About a year ago, Kristina Reinholtz became tired of drifting from job to job. The 22-year-old enlisted in the Army in 2000, hoping to be trained for a career as a heavy wheel mechanic. But while going through basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., she "blew out" her knee. In January 2001, Private Reinholtz received an honorable disabled discharge.

Joe Maloney

"I was just clueless about what I was going to do," Reinholtz says. Back home in Salt Lake City, she "did some day care, some data entry jobs, some delivery jobs." In early 2004, while using the Internet to job search, she found a Website that caught her attention–www.helmetstohardhats.org. The program promised military veterans careers in construction. Now a carpenters’ union apprentice in Las Vegas, she says it changed her life.

Helmets to Hardhats, or H2H as the recruitment program is known, allows both prospective workers and employers to register online. It was founded in 2003 by the 15 construction labor unions of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Dept. and nine employer associations. The construction industry’s ongoing struggle to recruit a new generation of skilled craft workers was the central force behind H2H. Shortages are expected to surge over the next 10 years as older workers retire and younger job seekers flock to desk jobs. Over the years, unions have tried different recruitment techniques but with little success. Ironically, it was a Canadian labor leader who came up with the idea of tapping newly discharged veterans for careers in construction, enlisting them in apprenticeship programs as they separated from the military.

Joe Maloney is the unlikely champion of Helmets to Hardhats. A Toronto-born boilermaker, he has never served in the military. But as BCTD’s secretary-treasurer, he is regarded as the kind of leader who thinks outside the box.

H2H couldn’t have blossomed at a better time. National unemployment figures average just over 5%, but the unemployment rate for veterans is closer to 15%. With thousands of service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq without jobs or careers, H2H is helping to fill that void. In just over two years, more than 17,000 veterans have been matched with apprentice opportunities.

For his leadership role in developing Helmets to Hardhats, ENR’s editors have selected Joe Maloney as the 40th recipient of the magazine’s Award of Excellence.

The Top 25 Newsmakers of 2004
Award of Excellence: History
For 40 years, Industry Gathers To Honor Construction’s Best

Helmets to Hardhats might never have happened without Maloney. In early 2001, he substituted as a last-minute speaker at a workshop where consultants discussed ideas to help veterans move back into civilian life. He was surprised to learn that many vets were having trouble finding jobs with career paths.

Maloney seized the opportunity to tout the building trade unions’ apprentice programs, career opportunities, wages and benefits. A spark was struck. The prospect of tapping the pool of vets seemed to be a perfect fit with industry needs. The vets generally were the right age, disciplined, drug free and used to following orders. As a group, they also are highly computer literate.

Charging Forward. Hedman (left) and Caulfield (right) have plans for expanding Helmets to Hardhats to management. (Photos by Michael Goodman for ENR)

The idea caught fire when Maloney brainstormed with two other participants he met at the workshop–retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Matthew P. Caulfield, then working as a work force consultant, and Kenneth E. Hedman, then labor relations manager at Bechtel Construction Co. and chairman of the North American Contractors Association.

Helmets to Hardhats came to life over the next several months as Maloney brought the 15 building trade unions to the table while Caulfield brought his military contacts and headhunting skills. Hedman was key in lining up employment opportunities within the contractor community. The Web-based program is administered by the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment. The center is a non-profit trust directed by a joint labor-management committee. Hedman and BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan are co-chairs and Caulfield is executive director.

Signing Up

To connect with potential jobseekers, unions and contractors register their apprenticeship programs or job opportunities on the H2H employers’ site. Because it receives federal funds administered by the U.S. Army–about $6 million in fiscal 2005–Helmets to Hardhats is not limited to union-only programs. To list career opportunities, employers that are not members of approved employer associations must meet specific criteria, including proof that their apprenticeship program is federally approved. They also must show a record of providing health and workers’ compensation insurance.

