Juniors, seniors finding higher education in sheet metal apprenticeship
DETROIT – Four years ago, Local 80 began working with Fraser High School in Fraser, Michigan in hopes of recruiting some of its welding students to the apprenticeship. What they ended up with is a partnership rooted in helping young men and women find their futures.
The idea was simple: go to a school where welding is being taught and educate students about the sheet metal trade.
“These kids have had up to four years of high school welding training. This is the kind of apprentice we are striving for,” said Dennis Marentette, full-time instructor at Local 80. “When I get there, the students are very eager. They get their drawings and their tools and go to work.”
Fraser High School has 1,600 students and 15 state-certified career and technical education (CTE) programs. The school is a competency-based education district and one of four schools in the state to be considered a best-practices school in regards to competency and CTE.
“We believe the transformation into professionals happen when students can apply the skills they’ve learned in context to a trade,” said Brent Brasure, CTE director at Fraser High School.
Marentette and fellow instructor Sam Velez bring the pre-apprenticeship to the school over a 10-week period after the normal school day is complete. For two hours, juniors and seniors work with instructors on various HVAC and architectural sheet metal projects and lessons, including safety, work ethic and reliability. Local 80 offers the free program two to three 10-week sessions each school year.
Velez, also a full-time instructor at Local 80, began teaching architectural sheet metal in February in hopes of piquing the students’ interest in the more artistic side of the trade.
“I try to make it functional for them, have them craft something to take home, something they can use, but also something that is from the architectural field,” Velez said. Projects have included conductor heads, a globe and curb with 45-degree canted phalange. “I want to open their eyes to it as it’s commonly a part of our trade that is often overlooked.”
Current apprentices Will Sievers and Brandon Schein entered into the Local 80 apprenticeship straight after graduation from Fraser High School.
Sievers had his sights set on becoming an engineer, but quickly realized it wasn’t for him. After signing up for the pre-apprenticeship class, he found the problem solving he enjoyed and his need to work with his hands came together in sheet metal work.
“My whole life I planned on going to college until my senior year when I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Sievers, a second-year apprentice. “My parents were really supportive. When I told them there was free schooling and training, they were all for it.”
After two weeks in the apprenticeship, Schein was assigned to the Little Caesars Arena project, the home of the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Friends were jealous of a job he had at age 18, and because of his welding experience, he had the chance to weld on the job as well, a rarity for a first-year apprentice.
“It was a really big job. Everyone knew it was going up,” said Schein, now a second-year apprentice. “I’ve had a lot of fun out in the field. Dennis told us the truth about what it means to be on the jobsite all day, every day. It was a really good experience to work there.”
Sievers received the Little Caesars Arena call, too.
“I played hockey my whole life. It hit home for me,” added Sievers. “To be able to tell my friends I was going to work on pretty much the biggest job in Michigan in the last 10 years was a great experience.”
And to think Sievers nearly missed out and would have been sitting in a classroom instead of working on the arena that would eventually house his favorite teams.
“I feel like a lot of kids are in the same place I was and didn’t know what sheet metal work was,” Sievers said. “I have told a lot of people about it and have recommended it to them.”
Sievers and Schein are examples of a successful transition from the high school program to the sheet metal apprenticeship, one they’d like to keep duplicating, Marentette said.
“We’ve been really happy with them,” he added. “They came every week. They were interested. They applied and went through the testing and interview process, and we haven’t had any complaints from contractors. Everyone we have gotten out of this program has been in similar fashion, which is why we see value in it and want to make it grow.”
“They’re looked at as great examples of apprentices,” said Matt O’Rourke, Local 80 training coordinator. “The attitude and relationship they have with Sam and Dennis trickles down into the rest of the class. It has a positive influence on the apprenticeship for sure.”
More than 14,000 apprentices are registered at over 150 training facilities across 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, 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 their website or call 703-739-7200.