01/06/2012 02:22 EST | Updated 03/07/2012 05:12 EST

Helmets To Hard Hats: Harper Outlines Job Program For Military Veterans

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EDMONTON - Flanked by soldiers and welders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched a program Friday to help returning vets get jobs in the construction industry.

"If you can drive a tank, why not drive a bulldozer?" Harper asked an audience at a west end metal shop. "Forklifts work the same everywhere and so do backhoes."

Helmets to Hardhats will allow veterans to apply skills they developed in the armed forces.

Harper said the program will provide exclusive access for veterans to jobs and training opportunities in the construction industry. That will include disabled veterans, reservists and transitioning members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

It will also offer apprenticeships in various building trades.

"It will help train the skilled tradespeople we need so badly to keep our economy strong, including skilled workers for the energy sector here in Alberta," he said.

The program, building on existing programs, will see unions, private firms and the government work together to link veterans to job opportunities.

The federal government is putting up $150,000 through Veterans Affairs for start-up costs, including a website and promotional materials.

Private sector partners are still being sought. To date, pipeline and power company TransCanada Corporation has committed $1 million over five years.

Candidates will be able to view information about careers and the apprenticeships by phone or through the website starting later this spring.

The Helmets to Hard Hats program, which builds on a program that has run for almost a decade in the United States, was first mentioned in the Conservative budget just before last year's federal election.

The Opposition NDP supported the idea during the campaign.

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