New Helmets to Hardhats director on how to attract veterans to construction jobs

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed construction across the country, firms continue to struggle to fill jobsites with skilled labor, and one of the largest pools of attractive candidates is former military staff. 

David Porter is the newly appointed executive director of the Helmets to Hardhats program for the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and its signatory contractor associations that operate the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment (CMRAVE). Porter, a former pipefitter who headed pipefitting instruction at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, talked with Construction Dive about how contractors can attract veterans to the construction industry.

CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What is some practical advice for attracting veterans to join the construction workforce?

David Porter

Permission granted by NABTU

DAVID PORTER: The biggest thing as far as an attraction is to let it be known in your recruiting efforts of the benefits. You can make a good income and that’s something I think needs to be pointed out. A lot of people … still view construction as something that you do in between, or you do because you couldn’t take another route, when that’s just not true. It’s not the mindset everywhere, but that is an impression that people have. 

The people you’re working with are transitioning military because they [toured], but 70% only do one enlistment. And so most people are getting out quickly. They served their country, but when they’re looking back, they are used to having insurance and retirement [benefits] provided by the military. And I think that’s one of the biggest selling points, at least for the contractors I work with, because that isn’t something in the general civilian population that’s always out there. That’s a really excellent selling point. 

Where are veterans landing, both geographically and in the industry?

PORTER: We are tied to 15 construction trade unions that cover the full gamut of construction — whether it’s the logistics of getting the [materials] to the work site, every aspect of building the building, the systems put into it, the finishing exterior and then the maintenance. So, any of the skilled construction trades is where they’re landing.

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