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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Veterans — The fast-track solution to our labour shortage gap

Jamie McMillan
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Veterans — The fast-track solution to our labour shortage gap

As a skilled trades professional and advocate for the industry, promoting trades to youth has been at the top of my priority list.

With the looming labour shortage, reintroducing the importance of technology programs in student education is imperative.

Stating this, we know there is a gap in knowledge among students, parents and educators about the importance of infrastructure and the vast opportunities available for sustainable careers in the construction sector.

As a skilled trades professional of 20 years, at times, I have failed to comprehend how boundless careers in trades and technology can be.

We must be mindful that this industry boasts some of the most substantial and rewarding careers of our time, especially as we move into blossoming fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), advanced manufacturing, robotics, modern technology and artificial intelligence.

We need creative, innovative minds that can develop new designs to adapt to our changing world and the way we build and maintain it.

Educating the young hands of today to build the world of tomorrow is my passion. However, in recent months, I have been offered an opportunity by someone I hold in high regard.

This prospect will expand my efforts in reaching another demographic.

When I received an invitation to meet with Joseph Maloney, the founder of Helmets to Hardhats Canada, to expand my efforts from youth to women and LGBTQ2+ Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans, reservists, their immediate families, senior cadets and resettled Afghan interpreters, I was honoured.

I have always been very vocal about the need for diversity in the workplace and have specifically focused on breaking down biases through school outreach efforts at KickAss Careers.

Luckily, this experience made me a great candidate to join the Helmets to Hardhats Canada team along with my new friend and colleague, Cora Saunders.

Our central focus is on highlighting skilled trade opportunities for women and LGBTQ2+ veterans as they transition to civilian life.

Many civilians are unaware of CAF members’ challenges and barriers, both while in uniform and during the shift to civilian employment.

They are away from friends and family for extended periods, often at short notice, and in austere and dangerous locations.

Families move frequently, kids shift from school to school and many CAF families struggle with living and working in areas not representative of their first official language.

In addition, there is persistent family stress due to the uncertainty of the CAF operations.

While serving on deployments, service members face experiences that cannot be compared to jobs in civilian life.

Settling back into a civilian world presents difficulties, from finding affordable housing, a shift in purpose and identity, a change of social status, spousal employment and a search for meaningful second careers: one where veterans will not be exploited.

A CAF career is unique and vastly differs from the lifestyle of an average Canadian.

Many of our veterans retire at a relatively young age and have the ability to pursue an entire second career.

While some explore post-secondary education, a vast majority seek new employment pathways.

Regardless, the transition to civilian life is complex and can be personally dislocating for some veterans; this is where Helmets to Hardhats is a valuable asset, as many are looking for opportunities in the skilled trades across the country.

CAF veterans should be a deliberate focus of current recruitment efforts to build a future workforce.

From apprenticeship to management, veterans possess outstanding qualities, abilities and skills crucial to building and construction careers.

They are dedicated, competent, hardworking employees that thrive under pressure. Additionally, many veterans have exceptional leadership skills, value teamwork, exude professionalism, and recognize the importance of health and safety.

As the aging workforce retires, we face a massive shortage of skilled trades professionals.

Extraordinary efforts are being made to attract a future generation of educated individuals and apprentices to build and maintain our national infrastructure. Although there are many pathways into mechanical, industrial, technology, construction and advanced manufacturing sectors, including apprenticeship, college and university programs, it takes time to learn and become an experienced, competent worker.

Hiring a veteran is an excellent way to fast-track the process by welcoming individuals with experience, confidence and competencies that employers across the nation highly value.

Whether you are an employer or employee, work demands a significant amount of your time and life.

Moreover, as mental health is an omnipresent concern in today’s workplace, we must maintain positive environments and inclusive work cultures.

Veterans excel under pressure, adapt quickly to changes and take great pride in completing tasks in a timely, organized manner or working as part of a team.

These human skills make veterans a fantastic asset to any workplace.

Helmets to Hardhats is an excellent opportunity to give back to those who contributed a great deal to the nation if you are an employer. For more information about Helmets to Hardhats, visit

Jamie McMillan, a journeyman ironworker, is a Helmets to Hardhats recruiter as well as a the co-founder of KickAss Careers. Send Industry Perspectives column ideas and comments to

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