The pandemic has “slowed” the drive by Helmets to Hardhats Canada (H2H) to place Canadian Armed Forces veterans in unionized construction trades, but H2H still managed to refer 30 veterans for possible placement in trade apprenticeships across Canada in February.
Five veterans started placements that month, one of them in B.C. and four in Ontario.
Among those vets was Sean Massinen who had 14 years of experience in the military but wanted to launch a new career and start thinking about planning a family one day.
To get placed, an H2H representative told Massinen to select three trades he was interested in. Carpentry topped his list.
“As a kid I loved building things with my hands,” he says, noting he spent plenty of time in his grandfather’s carpentry workshop getting familiar with tools.
Massinen got a job in February working for Elite Building Group Inc. as a first-year carpenter’s apprentice at a long-term care project in Owen Sound, Ont.
Under the tutelage of a journeyperson at Elite, the 32-year-old has done rebar work for the concrete foundation and helped with the construction of ICF walls.
Farzin Jamshidi, site supervisor at Elite, says because the young military veteran has shown a willingness to learn, the contractor is offering him more carpentry responsibilities to fill his days.
Julia Silva, project co-ordinator, says Elite offers incentives to young apprentices like Massinen who are keen and show aptitude for the trade.
While she sees a positive side to hiring military veterans, punctuality and work ethic can be examples, she is aware that some veterans have difficulty reintegrating into civilian society.
“We want to give them an opportunity to work with us where the environment is calm, not stressful,” Silva points out.
The pandemic not only slowed H2H’s efforts to place veterans, it also sidelined Massinen who contracted COVID-19 over Christmas.
He believes he contracted it from an ill friend he was caring for who had been misdiagnosed as having strep throat.
It was an unpleasant and debilitating experience.
“I had a full body rash and I had problems breathing if I lay down,” Massinen says, noting he recovered at home and slept propped up on his couch for two weeks.
Originally from Innisfil, Ont., he joined the armed forces as a reservist when he was still in high school. “At that point my lifelong dream was to be in the military.”
One of highlights of his 14-year career was with the Immediate Response Unit stationed in Atlantic Canada where ice and snow storms, hurricane relief as well as search and rescue operations were calls to duty.
In northern Labrador, a military detail to meet and greet Inuit residents in a remote community was an eye-opener to a culture he knew little about.
Massinen praises H2H for opening the door to a new career and he credits Mike Humphries, the H2H representative for Carpenters’ Local 27, for providing guidance and helping him land his first job.
“Coming out of the military, I didn’t know where to start. Through H2H, he (Humphries) has helped me every step of the way.”
Joe Maloney, national executive director of H2H, says the pandemic put a stop to a number of H2H duties including its cross-country information seminars on the program.
“We had to rely on word of mouth and social media campaigns.”
He says as the weather warms and construction ramps up, H2H organizers expect to see a lot more veteran placements in trade positions.
Some of those veterans might be steered towards management positions in construction as well because H2H is expanding its opportunities by allowing registered employers to advertise for positions other than just in the field.
As of February, three veterans applied for non-trade positions, Maloney says.