Candidates register on a separate H2H site, filling out an extensive questionnaire detailing their military and work experience. After an electronic match is made, a representative from a specific union or employer contacts the candidate to see if the match has a future. "We’re giving the contractors good quality people," says Douglas J. McCarron, carpenters’ union president.

Bill Duke, national apprenticeship coordinator for the laborers’ union, admits that he was skeptical about Helmets to Hardhats when he first heard about it. The union previously had little success in recruiting apprentices from the ranks of the military. "We didn’t have the access or the way to communicate the need," says Duke, who also is assistant director of the Laborers/AGC Education and Training Fund, Pomfret, Conn.

"But Joe was just like a bull dog," claims Duke. He saw the need for the program and understood that it was good for the unions and for the military. "He just stayed with it hand-in-hand with Gen. Caulfield," adds Duke. "Without those two, it would not have happened." Caulfield runs the day-to-day operations, but he says that Maloney is "usually one step ahead."

Maloney is considered H2H’s driving force inside the building trades. "He put it on the map," says plumbers’ union President William P. Hite. Maloney’s enthusiasm for the program and his energetic personality are key factors. "When I want something done, I give it to Joe," says BCTD’s Sullivan. Adds Hedman, "Nothing is too tough for Joe. He will take on any issue and get it out the door."

Painters’ union President James A. Williams, a Vietnam vet, says that knowing the type of discipline soldiers get in the military makes them perfect apprenticeship candidates. "We hooked our wagon to [H2H]," Williams says.

Starting Out

Michael Joseph Maloney was born in Toronto, Ontario, on Sept. 11, 1956. The second of Greg and Kathleen Maloney’s five children, he was born into a family of boilermakers. His father, one uncle and two brothers all have worked in the trade. "Not much else was mentioned around my house," he notes. So Maloney never considered any other career outside of "working on the tools."

The 17-year-old left high school in 1974 before graduation and followed his father into the union, signing on as an apprentice in boilermakers’ Local 128 in Toronto. "It was the best job I ever had," he recalls. Earning $4.79/hour at the time, "I thought I’d died and went to heaven," he says. Much of his enjoyment stemmed from the physical activity, mostly building or repairing powerplants, steel mills, oil refineries or pulp and paper mills. Maloney liked climbing on the steel and the camaraderie among the workers. But the work also is dangerous.

Maloney was trained as a fitter-rigger, someone who fits together pieces of steel weighing anywhere from 2 tons to 200 tons for welding. His scariest moment came as a journeyman while working on a storage tank facility in eastern Toronto. Maloney remembers that he was unhooking a steel beam from a crane when the load shifted. He slipped and fell face down, "bear-hugging the beam" while 60 ft above ground.

"Boilermakers are known as a rough group of guys," says boilermakers’ union President Newton B. Jones. "There’s a reason that a drink is named after them." To any bartender, a boilermaker is a shot of whiskey dropped glass and all into a mug of beer and then chugged. It has been described as a "strong drink that gets a party off to a good start." Both definitions describe Maloney.

As a youth, Maloney earned a reputation as a "bit of a rascal," but he quickly showed leadership potential. Through his apprenticeship program, he earned his high school equivalency. "Joe took some college classes to better himself," remembers apprentice classmate Gordon Craig. "He’s an achiever," says Craig, an instructor at Local 128.

Maloney also was quick to fall in love. As a new apprentice, he made friends easily on the job. One night, young Maloney and his dad gave another boilermaker a ride home after work. He invited them inside for a beer and Maloney was smitten by the boilermaker’s daughter, Jeanette. They will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in August.

Maloney was intrigued with the union’s business. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, Canadian locals–also known as lodges–operate on an autonomous basis across each province. He began attending lodge meetings and soon was wondering if he and his friends could make things better for the approximately 2,200 boilermakers throughout Ontario who then were members of Local 128.

Shortly after finishing his apprenticeship, Maloney ran for the remaining term of a vacant trustee post. After winning, he planned social gatherings, Christmas...