Phoenix Boy Scouts earn merit badges, learn lessons in sheet metal

Volunteers educate, boys gain unique experiences through hands-on classes in 2013

FAIRFAX, Va.  – On a warm Saturday morning in February, more than 20 Boy Scouts and their parents filtered into a classroom at the Local 359 Sheet Metal Workers Training Center in Phoenix ready to hear about life as a sheet metal worker. Using the International Training Institute’s (ITI) core curriculum applied in the sheet metal training centers across the nation, instructors taught the boys about their careers and life in the sheet metal world. Before the afternoon was finished, the boys – working with plans, specs and journeymen volunteers – created a set of scouting-themed book ends and a tool holder to take home.

Participants were required to complete the projects to receive their metalworking merit badges. Other requirements included researching career opportunities, safety rules, different types of metals and necessary tools. During their time at Local 359, Scouts also learned about the history of the trade as well as all the different career fields associated with it, including HVAC, computer-aided drafting, and design and welding.

This was the second metalworking merit badge class offered by Local 359, and it’s been popular, with full classes and participants who are quick to register as soon as it opens, said Albert Blanco, Jr., instructor at the training center.

Tammy Pinette, mother of Boy Scout and participant, Daniel, said she thinks it’s an excellent opportunity.

“I think it’s good for [Daniel] to see all the different trades out there,” she added. “The hands-on is important to me, too, because he likes working with his hands.”

The partnership between the Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America and Local 359 began last year when Jeff Holly, business representative, attended a conference for the AFL-CIO. While there, he noticed the Boys Scouts’ metalworking badge was unsponsored. Since the Boy Scouts typically partners with other trades, Holly thought this was an opportunity to educate boys about the trade and help the local raise awareness while reaching out to the community.

“We want people to leave there with enough information to know more about their own future careers,” said Frank Yoke, director of development for the Boy Scouts of America, Grand Canyon Council. “I think it’s great to bring kids into a place to do sheet metal work. I think it opens their eyes. They get to see what it’s all about.”

The idea is to reach the Scouts while they are still deciding what they want to be when they grow up. College isn’t for everyone, academically and financially, and the apprenticeship program is a form of higher education that does not require students to pay for their tuition and curricula materials; in fact, it turns out skilled workers who make a living wage while they’re learning.

“It gives a group of potential workers an introduction to [the sheet metal industry],” Yoke added. “It’s a win-win for everyone. We’ve found it’s been a very good relationship for scouting and for merit badge sponsorship.”

To sponsor a merit badge, a trade union, corporation or individual will pay a sponsorship fee, which varies from state to state, and hold classes to educate Scouts in a specific field. The Grand Canyon Council was one of the first in the Boy Scouts of America to initiate the merit badge sponsorship program six years ago. There are currently 50,000 Scouts in the Grand Canyon Council, and 54,000 merit badges were earned in 2012. Several hundred Scouts from the council attend union-level clinics every year, Yoke said.

Holly and other volunteers from Local 359 researched the program and attended merit badge classes at other trades to prepare for the first class, which was held in September. Approximately seven additional classes are planned for the rest of 2013.

“It’s gone real well,” Holly said. “The point isn’t to beat them down with union, union, union. It’s more of a common outreach. I’d rather expose kids to it. Let them know it’s an option.”

Although Luke Wyatt, 12, has his heart set on becoming a Navy SEAL, he said he enjoyed learning about a craft he knew nothing about when he first walked through the door.

“I don’t really get to do it, but I enjoy it. I like being able to make things and get good results,” Wyatt said. He also completed his woodworking badge, but he enjoyed metal more. “It takes more strength to work with metal.”

Local 359 volunteers included Dion Abril, business manager; George Sapien, training coordinator; Tom McDermott, business representative; Pat Montroy, business representative; Jeff Holly, business representative; Mike Sapien, instructor; Albert Blanco Jr., instructor and journeymen Mike Ludington, Scott Holly, Kevin Gurklies, Steven Maher, Dan Tash and Robert Romero.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at 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 industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Fairfax, Va., 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 or call 703-739-7200.

AFL-CIO, Albert Blanco Jr., Boy Scouts, Dan Tash, Dion Abril, Frank Yoke, George Sapien, Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America, International Training Institute’s (ITI), Jeff Holly, Kevin Gurklies, Local 359, Local 359 Sheet Metal Workers Training Center, Mike Ludington, Mike Sapien, Pat Montroy, Robert Romero, Scott Holly, Steven Maher, Tammy Pinette, Tom McDermott
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