By Don Procter
Special to GTA Construction Report
Since Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) was founded two years ago this May, more than two dozen armed forces vets have been placed through Carpenters Loc. 27 on construction jobs – either as carpenter’s apprentices or journeypersons.
It is a partnership proving successful for the Carpenters union, the vets and the contractors who hire them, says Mike Humphries, Loc. 27 business rep and liaison with H2H.
A contractor that can attest to that is Skyway Canada Limited. A major scaffolding contractor in the Greater Toronto Area, Skyway has hired three H2H military vets this spring through Loc. 27’s hiring hall.
Kerry Matchem, construction manager of Skyway Canada, sees it as a smart move. The three ex-vets are working well on site, exhibiting a strong work ethic and discipline on the job, Matchem says, adding he plans to hire more H2H vets as work ramps up over the summer.
Trevor Fick, a fourth-year carpenter’s apprentice, was hired by Skyway about three months ago through Carpenters Loc. 27. “The transition from military to civilian life was made a lot easier thanks to Helmets to Hardhats and the union,” says Fick.
Skyway also hired ex-military vet Wyatt Bilger, a journeyperson carpenter, and
Juan Sebastian Villa, a first-year apprentice. Both men’s military careers included deployment in Afghanistan.
Villa says Skyway is a good place to learn the carpentry trade skills. “There is no yelling going on here. It is a good atmosphere to learn the trade.”
Rory Smith, business representative for Carpenters Loc. 27 who has close ties to the scaffolding sector, sees Skyway Canada as a recruitment leader of ex-military personnel in the scaffolding industry, partly because the contractor’s management values the skillsets vets bring to the job.
“I think Skyway also hires vets because they see it as the right thing to do . . . a moral responsibility, you could say,” adds Smith.
Smith says the scaffolding sector is a “good fit” for H2H vets because the work is team-based and requires crews to be “thinking on their feet.”
“It’s the fundamentals of what they’ve done in the military,” he adds.
Through Carpenters Loc. 27, H2H vets in the GTA are offered free training in construction skills and practices including courses on WHMIS, fall arrest, work in confined space, formwork and scaffolding courses prior to going to work.
Helmets to Hardhats executive director Greg Matte says contractors like Skyway might be able to recruit another type of worker from the armed forces – transport truck drivers – if an initiative by the H2H is successful. The organization is working with a provincial government in effort to recognize the licence of heavy transport truck operators in the military which he sees as equivalent to a commercial transport trailer licence.
Right now, ex-military transport operators are required to go through an extensive testing process to achieve a commercial transport licence.
Since Helmets to Hardhats was founded in May 2012, 14 building trades unions and 400 locals across Canada have hired retired military personnel. Typically, 4,000 to 6,000 retire from the military annually, but many of those are 60 or over, not looking to restart their careers, says Matte.