A program called Helmets to Hardhats puts ex-servicemen and women on a fast track for jobs in the building trades.
Glenn Lowson / For The Toronto Star
Steve Krsnik who spent 11 years in the Canadian military is retraining as an electrician’s apprentice, working on the new McMaster Health Sciences building in downtown Hamilton, (Oct 23, 2013.)
In 2010 when Master Corporal Steve Krsnik returned from 18 months in Afghanistan with the Princess Patricia Light Infantry he became a stay-at-home dad. Then he worked for a year as a heavy equipment operator in Northern Alberta.
But the 31-year-old Hamilton resident found an even brighter future this summer when a program called Helmets to Hardhats aimed at ex-servicemen and women helped him get fast-track training to become an electrician.
H2H Canada offers apprenticeships to anyone who has served or is currently serving, in either the regular Canadian Forces or the reserves. The program is supported by 14 unions in the building and construction industry, a $1 million grant from energy giant TransCanada Corp. and $500,000 from three provinces, including Ontario and the federal government.
Over 60 building trades ranging from welders and boilermakers to carpenters and painters have made a commitment to protect 10 per cent of apprenticeship positions for veterans. The actual number of positions varies, depending on the trade and the region. If no veterans apply, the positions can be filled by other people.
“Working in Alberta was not ideal for my family and it was not a long term career option,” Krsnik says. “So after doing some research and asking around I decided that becoming an electrician would suit me.”
Krsnik was introduced to Lorne Newick, business manager of Hamilton area Local 105 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Krsnik was one of 400 applicants who applied for 70 apprenticeship positions last spring.
Newick says that like all applicants, Krsnick had to pass an aptitude test and a subsequent interview. “Steve has mechanical abilities and he was quite enthusiastic about the electrical trade so he made the list.”
By late summer he was on his first job with contractor Guild Electric working on construction of the new McMaster University Health Sciences Centre in downtown Hamilton.
He is earning $14 an hour and after he logs five years of full-time work he can expect to earn about $36 an hour as a journeyman electrician.
H2H was launched in the U.S. 11 years ago. The Canadian program is 16 months old and has more than 1,500 people registered on the program website. Executive director Gregory Matte, a retired brigadier general, says there have been more than 100 successful placements and that could conceivably double or triple over the next several years.
He says H2H shows employers how skills gained in the military can translate into a civilian workplace.
While allowing H2H candidates to jump ahead in the queue initially created misunderstandings among some union members, Matte says in almost every case when he met with union locals, they came on board and were fully supportive.
“It’s not like we are talking high numbers. I explained that we may send one or two quality people who need help to any one union local over a six month period.”
H2H appealed to Krsnik because it was a more direct way to get into the very competitive electrical trade.
“My dream in 10 or 15 years time is to build sustainable, self-sufficient homes out of re-cycled products that are off the grid. So becoming a journeyman electrician is an important stepping stone,” he says.