Fulop and O’Dea launch new ‘Helmets to Hardhats’ union construction program for veterans

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Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2) joined partners representing veterans and the union construction building trades to launch their “Helmets to Hardhats” program this morning.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The program is designed to help National Guard Reserve, retired, and transitioning active-duty military members connect with career and training opportunities in construction and assist with job placement.

“We have been very successful in getting women and minorities into construction union apprenticeships and are excited with now having the resources provided by the state to recruit and train military veterans so they too can have a career as a laborer, carpenter, plumber, or truck driver,” said O’Dea, also the executive director of the Elizabeth Development Corporation.

“They gave for our country, and now we can give back to them.”

Utilizing a $304,000 grant from the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development to the EDC, the women and minority veteran program will launch its first initiative in Jersey City to serve Hudson County veterans. It will soon also expand to serve Bergen, Essex, and Union Counties.

However, O’Dea noted they wouldn’t turn anyone away who is not from those counties who is eligible for the program, with 30 to 40 individuals receiving aid from the program initially.

In Jersey City, Fulop is providing support to the application process. The Jersey City Employment and Training Program has also been instrumental throughout the implementation process.

Specifically, commitments for service are being received through the Division of Veterans Affairs and the Hudson County/Jersey City Workforce Development Board.

Hudson County Building Trade President Pat Kelleher was instrumental in garnering support for the application, as were LIUNA Local No. 3, OPCMIA Local No. 29, Teamsters Local 560, and Carpenters Local No. 253

“Many individuals don’t have the $800 to $1,000 it takes to get involved in a union,” O’Dea said. He explained that includes training, testing, a physical, and initial fees, along with OSHA certification and access to a career.

“A union apprenticeship is not a job. It’s a career opportunity.”

He explained the worth of a union apprenticeship if one spends a 30-year career in the union.

Fulop noted that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up this fall and many have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I’m one of the seven percent of Americans who are veterans. Jersey City is a diverse community and home to many veterans who proudly serve their country and return home to find themselves in need of work,” Fulop explained.

“This program provides that direct connection to meaningful employment, which can often be a major challenge for veterans. As those people come back home, I know first hand the struggle that they have for them and their families to find employment, to find a meaningful career, not just a job.”

Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley noted the tumult in the economy due to the pandemic.

“It’s very important that we give people skills that they can use and that are not going out of style … That’s something you can’t automate.”

“Your best bet is to hire a vet. They bring skills. They bring leadership. They bring discipline. They’re loyal. They get the job done … It prevents homelessness. It prevents suicide,” added American Legion State Vice Commander Jack Dunne.

In addition to hands-on training, OSHA-30 certification, and placement assistance, efforts will be made to ensure the long-term success of each veteran that participates in the program.

Furthermore, Kelleher noted they’re working on building a veterans shelter in Hoboken.

“Cream rises to the top when you’re doing the best job. This grant is vital to increase the participation of women and minority veterans in the building trades.

LIUNA Local 3 Business Manager Paul Roldan noted that in 2015, Fulop launched a program to help homeless veterans by securing them union construction jobs renovating a building.

“We look forward to providing women and minority veterans with not just a job, but a career. Being part of the Union guarantees these veterans will have a solid career path that includes fair wages, benefits, and a safe working environment,” he said.

Laquan Walker, a veteran who spent eight years in the military is a graduate of the program and spoke well of it. After working in security, Walker said he met O’Dea and Kelleher, which led to him joining a union.

“That basically led me on the path to a career, not a job.”

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