Construction unions recruit veterans to trade helmets for hardhats

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Jared Anderson, an apprentice with Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, talks about making the transition from the Air Force into a construction career with help from Helmets to Hardhats.

DULUTH — Minnesota’s construction unions kicked off their annual convention today by highlighting the career opportunities their apprenticeship programs create for military veterans like Jared Anderson.

Now a second-year apprentice with Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, Anderson entered the union in 2016 after leaving the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a staff sergeant. Helmets to Hardhats, a nationwide initiative that connects veterans with union construction jobs, referred Anderson to Local 10’s apprenticeship program.

Since then, in addition to his hands-on training, Anderson has worked on construction projects at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, Stillwater High School, New Prague Middle School and elsewhere.

“I love it. It was such an easy transition for me,” he said. “Every day you have a mission. We’ve got to get the building up, and here’s what you’ve got to do. Now do it.”

Anderson spoke at a morning press conference staged by the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades to mark “Hire a Veteran Month” in Minnesota. Justin Rost, state director of Helmets to Hardhats, said 20,000 military veterans have entered construction jobs since the organization launched nationwide in 2003.

People with a military background, Rost said, are a natural fit for work in the trades. They are accountable, disciplined and accustomed to taking and giving directions.

“They’re good employees right out of the gate even without any training,” Rost said.

Anderson said he was on the job site, earning a paycheck, “within a couple of days” of reaching out to Helmets to Hardhats. The organization also advised him to tap into housing benefits available to people in job training programs, a provision of the new GI Bill.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, joined the press conference. He pointed to government research showing that veterans who find work within 90 days of finishing their military service are much less likely to access mental-health services from the Veterans Administration.

Minnesota lawmakers recognized the value of Helmets to Hardhats a year ago with designated funding to support its mission. The next step, Walz said, is to fund construction projects for the union contractors that hire veterans.

“Our job is to make you so busy that they have to hire every single one of these heroes coming out of the military,” Walz said.

For military veterans looking to start a new career, the first step is to create a profile on the Helmets to Hardhats website.

The Building Trades Council’s 72nd convention began this afternoon and runs through tomorrow morning.

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