Eye on Sheet Metal

A resource for the unionized sheet metal industry

Partnerships help grow female interest in apprenticeships

Photo Credit: Dawn Jones Redstone of Hearts + Sparks Productions, based in Portland, Oregon.

Percentage of female sheet metal apprentices at 4.2, double from 2015

FAIRFAX, Va. – To those outside the industry, sheet metal work may seem like a man’s world. Internally, journeywomen are thriving, and although the percentage of female apprentices is at 4.2 percent, that’s double what it was only two years ago, according to the International Training Institute (ITI).

Nationally, the construction industry in general is made up of 3 percent women, according to Chicago Women in Trades.

Partnerships and affiliations with women’s trade groups such as Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. in Portland; Chicago Women in Trades; Nontraditional Employment for Women in New York; and Building Pathways in Boston have helped training coordinators introduce women to a trade many love but fewer know much about.

Connie Ashbrook, founder and executive director of Oregon Tradeswomen, has worked with Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 16 in Portland since 1996. Together, they’ve increased the female apprenticeship percentage to 9 percent.

“If it wasn’t for Oregon Tradeswomen, I would be at 2 to 3 percent females,” said Kevin Roth, training coordinator for Local No.16. “It is the key to our success.”

Through the organization, women are introduced to many building trades in the area through a free, seven-week pre-apprenticeship class held four times a year. Participants are educated on the skills it takes to apply for a building trades apprenticeship, including the physicality of being an “industrial athlete,” Ashbrook said.

“It gives them a head start. Doing the physical fitness training helps them understand they’ll be sore for a while, but it’s OK. They’ll be fine and get over it,” she added. “They have the confidence to know it’ll improve. If it’s too heavy for a woman, it’s likely too heavy for a man, too.”

Carly Rush, 34, a second-year apprentice at Local No. 16, and Leah Jenkins, 42, a journeywoman, both found — and fell in love with ­— their sheet metal careers through Oregon Tradeswoman.

A mother of two young daughters, Rush’s first taste of hands-on work was in middle school, and even though she loved it, like many women, she was unaware of the career possibilities.

“I remember that being the one time I really enjoyed going to school,” she said. “I wish I would have had someone to encourage me in that direction. I wish someone would have pointed out in school how functional math is. I wish I knew how things worked when I was younger. I would’ve gotten started in something like this sooner.”

After admittedly hating most jobs in her life after less than a year, Rush said she actually enjoys getting up every morning to go to work at Alliant Systems, for which she installs commercial ductwork.

“This is the first job where I don’t mind getting up and going to work,” Rush said. “I don’t hate going to work anymore.”

There is no stigma. There are no outlandish expectations. The fact Rush is a woman, she said, doesn’t change anything on the job site. In fact, it’s not a big deal or a factor of her everyday life on the job. It’s more about attitude than gender, she said.

“No one has ever made me feel like I can’t do something because I’m a girl. I was more afraid they wouldn’t want me around because I don’t know how to do everything yet, but that wasn’t the case, either,” Rush said. “They only care about your work. If you’re willing to do the work, and work your hardest, you’ll fit in. It’s been a good experience for me.”

Jenkins, a journeywoman for eight years, agreed: “I don’t think many women want it to be a big deal,” she said. “People just want to be a part of the team and do a good job.”

For the last 12 years — most of her career — she has been a part of the team at Streimer Sheet Metal in the fabrication shop, which hosts tours for Oregon Tradeswomen.

“It’s a blast to have kids and young girls come in,” Jenkins said. “We make something and have a lot of fun. I know I was excited to see a female sheet metal worker whenever I saw one. It made me think, ‘Maybe I can do this. Maybe this is accessible to me.’”

Until Oregon Tradeswomen, Jenkins didn’t know much about the trade. Upon her introduction, working with metal was more attractive to her than any other trade.

“I enjoy the work. I enjoy the labor. I enjoy building things,” she said. “As far as my experience, it’s brought me out of my shell. I had a sense it was a diverse trade, and it is. The opportunities are really out there.”

Opportunities for women are what sheet metal training coordinators across the country and women’s trade organizations are trying to spotlight.

In addition to hosting education workshops and tours of the facility in hopes of enticing additional female interest, Roth works to bring in female training instructors as well as create a culture where men and women can thrive.

“The apprentices get the real story,” Roth said of bringing in female instructors. “It’s a female relating to a female. She can speak from experience.”

This fall, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a contract to Chicago Women in Trades’ National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment as part of a $20.4 million initiative to expand apprenticeship opportunities in the United States. The grant emphasizes expanding apprenticeship opportunities for women, people of color and other underrepresented populations. The Center will work with 10 organizations, which includes nearly every staffed tradeswomen’s organization in the country.

The project is led by Chicago Women in Trades and Oregon Tradeswomen and includes partnerships such as with the ITI to help attract and retain female apprentices in more than 150 training centers across the country.

Jayne Vellinga, executive director for Chicago Women in Trades, said she has two goals: make sure women are informed and prepared for opportunities and make opportunities available for women. This includes making sure training directors, for instance, have the tools available for recruitment and retention.

