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June 2012

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New Program Connects Canada's Veterans with Construction Careers

More than 5,000 Canadian soldiers transition to civilian life every year, including thousands of veterans of the Afghanistan conflict. But for many veterans, coming home too often means worrying about starting a new career.

But a new Canada-wide program is bringing together government, business and labour leaders to recruit military veterans into the construction trades. Modeled on the successful Helmets to Hardhat program in the United States, the Canadian version was launched earlier this year.

"The government of Canada is committed to supporting our veterans," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the program's kickoff in Edmonton, Alberta, January 6. "Helmets to Hardhats will be a natural fit for many military veterans, allowing them to take advantage of a new set of civilian opportunities that build on the set of skills they acquired while in uniform."

Started by the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Helmets to Hardhats works one-on-one with returning service men and women to connect them with apprenticeship training and job opportunities in the construction industry.

And with the demand for skilled workers increasing with the booming energy sector and the federal government's commitment to domestic shipbuilding, there isn't a better time for veterans to get into the trade.

"The Canadian Building Trades are pro-oil sands, -ship building and -‚Ā†pipeline," says Robert Blakely, director of Canadian Affairs for the Building Trades. "These are projects that will create work for returning veterans."

Alberta was an appropriate setting to introduce the program. With a booming oil sands region in the north, the province faces a chronic construction worker shortage.

"Our veterans do so much for us, and from a business standpoint, these are the most skilled workers you can find," says TransCanada Corp. Chief Executive Russ Girling. The company, one of Canada's largest energy companies, is a sponsor of Helmets to Hardhats. "They're skilled, they're disciplined, and we need those workers," he says.

The federal government and the government of Alberta have committed to providing $150,000 each for the program. Union members say they hope that the program will make elected officials think twice about importing temporary foreign workers to fill jobs that could be done by Canada's veterans.

"Our troops not only keep our nation safe, but represent an untapped valuable resource our economy needs," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming. "Helping returning veterans re-enter civilian life should be a national priority. By connecting them with the building trades, it's a win-win for everyone."

More information can be found at www.buildingtrades.ca.


image

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, standing center in red tie, joins with military veterans and members of the Boilermakers union for a group photo at the union's training center in Edmonton, Alberta, after announcing Canada's participation in the Helmets to Hardhats program.

Credit: Richard MacIntosh, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers