcel, a heavy-equipment operator in the Army, couldn’t find work to support his wife and two children for more than a year. Now he's enrolled in an H2H program in his home state of Alaska.

“I really thought my dream of being an operator was a lost cause,” Marcel said, “and now H2H was telling me not to give up; it was awesome.”

In 11 years, Helmets to Hardhats has eased nearly 20,000 successful transitions. In 2013 alone, the program helped more than 1,000 veterans, 35 in Pennsylvania. For those veterans, nearly $27 million will be invested in their training — again, at no cost to them.

The Helmets to Hardhats program shows what it means to care for those who have borne the battle.

Sean McGarvey is president of North America’s Building Trades Unions.