Sheet metal shops, union confront labor shortage

SEATTLE — Sheet metal industry leaders recently made an announcement designed to reassure those concerned about the impending skilled-labor shortage: By combining creative recruiting measures and state-of-the-art training, the industry has successfully brought a whole new generation of workers into the trade.

The press event on April 29 marked the start of the National Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Contest, sponsored by the International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry.

Explains David Norris, former president of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), “We have a joint labor-management commitment to creating a training program that sets the standard for the rest of the industry. Together we spent $20 million last year to recruit new workers and provide them with the training they need to succeed in the industry.”

According to Michael J. Sullivan, general president of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA), that investment has already begun to pay off.

“What we’re seeing is a growing interest in the sheet metal industry by a whole new set of workers — people who’ve been employed as lab technicians or home health aides, for example — noteworthy professions that don’t pay particularly well.

“These folks are turning to the skilled trades because they offer a decent wage and a more secure future.”

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