NY Helmets to Hardhats offers competitive but fast-track options for veterans seeking unionized construction careers

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Courtesy NY Helmets to Hardhats

New York Construction Report staff writer

Military veterans seeking a second career have enhanced opportunities to begin solid-paying unionized construction careers through the Helmets to Hardhats program, but the entry process remains highly competitive, says the national program’s New York state director.

Anne Malloy-Trenkle with representatives from several trade unions outlined the career transition change opportunities and challenges in three days of virtual open houses in April.

(These annual events are traditionally handled with invitations to tour union training centers but the COVID-19 pandemic set new rules for the process.)

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Anne Malloy-Trenkle

“This is a competitive process,” Malloy-Trenkle said. “We average 100 veterans a month that are registering with us looking to join the construction trades.”

Civilians hoping to start a unionized construction career usually need to wait for apprenticeship application intake opportunities, sometimes once every three years. (The unions manage the number of new apprentices based on available job opportunities, as they don’t want current journeypersons and already-enrolled apprentices to lack opportunities.)

“If you watch the news you’re going to see people camping out on the sidewalk just to get an application,” she said. These applications might not even reach an interview stage – and “they’ll never get in — they might never make it to the top tier.”

On the other hand, Helmets to Hardhats offers qualified veterans a “direct entry” program, meaning the candidates don’t need to wait for the infrequent public intake opportunities, and they can (if they pass the rigid screening requirements), move right into the next available apprenticeship training opportunities.

Photos from NY Helmets to Hardhats

The program will provide “that availability where you are going to get to the door for your interview, your aptitude tests and everything else,” Malloy-Trenkle said.

“If you don’t put in a professional effort with your resume, with your interview, most likely you are not likely to be prepared to prepared to commit yourself to a future career in construction, and you won’t have the outcome you desire. So we really try to knuckle down and put you on the right path.”

Through the years, contractors and unions have found that veterans often work well in construction after concluding their military careers. Construction work is often in outdoor conditions and, to succeed and work safely, employees must be ready to strictly follow directions and rules – conditions that, of course, apply to the military candidates.

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Photos from NY Helmets to Hardhats

Conditions for participation in Helmets to Hardhats include an Honorable Discharge, being in a suitable physical condition, and meeting aptitude and certain high school or college math requirements.

“Every applicant will also have to pass a drug test,” she said. “So regardless of whether you heard on the news or social media, marijuana, medical or otherwise, is still considered a drug.

“The training directors have seen it all, they’ve heard it all. There’s no equivocating. There’s no discussion. If you fail your drug screening, you will not be able to join an apprenticeship program.”

Each participating union has its own arrangement for apprenticeship training, often with dedicated training centers including classroom and workshop settings. Occupational health and safety certification is often among the first topics covered. When apprentices are on job sites receiving on-the-job experience, they are paid.

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After Malloy-Trenkle’s introduction, several union representatives for trades ranging from electricians and plumbers, to sheet metal workers and laborers outlined their training programs and opportunities. (The laborers’ union includes several specialities, which require specific training, as well as general safety and worksite instruction.)

Helmets to Hardhats asks potential workers to research the various trades to figure out which ones they think would best match their interests and skills to start out on a life-time career. Once they are ready to apply, they submit the application through the New York H2H website, and then the relevant unions take over for the intake interviews and testing.

“We were created to offer a solid career to our returning post 9-11 veterans, she said. “We want to place each veteran, one time. That is why we put so much emphasis on your due diligence to choose the right craft for you.”

“Think about it. Is this the type of work I want to do the next 25 to 30 years, every day, day in, snow, heat everything? We want you to be long-term. We want you to be committed to your union.”

For more information about Helmets to Hardhat in New York, see http://nyh2h.org.

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