Veterans are professional, self-disciplined, used to working in difficult conditions, and have great leadership skills. IBEW Local 105 is taking advantage of an initiative to attract these talented workers to their team.
When veterans leave the armed forces, they enter a very different world. Their skills and experience make them great candidates for almost any job, but employers aren’t always able to see their value.
Helmets to Hardhats is a program designed to help veterans find good careers in the civilian world. Originally formed in the US, a Canadian division was created in 2012. Executive director Greg Matte, a former fighter pilot, has led the program implementation for the Canadian H2H program since its inception.
“Our veterans have great skills, but these are often less tangible to civilian employers,” explains Matte. “We help veterans by translating their Military Personnel Record Resume into something these employers can understand. We also help guide veterans in choosing between any of the over 60 trades we work with. If they’ve already chosen their next career move, we help them get there. It’s a very personalized service.”
Matte’s three-person team have successfully placed one veteran into an apprenticeship or employment opportunity every three days on average since the program began in 2012 in Canada. “We have great support from the 14 building trade unions in Canada. Military personnel lead a very nomadic lifestyle, so it’s no problem to move to a new town or province if the job is right.”
IBEW Local 105’s Experience
Lorne Newick, Business Manager for Hamilton’s Local 105, has been involved with the program since its first year.
“I heard about the program from Local 105 members who had worked in the US,” says Newick. “I thought it was a fantastic way to show appreciation to those who have put their lives on the line so we can enjoy the freedoms we have. When I heard there was a Canadian chapter forming, I took an opportunity to attend an event they were having in Hamilton.”
Since then, Local 105’s experience with the program has worked out well. Newick has a great deal of praise for Steve Krsnik, Local 105’s military veteran member, saying “He came in with an incredible work ethic and level of effort.”
“I see hiring more veterans as being very beneficial to the IBEW,” says Newick. “Everyone we’ve interviewed had great skillsets, and were clearly people with ambition. That appeals to me and to my contractors, and we try to bring in veterans whenever we can.”
Helmets to Hardhats recognized Newick’s support in early December 2017 by presenting him with a commemorative coin marking the 5th anniversary of the program.
A Natural Fit
What makes Canada’s vets consider a career in a unionized construction trade?
Lorne Newick recalls discussions from his interviews. “They like that the IBEW is a brotherhood. It’s something they see as being similar to their military careers, where everyone had each others’ backs.”
In return, unions get seasoned, mature workers who are used to doing demanding work in the outdoors.
IBEW Local 105 isn’t the only union interested in hiring veterans. The United Association, the Teamsters, and the Ironworkers are all enthusiastic partners with Helmets to Hardhats. Business Managers from many organizations have provided positive testimonials for the program’s website.
Greg Matte comments on the demand. “As the program has matured, more locals have been notifying us about apprentice intake,” he says. “When that happens we go through our database – it’s kind of like a dating service.”
Making the Transition
During his military career, Krsnik was a member of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He left the military to start a family and began to look for work.
“I was juggling a few ideas, and my girlfriend’s mother (who is in a hospital workers’ union) mentioned Helmets to Hardhats. Greg was extremely open armed and welcoming. The program was new to Canada, and at that time was without a track record, but it has really worked out.”
Steve applied at a Local 105 apprentice intake, and placed in the top 10% of 300 candidates. He was hired on to help build the McMaster Health Sciences Training Hall. When work on the Health Sciences building came to an end, the shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa compelled him to spend a year in Syria fighting ISIL. On his return from the middle east, work in Hamilton was slow. He went to Alberta to do non-electrical rope access work until he could finish his apprenticeship.
Now a 3rd term apprentice, Krsnik is currently doing rope access electrical work with IBEW Local 424 in Alberta.
Rope access work involves being suspended from a harness at great heights. Often he sets up safer access (like secured ladders) for other electricians, or does the electrical work himself if the location is too high for boom trucks or ladders. It’s not for the faint of heart.
In his work, Krsnik faces extreme cold, high winds, all kinds of precipitation, and hazards like hot pipes or sharp objects nearby. His rope access training teaches him how to work safely in conditions like these, but he credits his army training in helping to overcome the mental and physical challenges.
“If you’re cold, you just remind yourself you’ve been colder, and that you can warm up in the truck when you’re done. In the army, we were taught to soldier on, to always be on time, and to give our best,” Krsnik says. “There’s no half-assing something; it’s a different mentality. One of my bosses said to me, ‘I’ve never seen someone work so hard.’”
When more work opens up, Krsnik plans to return to Ontario, where his family lives. “I love the union,” Krsnik says, “and I love the work I’m doing. The emphasis on brotherhood and safety is important to me, along with the peer support, financial support, and family support. I really appreciate that I can go back to my mother hall and be back on the books.”
“I recommend a career as an electrician to anyone who has their wits about them, and is good at math. I’ve recommended it to women I’ve run into, and to my girlfriend. I’ve had three of my army buddies join the electrical union in Alberta because of my recommendation.”
While making ends meet on an apprentice’s salary is challenging to someone with a family, Krsnik is excited about getting his journeyperson’s card. “You make good money, especially if you keep expanding your education, and you can go home to your family at the end of the day.”
Hi business manager is pleased with how Krsnik has worked out. “I’m looking forward to getting him back, especially considering that more rope access work is starting to come to Ontario,” says Newick.
Challenges the Veterans Face
While some veterans leave the military with injuries that limit their career options, the main challenge veterans face when looking for a new career is getting money for their education.
Canada does not fund education for veterans, unlike the US, which has had the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (AKA the GI Bill) since 1944.
To help rectify this, Greg Matte has been working with Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr to pass Bill C-42, the Veterans Well-Being Act. It has since stalled in Parliament.
What You Can Do?
There are two key ways that Locals and individual members can get involved.
If your local is interested in finding talented veterans, you can contact Greg’s team at the Helmets to Hardhats website.
You can also write your federal MP in support of Bill C-42. You can find your MP and their contact information here.
- Image of Greg Matte and Lorne Newick courtesy IBEW Local 105
- Image of Steve Krsnik as an electrical apprentice by Glenn Lowson for the Toronto Star. You can see the original article here.
- Images of Steve Krsnik in the middle east courtesy Steve Krsnik