Deciding to leave the military might be as big of a step as deciding to join. Justin Rost, Director of Minnesota Helmets to Hardhats, understands the struggles of transitioning from the military back into civilian life firsthand.

For the last seven years, the veteran marine continues to give back to the military community by connecting Minnesota National Guard, Reserve and transitioning active-duty military members with quality career training and employment opportunities in Minnesota’s construction industry.

Wanting to travel beyond his hometown and serve his country, he joined the United States Marine Corp out of high school.

“As an infantry rifleman, I spent four years with the U.S. 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.

“I was seeking new employment and my brother and father – both sheet metal workers — recommended an apprenticeship with Local 10,” Rost said. “I thought I would be coming in blind to this new career but in reality, I had skills that I learned in the military that expedited my success as an apprentice.”

Transitioning from Military Service to a Career in Construction

High school students who are considering joining the military, but who are unsure of what their path might be after they transition out of active duty, should consider a registered apprenticeship with one of Minnesota’s building and construction trades. According to Rost, the skills they gain in the military will translate into future success in the construction trades.

“A career in the skilled trades allows veterans to take on physical careers, 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 GI benefits,” Rost said. “Based on the relationships we’ve built through Helmets to Hardhats, veterans should know that they will be welcomed by Minnesota’s building and construction trades.”

According to Rost, here are some of the key skills learned in the military that veterans can apply to a career in construction:

Technical Skills

From using power tools to firefighting to correctly using personal protective equipment (PPE), servicemen and women learn and execute several technical skills during their time in the military.

Working with various equipment, instruments and electronics while pitching in on assembly, maintenance and repair equips military members with experience working with their hands as well as familiarity with complex systems and reading schematics – all skills that are needed for a career in construction.

“Different roles within the military can also teach more specific technical skills,” Rost said. “But from the day you start bootcamp or basic training your brain is rewired to learn through visual cues, execute tasks properly in high-stress environments, take accountability for your actions, and learn how to communicate clearly.”

Technical skills learned in the military can help veterans interested in pursuing a career in construction earn free industry-recognized credentials from Helmets to Hardhats. To see how particular military occupational specialties are aligned with a career in construction visit Helmetstohardhats.org.


One of the most special takeaways from the military for many veterans is the comradery and sense of family that gets built within a team.

“No matter whether the mission is protecting a convoy, capturing an objective or keeping a ship afloat, working together toward a common goal is critical for success in the military,” Rost said.

So too is the case in construction. Building projects of all sizes require numerous skilled craft professionals to coordinate, communicate and execute a complex plan together.

Spending lots of time together on job sites – some projects taking months or even years to fully complete – develops a special bond between crew members. Many construction professionals even consider themselves to be a part of a brother- and sisterhood within their union.

“When you are on a construction site, it’s easy to find the veterans just by how they carry themselves; they know how to lead, how to look out for others and how to get work done efficiently,” Rost said.

For veterans looking to find a family like the one they found in the military, the lifestyle and culture of the construction industry is a great option to explore.

Work Ethic

Waking up early. Working hard. Being on time. Traveling and living in new environments. Being organized. Making sure you have all your tools and that they’re working correctly. Taking responsibility for and pride in your work.

Effort and attitude are among the core values of all branches of the military. Military personnel are put through rigorous training to instill these values within themselves and prepare them for anything that may come their way.

“Work ethic is also one of the core qualities that construction apprentices must exhibit,” Rost said. “Unions know the reputation of veteran work and they want to hire veterans because they trust that the job will be done well, on deadline. We’re reliable.”

Sometimes conditions are less than ideal, and sometimes difficulties will arise. Resilience and discipline in tough situations are valuable traits, and the construction industry seeks out and rewards professionals who exhibit them.


Through their service, veterans learn when to take orders and when to give them.
Understanding both the chain of command and how to lead others become increasingly important skills in the military as one rises in the ranks. These skills are also critical for craft professionals as they earn promotions and climb the ladder in the industry.

“As your role grows along with your skills and experience, you take on more responsibility, help make important decisions and act as a leader for others,” Rost said. “Experience in leadership is invaluable. The leadership skills that veterans gain during their time in the military will prepare them well for success in a career in construction.”

There are many parallels to draw between careers in the military and in construction. The skills and experience veterans gain during their service will allow for a successful transition into a quality, long-term career in the skilled crafts.

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 justin.rost@mnh2h.org.