Stepping up for Helmets to Hardhats

About $1 million is needed for the startup costs for a Canadian program that helps soldiers transition from active duty into the construction industry.

Helmets to Hardhats is expected to run “full blast” by January 2013, though word is already spreading and many soldiers are being placed on an ad-hoc basis, report stakeholders involved in the program.

Employer responses have been positive, said Joe Maloney, International Vice-President and Chairman of the Canadian Executive Board of the Canadian Building Trades.

“Employers are quite eager to get this going because they’re going to want to use this not only for getting top quality candidates, but also maybe entry level managerial, entry level engineering, etcetera.”

Maloney and his team lobbied the federal government to bring the program to Canada. Maloney is one of the founders of the program in the United States where it was established in 2003.

A fundraising dinner, organized by a collection of construction and building trades stakeholders, will take place in May with the aim of fulfilling some of the program’s startup costs.

Hugh Laird, executive director of the Interior Systems Contractors Association (ISCA) and a lobbyist for the Canadian program, expects startup costs to range between $750,000 and $1 million for projects like developing the website and to hire an executive director. He said they will look at long-term, sustainable funding down the road.

The program gives veterans exclusive access to jobs and training opportunities in the construction industry, where they can apply the skills they developed in the Canadian Forces. Once the website is up, it will be able to match transitioning veterans with their desired trade and location. That will lead to a meeting and assessment to determine what entry level that person begins their trade in.

The federal government and the government of Alberta each committed to $150,000 for the program. There have also been donations from many other associations.

“All the people who have contributed and the organizations financially, we can’t thank them enough,” said Maloney.

Speakers at the Helmets to Hardhats dinner will include the organization’s new executive director, a member of the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blanley and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Laird has no doubt it will sell out.

“This one here, everybody really, really, really wants to help and are very supportive of our troops.”

Helmets to Hardhats is a win-win situation for everyone, especially with the looming labour shortage, noted Laird.

“A lot of people are looking at bringing in foreign workers, but we don’t believe that’s necessary in all cases. We’d like to offer the jobs to these guys who are out there working for us right now,” he said.

ISCA worked with the Good Shepherd homeless shelter in downtown Toronto for 15 years, which estimates about 10 per cent of clientele are ex-military.

“They come back and they don’t fit in very well because of all the stuff that they’re exposed to,” explained Laird.

“The good thing about [Helmets to Hardhats] is we let them know five or six months before they come out that there is a job waiting for them. If you can get them to work right away, hopefully they won’t fall by the wayside and end up in places like the Good Shepherd Centre.”

The Canadian Forces transitions about 5,200 members to civilian life every year.

The Helmets to Hardhats Dinner will be held at the Paramount Conference and Event Centre, at 222 Rowntree Dairy Road in Woodbridge, northwest of the Highway 400-407 interchange, north of Toronto, on May 23 at 6 p.m. For more information, contact Linda Di Tomaso at 416-746-4722 or

All cheques are to be made out to Helmets to Hardhats Dinner and mailed to 60 Sharer Road, Woodbridge, ON L4L 8P4.