MOKENA, Ill. - The Helmets to Hardhats program was lauded by Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and military and labor leaders for providing returning soldiers with job opportunities in the construction industry.

At a press conference introducing a new pipefitting apprenticeship class operated by United Association (UA) Local 597, Helmets to Hardhats was cited for its innovative partnership between 15 building and construction trade unions and their employer associations to place veterans in careers in the construction industry.

"Today we salute the Pipefitters for opening the pipeline between military veterans and the construction industry," said Lt. Gov. Quinn. "It is our responsibility to take care of Illinois soldiers who have answered our country's call to duty and fought to protect our democracy. The Helmets to Hardhats program gives our veterans the training to build solid careers and the ability to support their families."

"Like the military, we're looking for a few good men and women," said William P. Hite, general president of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA). "We want people who share our vision and take pride in their work. That's why we're opening our doors to our troops, guardsmen, and reservists through Helmets to Hardhats - because they're America's finest."

Vice Admiral (Ret.) Jim Card, spokesperson for Helmets to Hardhats, commented that, "Those who put their lives on the line for our freedoms should never come home to limited job opportunities. America owes them. And I can't think of a better way to pay them back than Helmets to Hardhats, because it connects those who defend our country with those who build it."

"Helmets to Hardhats is a great program to support the men and women that supported their country," said Tim Banks, a new union apprentice placed by the Helmets to Hardhats program. Banks was a Marine who served in Iraq in 2004.

"Training makes all the difference," said UA Local 597 Business Manager James Buchanan. "It's what makes union building trades workers the best in the world, and it's what gives our members the skills to earn middle-class wages, own homes, and provide for their families. That's why we built this state-of-the-art training facility here in Mokena and it's why we couldn't be prouder to welcome these 14 returning veterans to our new apprentice class."

Helmets to Hardhats was launched in 2003 to help returning National Guard, Reserve, and active-duty military personnel make a positive transition back to civilian life. Co-sponsored by 15 building and construction trade unions and their employer associations, the Helmets to Hardhats program seeks to place veterans in construction industry apprenticeship programs so they can obtain the necessary training for lifelong careers in the industry. Veterans may be eligible for G.I. benefits in addition to the pay they receive while working as an apprentice.

"Local 597's apprenticeship program is among the best in the country," said Mike Arndt, UA director of training. "It produces pipefitters, welders, and HVAC service technicians with world-class skills and unparalleled productivity. I can't think of a better opportunity for returning servicemen and women in the Chicago area, and the experience of Helmets to Hardhats participants from previous classes bears this out."

One of Helmets to Hardhats' recent innovations is its partnership with, the online job search, placement, and networking service, and its affiliate,, the largest military and veteran membership organization. The company runs the program under a contract with the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans' Employment, a joint labor- management trust. Tom Aiello of said, "For returning soldiers, guardsmen, and reservists, Helmets to Hardhats can be a Godsend, because it offers them the chance to take their military experience and translate it into lifelong professional careers with good wages and strong benefits. That's true all across the country and Local 597's effort here in Chicago is a great success. I couldn't be more pleased that our technology and military expertise can play a role in helping to perform this vital public service."

UA Local 597 represents more than 6,000 piping professionals in the Chicago area. The UA represents more than 300,000 skilled members of the plumbing and pipefitting industry across North America.

For more information on the Helmets to Hardhats program, visit

Publication date:02/26/2007