“Women know very little about these careers. They don’t hear about it in school,” Vellinga said. “If they go to a temp agency, they don’t hear about it there, either.”

The partnership not only helps organizations introduce women to the trades, it helps build strong apprenticeship classes across the nation.

“This initiative will help us to reach even more women, from those interested in working in the trade to those who have yet to hear the sheet metal building trade is even an option for them,” said James Page, ITI administrator. “A diversified workforce makes us a strong workforce, and apprenticeship is a tried and true method to not only learn a skilled trade, but to invest in a person’s future. The ITI looks forward to working with this initiative to help build careers and change lives.”

For more information on National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment, visit Additional information on women in the trades can be found at or

Nearly 10,000 apprentices are registered at more than 150 other training facilities across the United State 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, the ITI develops and 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 and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit or call 703-739-7200.

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Cincinnati sheet metal workers open doors Nov. 17 for Apprenticeship Week

Greater Cincinnati Apprenticeship Council offers weeklong look at apprenticeship

CINCINNATI, OHIO — Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24, 1579 Summit Road, will host a presentation and information session from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, in celebration of National Apprenticeship Week (Nov. 14-20).

During the week, participants will have the opportunity to explore various building trades in the Cincinnati area. The event is presented by the Greater Cincinnati Apprenticeship Council and the affiliated apprenticeship programs in partnership with the United States Department of Labor and the Ohio State Apprenticeship Council.

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Sheet Metal Workers Local 67 to host multi-trade event Nov. 17 for National Apprenticeship Week

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week Nov. 14-18, Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 67 Area Joint Apprenticeship, along with ApprenticeshipUSA, will host an open house from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17, featuring a facility tour and presentations and demonstrations from several apprenticeship training programs in the San Antonio area. The open house will take place at the Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 67 Training Facility, 3630 Belgium Lane.

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Dayton sheet metal workers open doors for Apprenticeship Week

High school welding students to visit training center, complete project Nov. 17

DAYTON, OHIO – Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24, 6550 Poe Ave. in Dayton, will host eleventh-grade welding students from Upper Valley Career Center for a morning of exploration and learning from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, in celebration of National Apprenticeship Week Nov. 14-18.

The high school juniors will learn about sheet metal apprenticeship from Eugene Frazier, training director for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24, as well as from journeymen from local contractors currently working in the trade. The welding students will also work with mentors on a pencil box project. Students will receive a T-shirt and backpack for their participation.

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Columbus sheet metal workers open doors for Apprenticeship Week

Students from Fort Hayes, Eastland to visit, create tool tray as intro to school

Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24 will host an open house at the Columbus Sheet Metal Workers Apprenticeship Training Center, 3031 Lamb Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, in celebration of National Apprenticeship Week Nov. 14-18.

Welding students from Fort Hayes and Eastland career centers will tour the training facility, meet instructors and build a tool tray in the school’s fabrication shop.

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Experience moves fire life safety manager to educate building owners

Kennedy Sanders, P1 Group, Local No. 88 lab all working to keep Las Vegas safe

LAS VEGAS – Fifteen years ago, Las Vegas resident Kennedy Sanders pushed his wife and three children out the door of their vacation hotel at midnight because the fire alarm had sounded. And it wasn’t a drill.

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Lean construction method: efficient work, happy customers

Processes reduce waste, encourage ideas, help projects finish early and on budget

FAIRFAX, Va. – “Lean construction” may be an industry buzz term, but in reality, it’s a practice many sheet metal workers already do as part of their day-to-day work.

Developed by Toyota in the 1950s and led by Taiichi Ohno, a stalwart on reducing waste, lean manufacturing focused on the system as a whole. Time spent creating quality parts led to fewer defects in manufacturing. Fewer defects meant fewer cars to fix later, fewer recalls and a reduction in waste.

Essentially, “lean construction” is a mindset and a way of working that reduces waste, increases efficiency, helps the environment and allows for working smarter, not harder.

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Demand high across country for Certified Welding Inspectors

Courses added to help sheet metal workers pass challenging exam, earn distinction

FAIRFAX, Va.  – The uptick in industrial welding in the nation’s Southeast corner has created a ripple effect across the country. While most of the action is taking place in Georgia and South Carolina, sheet metal fabrication shops nationwide stocking the projects are feeling the increase in production.

While it’s a happy problem, companies are experiencing a high demand for Certified Welding Inspectors (CWI), who ensure the quality and safety of the welds before they leave the shop, as well as test and certify welders on the local level.

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Region 2 apprentices compete for first time in seven years

Students from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey vied for top prizes

Sheet metal apprentices from training centers across Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey competed this spring in the region’s first apprenticeship contest in seven years. The competition, hosted by Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 19 in Philadelphia, welcomed 22 students from eight locals to compete in second-year, third-year and fourth-year apprentice categories. Contestants were chosen through testing at their local level, and the top apprentice in each year from each local attended the regional competition.

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