Richland High graduate goes from helmet to hardhat

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 20, 2013 

Helmet to Hardhats

Todd Mitchell, right, of Helmets to Hardhats, talks to Bechtel National worker Jessey Adcock, after Mitchell accepted a $20,000 donation from Bechtel at Hanford Wednesday. Adcock, a U.S. Navy veteran, got his start as an apprentice pipefitter with the help of Helmets to Hardhats.

ANNETTE CARY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

From 2004-09, Jessey Adcock was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, serving as a specialist in aircraft avionics for the Navy.

But today, the Richland High graduate wears a hardhat and reports to work at the Hanford vitrification plant construction project. Nights and weekends he attends classes required for an apprentice pipefitter.

In the service, he learned the discipline needed to succeed at both, he said.

But it was the Hardhats to Helmets program that helped him get started in the pipefitter apprenticeship program.

The nonprofit program founded by the AFL-CIO identifies and recruits military personnel -- including active duty, Reserve, National Guard and retired personnel -- for careers in the building and construction trades.

Despite the downturn in construction, the program has placed about 200 people annually in recent years, said Todd Mitchell, the Helmets to Hardhats liaison for Washington. That accounts for about 35 percent of the jobs created in the field, he said.

They are the kind of talent Bechtel National is looking for, said Joe St. Julian, Bechtel deputy project manager for the vitrification plant project.

On Wednesday, he presented a check for $20,000 from Bechtel to Helmets to Hardhats, through the Washington State Building and Trades Council.

Just part of what Bechtel sees as a plus is the technical skills they may have learned in the Armed Forces. Bechtel has found them to be high performers in areas of discipline, leadership and productivity, he said.

"They can effectively deal with different situations. They have interpersonal skills," he said.

In the military, a recruit often is responsible after six months for at least one other person, giving them leadership experience, Mitchell said. They learn to be self-starters, looking for what needs to be done and then doing it.

They also like to make a difference, he said. That makes the construction and building trades a good fit because they can look back on the progress made each day as they head home.

Many veterans leave the Armed Services with a spouse and a child or two, and the building and constructions trades offer them a solid middle-class career opportunity, Mitchell said. Throughout the length of a career, a skilled craftsmen will be well paid and typically will earn a pension.

"Not many industries can say that," he said.

They can use the GI bill to supplement their wages while they are apprenticing, and may start work at about 50 percent of pay for the field.

The job training, including classes, is provided by the apprenticeship, giving them everything they need to be successful. The building and construction trades spend $1 billion a year in the United States on training, Mitchell said.

Adcock will spend five years in the apprenticeship program.

It's not the easiest way to get a career start, said BC Smith, president of the Central Washington Building and Construction Trades Council, which provides all craft workers to the vitrification plant project.

But those who can handle the rules and pass the tests learn skills they can take anywhere there is work in the United States, he said.

Mitchell came out of the Marine Corps and wanted to enter the building trades, but with no pipeline from the Armed Forces to an apprenticeship program, it took him three years to get an opportunity, he said.

But Adcock said he went to the top of the list when he applied through Helmets to Hardhats, wanting to learn practical job skills.

"It's a trade that's always going to be needed. It's applicable to life," he said.

Since former-Gov. Chris Gregoire created a state position for Helmets to Hardhats in 2008 as a partnership between the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and the Washington State Buildings and Construction Trades, the program has grown to place more veterans per year than any other state, Mitchell said.

However, the program is not state funded, and it continues to have two needs: donations like the one made by Bechtel and more jobs for returning veterans.

As the military reduces its size, the number of veterans settling in the state is expected to increase. Mitchell estimates the number at about 13,000 a year. At the same time he expects the building and construction trades market to bounce back, providing more opportunities to place veterans.

They will be welcomed at Bechtel, where there are more former service members than any other company St. Julian has worked at, the Bechtel manager said.

Earlier this month, Bechtel earned the 2014 Military Friendly Employer title from the publisher of G.I. Jobs and Military Spouse magazines.

The title goes to companies that meet criteria such as having strong military recruiting efforts, a high percentage of new hires with prior military service and company policies on employee service to the U.S. National Guard and military reserves.

-- For more information, go to www.helmetstohardhats.org

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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