Canada's role as peacekeepers overseas is well-known, with over 2,000 personnel currently deployed on approximately 20 different missions across the globe. Veterans returning to civilian life can face many challenges in reintegration, including finding employment in a highly competitive job market. This Remembrance Day, the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO) is celebrating its eighth year in assisting returning veterans and active reserves to establish a stable career in a fast-expanding construction industry.
The CDCO is one of the 14 Canadian building unions—representing over 61 various occupations—supporting Helmets to Hardhats (H2H), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to veterans transitioning from military service and active reserves into skilled civilian careers in construction and related industries. H2H works with construction trade unions, as well as government and industry leaders to help forge paths for returning servicepersons towards apprenticeship, training, and career placement. While transitioning into civilian life may seem like less of an issue than it would be in places like the United States, there are an estimated 639,900 veterans in Canada― 232,200 of which reside in Ontario―with over 5,000 soldiers leaving the service annually.
Since its expansion to Canada in 2012, H2H has helped successfully place more than 1,000 Canadian veterans into new construction roles across the country. Joseph Maloney, founder of the Canadian branch of Helmets to Hardhats and executive director of the wider Helmets to Hardhats organization, states the program's intent "is to offer construction industry opportunities normally via an apprenticeship program for transitioning veterans," which results in eventual placement within a subcategory of the building industry that best fits their skill set. "Veterans returning to civilian life have skills that local employers need," reads a statement from Maloney, concluding that "this project will help them build upon the many existing talents they gained through time in the armed forces to unlock good jobs in the skilled trades."
In some cases, previous service experience can act as a perfect springboard for finding employment in civilian roles. Such was the case for Brent Dewell, who has served with the Toronto Reserve since 2009 in the 32nd Combat Engineers Regiment. "Helmets to Hardhats along with Local 27 Carpenter's Union invested in me and provided me an opportunity to find consistent work with reliable employers that provides a sense of job security while allowing me to utilize the skills I already possess from military service," Dewell tells us. "While I am still to this day an active member of this regiment, I joined the Local 27 Toronto Carpenter's Union in January, 2020 through H2H."
Prior to getting involved with Local 27 and H2H, Dewell was working in private security, which lacked the stability he sought for his family. "I would often work nights, days, and evenings, sometimes all in the same week," said Dewell. "I got training through the College of Carpenter's and Allied Trades and began working in April, 2020. Now that I work in construction, I have a balanced schedule that allows me to spend more time with my family while the union provides great benefits. The transition has been great, I could not be more grateful to the people who have helped me make this possible."
There are many parallels between military service and construction that make for a smooth transition like Dewell experienced, including working with teams under adverse weather conditions and strict time limitations, as well as familiarity with PPE and safety gear, as well as an understanding of heavy equipment like tracked vehicles. “Many of the individuals that are transitioning out of the military come in with specific training, and it is a very stress-free pain-free meshing of the skills they have that can be adapted to work in the construction industry,” reads a statement from CDCO President Mike Yorke.
Furthering support for this program, a $100,000 donation to H2H by the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) was issued to coincide with this year's Remembrance Day. “The Ontario Construction Secretariat’s Board of Directors and I are proud to support Canada’s armed forces, veterans and reservists as they transition to civilian careers in the unionized construction sector. These individuals deserve our respect and have proven over the years that they are more than competent skilled tradespeople, ”stated Robert Bronk, OCS Chief Executive Officer, during a Monday press conference. "The OCS trusts that this contribution will greatly assist the goals of this valuable organization,” continued Bronk.
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