by Laura Tingo
Helmets to Hardhats, a nonprofit entity born of the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) of the AFL-CIO, recruits outgoing members of the U.S. military to the building and construction trades—essentially helping America’s heroes transition from life in the service to life as a civilian.
Helmets to Hardhats offers mentoring, counseling and access to apprenticeship training programs and job placement services. Completion of its comprehensive apprenticeship training program means a three to five year commitment in the classroom and on the jobsite. Graduates are often recruited by contractor partners who offer a wide range of employment opportunities.
“Their ability to follow orders…chain of command…their discipline serves as a correlation that makes it an easy transition from the military,” said Darrell Roberts, the Executive Director of Helmets to Hardhats and a veteran of the armed forces, who served in the U.S. Navy and the Army National Guard. “They are trained in the skills they need to excel on the jobsite, and they turn out to be prize workers in the construction industry. Their leadership, level of responsibility and understanding they bring to the field opens up huge opportunities in construction. It’s a mutual benefit.”
Roughly 1800 – 2200 returning service members sign on each month with Helmets to Hardhats, which offers apprenticeship training programs and job placement at no-cost to veterans. “They can keep their GI Bill in their pocket,” Roberts said. He recalled what it was like following 10 years of life as a soldier. “I did have trouble with my first transition from the Navy and started construction…I now see my work with Helmets to Hardhats as my service to my fellow veterans.”
Through its connection with the AFL-CIO and direct interaction with Helmets to Hardhats leadership, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance recognized the organization’s value early on and has continuously looked for opportunities to offer support. This took on a greater meaning when USA Deputy Director Mike d’Oliveira learned that one of the USA’s top corporate partners was interested in delivering greater value to the labor market.
Carhartt, a proud USA partner and iconic 125-year-old U.S. brand in the active work wear and outdoor categories, supports labor by outfitting the everyday working man and woman with the gear that’s tough enough for any job at a great value. Some of the brand’s top lines are made in the U.S. by union labor.
“We value Carhartt’s commitment to us on behalf of American workers, sportsmen and conservationists, and we also believe in the mission of Helmets to Hardhats,” said d’Oliveira, who heads USA’s corporate partnerships. “Seeing the good work each group was doing independently to help the everyday worker, we viewed this as a great opportunity to introduce two valued partners in the union community.”
d’Oliveira got the conversation started between the two groups through a discussion with Brent Booker, BCTD Secretary-Treasurer and USA Board member, and Carhartt Senior Brand Manager Tim Humes. Upon seeing a common interest in America’s working men and women and the great work Helmets to Hardhats is doing to help make that transition from military to civilian life, Carhartt made a commitment to support the program and made a formal announcement during the 2014 BCTD Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.
“It struck me the first time I spoke with [Carhartt] that they are looking for collaboration…ways to contribute,” said Booker. “They stepped up with their dedication to our vets.”
“Carhartt and Helmets to Hardhats are similar in that we both value the importance of hard work and have a great respect for those who work with their hands,” said Humes. “It was a natural fit for us to support a group that connects service members with skilled training and construction careers.”
The partnership between Carhartt and Helmets to Hardhats continues to thrive and discussions regarding continued financial and in-kind support are ongoing.
“We are understaffed and we are underfunded,” Roberts added. “Funds are greatly needed. It gives us the opportunity to expand in areas and grow and help more people. Carhartt evokes a vision of `salt of the earth.’ We are very grateful for the opportunity and the chance to work with them at this level. It’s immeasurable.”