'Helmets to Hardhats' project to train troops for local jobs
By Audrey McAvoy
By Audrey McAvoy
Hawai'i troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to the tightest employment market in the nation may soon benefit from a program that will train them for private construction jobs.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said yesterday that the "Helmets to Hardhats" program will start in Hawai'i next month to help National Guard members who have lost their jobs while deployed.
It also will address the worker shortage straining Hawai'i's construction industry, Abercrombie said. The state had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation last year — 2.8 percent, down from 3.3 percent a year earlier.
On the Mainland, the jobs program has helped 20,000 servicemen and women find new careers in the three years since its inception.
The military estimates that 25 percent of National Guard troops return from war to find they can't go back to the civilian jobs they had before they were deployed, Abercrombie said.
Members of the full-time regular armed forces also may benefit from the program if they decide to leave the military and develop new careers, he said.
"This is an opportunity for us to take folks who have served our nation who might not otherwise have the opportunity to step into these jobs that are waiting," said Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i.
He said the Hawai'i program's goal is to train people from the Islands so the construction industry could fill job openings with applicants from here instead of hiring people from elsewhere.
Construction companies value formerly activated troops for the discipline they've learned in the service, said Alan Mockler, the Hawai'i site manager for Fluor Federal Services LLC
"What happens with the military ... is these people come structured, organized, which is an asset," Mockler said.
He said many troops have experience in construction battalions that prepares them for civilian construction jobs.
Mockler said Fluor Hawai'i alone could use another 20 to 30 people to do the work it is doing in the Islands.
"The need for the construction industry in Hawai'i is a great one. We're running short of labor," Mockler said.
Fluor will spend $200,000 to get the Hawai'i program going for the first five months, but hopes others will chip in to fund it afterward.
Fluor will bring an official from the Mainland who is familiar with the Helmets to Hardhats program to get it off the ground in the Islands. The official will train a Hawai'i construction industry person to take over the job after five months, Mockler said.
Under the program, applicants will be interviewed and assisted in being placed in apprenticeships with building trade organizations.
The Helmets to Hardhats program plans to spread the word about the Hawai'i program among Hawai'i National Guard troops and among the full-time regular armed forces.