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Two Philly Veterans Turned Sheet Metal Workers Exemplify the Power of Helmets to Hardhats

A Philly.com article is making the online organized labor rounds that highlights two Philadelphia veterans whom the Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) program has provided a solid transition from military to civilian life.  

Former marines Drew McIlhenny and Bryan Hummel used the program to begin careers in the sheet metal industry after their service ended:

Helmets to Hardhats “made the [military-to-civilian] transition easy,” said McIlhenny, 28, a journeyman who builds ductwork and installs heating and air-conditioning units. “You can’t beat the job for the amazing money and benefits.”

Hummel, 23, an apprentice, said the program represents “an awesome opportunity” for veterans.

“Many struggle when they come back” to civilian life, he said. “They go to school or are at a standstill with the high unemployment and nobody hiring.”

Both veterans took classes at the training center of Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 19 in South Philadelphia.  Aldo Zambetti, coordinator of the training center, told Philly.com about the benefits employers have when they help train and hire military veterans.  One of the splendors of the H2H program is its ability to benefit both employer and employee:

“There’s a difference in the mentality, discipline, and work ethic that a veteran has compared with someone who is 22 to 25 and makes an application after coming from another job, no matter what it was. There’s a difference because the attitude and work ethic were drilled into them by the military when they became soldiers.”

H2H helps streamlines the application process and allows veterans to collect up to $1,075 a month from GI Bill benefits while enrolled.

“They enter as a first-year apprentice and go through 41/2 years of training,” he said. “They get paid $17.86 an hour as an apprentice and that goes up to at least $38 when they become a journeyman” 41/2 years later.

Veterans often rise through the ranks “because of their background and leadership skills, becoming a project manager or job foreman,” Zambetti said.

Usually, 10 percent to 15 percent of apprentices are veterans, he said. Seven of the 76 now in the program have entered through Helmets to Hardhats. “Our attrition rate is 7 percent with the regular apprentices,” Zambetti said, compared with zero for the Helmets to Hardhats candidates. Some non-veterans “find the work in construction physically or mentally challenging in the classroom and on the job.

Such is the case with Hummel.

“I love what I’m doing,” said Hummel, who has been running ductwork this week through a Center City high-rise. “I want to continue what I’m doing.”

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