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Pair of New York Military Vets Exemplify Power of Union Apprenticeship Through Helmets to Hardhats

Pair of New York Military Vets Exemplify Power of Union Apprenticeship Through Helmets to Hardhats

This post originally appeared at We Party Patriots.

The Times-Ledger recently featured a pair of Queens, N.Y., Iraq War veterans who transitioned to civilian life through steamfitter apprenticeships in the Helmets to Hardhats program. The program places military veterans and military members in union apprenticeship programs.

Matthew Bargellini and Louis Gonzalez are now in the midst of a five-year apprenticeship. Bargellini, whose grandfather told him about the program, said the transition has been easy:

There are certain parallels between the Marine Corps and the steamfitters apprenticeship as far as camaraderie, chain of command and accountabi­lity. He was a steamfitter for more than 40 years, and I saw how he was able to provide for his extended family, so I figured it was worth pursuing.

Gonzalez learned of the program during a transition training. He told the Times-Ledger:

I upped in the Marine Corps just after 9/11. After eight years in the Corps, I took courses on transitioning back into civilian life. After I got a degree in finance from Brooklyn College, I remembered mention of Helmets to Hardhats during transition training. That’s when it was brought to my attention the different unions and trades in New York City.

For both Gonzalez and Bargellini, the transition into the trades comes at an opportune time. A recent look at apprenticeships in the Pipefitters union, which, like the Steamfitters, is affiliated with the United Association (UA), shows that the need for tradespeople is on the rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected employment of pipefitters is expected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. As older union members near retirement, the need to train the next generation of tradespeople is at an all-time high.

The apprenticeship program is fully paid for by the union, and participants earn solid wages while they learn their trade. Steamfitters Local 638 invests nearly $100,000 per enrollee en route to achieving journeyman status. The participants and their families earn health care coverage, disability protections and work toward a pension that will help them when they retire.

Gonzalez told the Times-Ledger that he waited in a line that stretched blocks at the Steamfitters Industry Training Center in Long Island City for an application. More than 5,000 people applied for an apprenticeship and only 500 were selected. This is not entirely uncommon. In May of 2013, more than 800 people in Long Island City waited in line for multiple days for an application to become an IBEW apprentice. As Gonzalez explained:

I knew it was an opportunity that people pursue. It’s a profession that takes care of you financially, but it’s also about being a part of the process of construction, putting up buildings and schools. There’s a certain pride in knowing you’re building the infrastructure of this city.

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