Each high school student touring the Western Washington Sheet Metal training center on July 13 left with a miniature Jeep they helped fabricate themselves, a newfound appreciation for the rewards of a career in the unionized trades, information on apprenticeships and a big smile.
The Heavy Metal Summer Experience (HMSE), a six-week program introducing young people ages 14 to 18 to trade opportunities in mechanical construction, was developed by construction professionals in Seattle and California’s Bay Area. The first HMSE session, sponsored by Western Allied Mechanical, began June 22 in Menlo Park, California, and featured a tour of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers Local 104 training center. A session in Western Washington, sponsored by Hermanson Company, began June 29 in Kent, Washington, and brought participating students out to SMART Local 66 Western Washington Sheet Metal’s training center in DuPont, Washington.
In addition to Hermanson Company and Western Allied Mechanical, the events were sponsored by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and Construction for Change.
With new recruitment seen as the number-one issue facing contractors in the trades, outreach events like HMSE are valuable tools to get the word out to teens who may not know about the possibilities a union career offers.
For most participants, this was their first exposure to the trades, so a hands-on experience at a training center really opened their eyes to the many possibilities, said Eric Peterson, the administrative coordinator at the Western Washington Sheet Metal training center.
“Our average age for coming into an apprenticeship is 27 or 28, so these kids float around 10 or 12 years before they find us,” Peterson explained. “If we can get them in sooner, they can start building their pension and 401K and health care, and of course the industry gets a better return on investment because they get a qualified worker for a longer period of time.”
Peterson said the young people who attended the tour were paired with an apprentice to do a hands-on project, and this allowed for some great one-on-one communication. Overall, the participants were drawn to the tangible, creative aspect of sheet metal, and most were impressed to learn that apprentices were paid to learn in the trades, as opposed to taking on a burden of tuition debt.
The 14 students who toured the training center in San Jose, California, were bright, respectful and eager to learn, and females made up about one-third of the group. The HMSE was an innovative way to get young people exposed to the trades, said Tim Myres, administrator of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104.
“There would have been no way to reach these kids otherwise,” he added. “They were so excited and just soaked up all the information like sponges. Their excitement got me excited; it was contagious.”
When Myres took participants into the testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) lab, he recalled “the kids’ eyes just lit up.” They learned that working in the trades isn’t just manual labor on a construction jobsite. It also involves analyzing problems on the computer, taking measurements and problem solving.
“One of the young ladies asked a lot questions about how to get into TAB,” Myres said. “She was really interested.”
Peterson and Myres look back on their tour guide duty as time well spent and said they would be happy to participate again. Both agreed these HMSE programs in Washington and California might lead to future, similar efforts to help reach high school students across the country and familiarize them with the unionized trades.
SMACNA and SMART jointly sponsor the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry, which provides the free training materials and curriculum taught at 148 training centers across the United States and Canada. More than 14,000 apprentices at those centers receive training in AutoCAD, air balancing, refrigeration/service, welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) design, fabrication and installation. While they are learning in the classroom, they are gaining skills on the job site including installation of architectural sheet metal, kitchen equipment and duct for heating and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings.
The goal is for apprentices to graduate with zero tuition debt and a career to last a lifetime.
For more information about ITI, and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.