Twin Cities-based Construction Careers Foundation promotes Minnesota’s Helmets to Hardhats efforts to connect transitioning U.S. service members to registered apprenticeship opportunities in Minnesota’s construction trades.
Minneapolis-St. Paul — Deciding to leave the military might be as big of a step as deciding to join. Justin Rost knows firsthand. As director of Minnesota Helmets to Hardhats, Rost understands the struggles of transitioning from the military back into civilian life.
After serving in the U.S. Marines, Rost bounced around from one job to the next until he started a career in construction, which enabled him to reconnect with many of the things he valued as a marine. In his position with Minnesota Helmets to Hardhats, Rost helps veterans who have served in any of the branches of the U.S. military as well as those who are serving in the Reserves and National Guard, connect with careers in Minnesota’s construction industry.
“Leaving the service is overwhelming, especially because you have to cover all your bases to make the best call for your future self,” Rost said. “I joined Helmets to Hardhats because I believe Minnesota’s union construction trades are a great fit for military personnel, and I take pride in helping veterans feel supported while taking that next step.”
An organization led by veterans, for veterans
While helping veterans plan their next steps, Rost calls on his own experience transitioning from the Marine Corp to a union sheet metal apprentice with Local 10. Rost achieved journeyman status before rising in the ranks as an architectural sheet metal worker.
“As an infantry rifleman, I spent four years with the Marines,” Rost said. “I was deployed in 13 countries — during 9/11 I was stationed in Hawaii and spent the majority of my time training in jungle environments … even training with other military personnel in Thailand, Japan and Australia.”
After returning to the United States “everyday life” changed for Rost.
“When I got back it took me a long time to be comfortable walking around a mall or moving through my day without my regiment – I felt like something was missing all the time,” Rost said. “I went back to school but when it came to jobs, after a few years I would get antsy, question my purpose and find something else.”
Rost spent five years in a variety of roles. He went on to become a volunteer firefighter, then a certified EMT and eventually a real estate agent until the recession flipped the housing market in 2008.
“It took me a long time to feel okay with myself,” Rost said. “I was seeking new employment and my brother and father – both sheet metal workers — recommended an apprenticeship with Local 10.”
From the first day of his apprenticeship, Rost said he regained the feeling of camaraderie he missed at his other civilian jobs. He also was getting paid to learn construction skills and could have used his G.I. Bill benefits to support his financial transition, too.
“In construction, you step back at the end of the day and you see the difference you’ve made; it’s not shuffling papers or busy work – it’s meaningful and shapes the world around you,” Rost said. “I helped restore the State of Minnesota’s Capitol Building’s copper roofing. I had this sense of accomplishment when we finished our work — that it will be there long after I am gone.”
Giving our nation’s heroes the support they deserve
Rost became the director of Minnesota’s Helmets to Hardhats in 2019, after supporting the organization in an interim director role for one year. In his tenure as director, he has worked to pave careers in construction through apprenticeships and served nearly 900 Minnesota veterans.
“The similarities in technical skills, workplace discipline, and the culture of brother and sisterhood prominent in both the military and in trade unions is what supports veterans finding value and purpose in their new career paths,” Rost said. “We also actively collaborate with the VA, the VFW, the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and mental health and wellness support groups like the Twin Cities Suicide Prevention Coalition.”
Rost believes the financial stability that comes from a union apprenticeship can serve as a turning point for many veterans trying to balance their lifestyle change and new expenses. Such training is provided by the union trade organizations themselves at typically low to no cost to the veteran. No prior experience is needed; in fact, most successful placements start with virtually no experience in their chosen field.
Because registered construction apprenticeship programs are regulated and approved at both federal and state levels, veterans can utilize their G.I. Bill benefits to supplement their income while they are learning valuable skills and on the job training. Since apprentices are offered wages for their training, this often means a double check for the veteran.
“Most of the current veterans I work with are in their mid-20s, though we also get vets in their mid-40s who are retiring from the service,” Rost said. “A career in the skilled trades allows them to be physical, and they still have enough time left in their careers to work that many earn a pension in a skilled trade on top of their G.I. benefits. With all the networking that goes on in Minnesota, many times we’re able to get them to work right away.”
In the United States alone, there are 24.4 million U.S. military veterans according to Helmets to Hardhats.
“To apply for work or membership, candidates complete a comprehensive Helmets to Hardhats profile that helps the building trades hiring managers determine what transferable skills they acquired during their military service,” Rost said. “I enjoy personally getting to know the veterans and referring them to promising career providers or vice versa when I have qualified candidates in mind.”
Connecting veterans with career opportunities in which they can use and build upon the valuable skills that they gain during their service allows for a more successful transition into the civilian workforce.
“We are extremely grateful for all the support that exists here in Minnesota for veterans,” Rost said. “I am impressed with Minnesota’s network of organizations and people who are ready to help veterans. From one veteran to another, Helmets to Hardhats is here for you and we are ready to help you advance your career and enter civilian life with financial stability and people who understand you and want to see you succeed.”
About Helmets to Hardhats
Helmets to Hardhats is a national program that connects transitioning active-duty military members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists with skilled training and quality career opportunities within the construction industry. The program is administered by the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment, and Veterans Employment and headquartered in Washington, D.C. Direction for management of the center comes from a board of trustees composed of equal numbers of employer and labor trustees. To learn more about H2H, or to apply for work or membership, visit: https://helmetstohardhats.org/. Connect with Minnesota Director of Helmets to Hardhats at firstname.lastname@example.org.