FAIRFAX, Va. – There is a time, once a month, where apprentices at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 36 in St. Louis are the teachers instead of the students. It’s a time when they get to demonstrate what they’ve learned, practice mentoring the next generation and show off their trade.
Last fall, as part of its community outreach efforts, Local No. 36’s training center established an Explorer Post through the Boy Scouts of America, where young men and women ages 14 to 20 can learn more about the unionized sheet metal apprenticeship program. Explorer Posts are partnerships with various industries that give students the opportunity to investigate their career interests and develop skills and passions to make them successful adults.
Through hands-on and classroom instruction, explorers start with the basics, a place apprentices remember all too well. Although professional instructors help with the program, apprentices are an integral part, showing students only a few years younger what can be accomplished not long after high school graduation.
Steve Sneed, Local No. 36’s training coordinator, helped to establish the Explorer Post as a recruiting tool, an introduction of local students to unionized sheet metal work and another route to higher education – sheet metal apprenticeship.
“Here in the St. Louis area, the high schoolers don’t have shop classes. They don’t have the hand-on physical experience,” Sneed said. “We want to give them the experience of a shop class.”
A member of the School Business Partnership organization, Sneed actively seeks new ways to recruit potential apprentices. The ultimate goal is to connect sheet metal workers and their training to the communities and show apprenticeship is a viable option for higher education, Sneed added.
With sheet metal workers retiring every day, recruiting and mentoring the next generation is important, said James Page, executive administrator for the International Training Institute (ITI), the education side of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry.
“Recruiting the best and the brightest for our industry should be an ongoing effort,” he added. “Local No. 36’s Explorer Post program is an excellent example of using innovative methods to raise awareness and interest among exceptional candidates at an early age.”
Cody Sehie, 17, a junior in the welding program at South Tech High School, is familiar with aspects of welding, and through the Sheet Metal Explorer Post, is getting a whole new experience, he said.
“It’s a bit different than I thought. I didn’t know how much detail we were going to get into,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know the tools a sheet metal worker uses. It was pretty interesting. Even the tools we’re using now are new experiences for me.”
Connie Sehie, Cody’s mother, said she and her husband were of the mindset their son would attend a four-year college as they did. The reality hit when they discussed their son’s passions with him and looked at today’s rising cost of college tuition.
“I think [higher education] has evolved,” Connie Sehie said. “I think people … should look at skilled labor. There are a lot of job opportunities, especially in welding right now. I think the mindset has definitely changed.”
An honor student, Cody Sehie has always enjoyed working with his hands. When his uncle introduced him to welding, a lightbulb went off.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do something hands on. School wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. When I got to see what my uncle did as a welder, it really sealed it for me,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but doing metal work all day is something I enjoy doing. It’s just fun.”
This year, Cody Sehie will compete in the metal sculpture division in his local SkillsUSA competition, which proves to his mother he loves what he does.
“It’s such a good fit for Cody,” she said. “This is something Cody loves.”
Men and women ages 14 to 20 can explore careers in arts and humanities, aviation, business, communications, engineering and technology, fire service, health, law, law enforcement, science, skilled trades and social services. The program, often operated through or in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, provides career experiences to help young adults become mature, responsible, caring adults while developing skills and passions that will help them choose not only a career well-suited for their skills, but one they enjoy.
ABOUT SHEET METAL TRAINING
Nearly 10,000 apprentices are registered at 153 training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).
ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), welding and industrial, architectural and ornamental, and service and testing, adjusting and balancing industry throughout the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.
For more information about ITI, visit sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200