Helmets to Hardhats Initiative
May 01
May 1, 2014

Sean McGarvey

President, North America's Building Trades Unions

Investing in Opportunity


According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, more than $2.2 trillion in investments in economic and social infrastructure over the next five years are required to meet critical infrastructure needs. However, we are spending, on a proportional basis, significantly less of our national GDP on infrastructure than Europe and China.

At the same time, the construction industry we are still saddled with a national unemployment rate over 11 percent.  Clearly, there is much more that needs to be done to put Americans back to work.

In 2011 at the first Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America Meeting, North America's Building Trades Unions, along with the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, committed to reversing this trend by encouraging our pension funds to invest $10 billion in workers’ capital in U.S. infrastructure projects and energy-efficient building retrofits. As part of this Commitment, North America’s Building Trades Unions committed to training our skilled craft professionals to meet the demand that would be created by such significant investments. This Commitment to Action provides a new model that addresses, on a sustainable basis, many of the underlying economic issues related to jobs and career training, and with a focus on establishing programs that provide opportunities for veterans, minorities and historically disadvantaged communities.

One such successful program is our Helmets to Hardhats initiative which serves to provide opportunities for military veterans to transition into careers in the construction industry.  A product of this successful program sponsored by our unions and contractor partners, Katie Sanicky, an army veteran and second year apprentice out of Ironworkers Local 17 in Cleveland, recently introduced First Lady Michelle Obama at an event highlighting training and veteran’s employment at the Department of Labor with Secretary Tom Perez.  Katie’s powerful introduction speaks to the meaningful and impactful role these programs can play and we are happy to connect with business, government and community partners on this and other exciting initiatives that result in sustainable career paths.

This isn’t just about creating jobs.  It's about creating high-quality, family-sustaining jobs and careers that provide a boost up the ladder to the great American middle class.  Further, there exists the additional social benefit that is derived from working to positively impact our environment. By applying infrastructure investments funds towards energy efficient building retrofits, and by providing workers at all levels with high-demand green construction skills, we are able to cut down on energy costs, lower our carbon footprint, and create a sustainable job growth model. Of the initial $10 billion pledged in our CGI Commitment less than 3 years ago, we have successfully allocated $8.4 billion towards infrastructure-related projects and investment funds. While only a small percentage of what will be deployed has actually been used, that amount has already generated 33,500 sustainable jobs, and North America's Building Trades Unions have has provided skills upgrades to over 900,000 workers.

Our commitment to investing in American infrastructure represents a sustainable model for aiding economic recovery while maintaining the potential for a positive climate impact.

Innovation and problem-solving are the hallmarks of today Building Trades unions. We are proud of our commitment to, and involvement with, the CGI model of leveraging pension fund investments for infrastructure and energy-efficiency building retrofits. 

Because if ever there was a win-win proposition for America and American workers, this is it.

Photo: Amber Derby received professional training through the Helmets to Hardhats initiative, which works to provide opportunities for military veterans to transition into careers in the construction industry.