Stuart Varney (left) shakes hands with a well-wisher after the Fox News business journalist and economist talked to convention-goers about the economy, political climate, and economic agenda of the current administration.

PHOENIX - It was not necessarily all work and no play for the nearly 1,000 attendees of the 2006 annual convention for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), who descended upon Phoenix.

Discover the Elements was the conference theme. That was not a bad choice, especially since the meeting was held in the breathtaking surroundings of the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. Talk about your elements. It is a spectacular property.

Listed under the "fun" category were the annual golf and tennis tournaments, while the host resort took care of the rest with its multitude of inviting bars, restaurants, swimming pools, and sunning areas.

Per usual, SMACNA brought in some top-notch guest speakers, which included Fox News business journalist and economist Stuart Varney, who was more than happy to share his views on politics, culture, and the American economy at the meeting's opening-day lunch.

Former actor, former Congressman, and former CEO of Goodwill Industries Fred Grandy speaks at the Spouse Breakfast.

At the next day's spouse breakfast, Fred Grandy, who starred on the wildly successful TV series "Love Boat," was on hand to speak about his life as an actor and his life as a member of Congress in his talk titled "Washington is Hollywood with a Higher Ceiling." And that was just the beginning.

Stuffed in between were enough learning and helpful seminars to make Glenn Frey sing - and, the former Eagles singer-songwriter did just that at the convention's closing ceremonies. During his nearly 90-minute show, Frey sang every hit from "Take It Easy" to "Lyin' Eyes," much to the delight of the contractors packed inside the Grand Canyon Ballroom.

Before all was said and sung, Richard J. Cramer Sr., of Dee Cramer Inc. (Holly, Mich.), was elected to serve as SMACNA's 2006-07 president. The association's Contractor of the Year in 1997, Cramer replaces outgoing SMACNA president Keith Wilson, the CEO of Miller Bonded Inc. (Albuquerque, N.M.).

"My family's ties with SMACNA go back a long way," said Cramer. "I am excited, pleased, and honored to be selected to serve as SMACNA's 61st president."


While the general mood and tone of the convention was upbeat, William F. Maloney, Ph.D., threw a cautionary monkey wrench into the equation with his presentation "Meeting Future Workforce Needs." Not all the University of Kentucky professor had to say was heartwarming.

According to Maloney, construction in general, and the sheet metal industry in particular, is facing a worker crisis that threatens its survival. In his research, he noted that the need for workers is there, pointing out that 6,200 sheet metal workers are needed per year for the next 10 years.

The downside, though, is that the workforce is shrinking, he said. The U.S. birth rate at 13.9 births per 1,000 people "is the lowest since records have been kept." Meanwhile, the ratio of males to females - 1.06 males per one female - "is dropping as fewer males are being born."

Incoming SMACNA president Dick Cramer (left), of Dee Cramer Inc. (Holly, Mich.), shakes hands with outgoing president Keith Wilson, of Miller Bonded Inc. (Albuquerque, N.M.).

At the same time, Maloney said that the male participation rate in the sheet metal field, as well as the HVACR industry in general, is dropping, while the female participation rate is increasing. His research concluded that by the year 2020 the workforce by ethnic heritage will be 69 percent Caucasian, 14 percent Latino, 11 percent African American, and 6 percent Asian.

With the above facts and figures in mind, Maloney told his audience that the first thing the industry, as well as each individual, must do is "change or become extinct."

"If SMACNA and the SMWIA [Sheet Metal Workers International Association] do not change the way they do business with one another and if SMACNA and the SMWIA do not change the benefit and funds structure, there will be no unionized sector in five years," he predicted.

The closing dinner and dance featured Glenn Frey, singer and songwriter for the rock and roll group The Eagles.

To stem the tide, Maloney suggested a workforce development process whereby the steps would include awareness, familiarization, recruitment, selection, training, and retention. To meet that goal and to ensure that the unionized sector does not die, Maloney gave SMACNA attendees 68 recommendations, all designed to improve the current state-of-affairs in the industry and make it viable in the 21st century.

This was Maloney's third appearance and speech at a SMACNA-sponsored event on this very same topic. He introduced the issue at the 2005 SMACNA convention with his talk "The Future Workforce of the HVAC and Sheet Metal Industry."

He followed that up with another discussion on the same important subject this past spring at the Partners in Progress meeting, a biennial event put on by both the Sheet Metal Workers union and SMACNA. Maloney shared the stage with Kutztown University professor Andrea D. Mitnick, Ph.D.

According to SMACNA, Mitnick and Maloney are combining their efforts to put together a definitive report on the topic of the workforce needs of the unionized sheet metal industry. It is being dubbed a labor management cooperation-funded project, targeted for both the association and SMWIA. The entire report and its findings are scheduled to be completed soon and will be made available to members.

The 2007 SMACNA convention is scheduled to take place Oct. 21-25. For more information, visit

Sidebar: Industry Needs

PHOENIX - In his talk "Meeting Future Workforce Needs" at the 2006 Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) convention, speaker William Maloney provided 68 recommendations, each designed to improve the current conditions in the sheet metal industry. In order, here are the top 10:

1. Contractors must stop abdicating their responsibilities in the workforce development process to the local union. "It's time to put the ‘j' back in Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee," said Maloney.

2. Establish a mechanism for removing unprofessional and unproductive workers from the eligible list to free up available hours for the more productive and professional members and create opportunities for new workers.

3. Establish a formal five-year apprenticeship, with the fifth year designated as a probationary period. Maloney added that it should be employment at-will during the first year. He also encouraged that there must be a time to closely scrutinize the apprentice, in order to be sure "he/she will be a true professional."

4. Redesign the apprenticeship program to make at least part of it self-paced. The goal of the apprenticeship program is to provide a worker with the skills necessary to perform his job. "If a worker can acquire those skills faster than another, why should that worker have to wait until a specified period of time has elapsed?" he asked his audience.

5. Create the position of Director of Outreach and Recruitment. He cautioned that this should be a JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) position, and not an SMWIA member.

6. Establish an annual Workforce Development Workshop for JATCs, including the training director (apprentice coordinator) and the director of outreach and recruitment. This way, said Maloney, best practices could be shared, plus problems and issues could be jointly explored.

7. Establish an online list for JATCs, including the training director and the director of outreach and recruitment.

8.Create a social network map of the members of the local union and the local SMACNA chapter. This would create a network of organizations in which sheet metal people participate, he said. It could also serve as potential recruiting sites, he added.

9. Where it is in use, create a role in the outreach program for apprentices participating in the Youth-to-Youth program. Maloney pointed out that the paper written by Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) General President Michael Sullivan, which was presented at the National Labor College, cites recruitment as a valid activity.

10. Create a national effort to develop a uniform body of literature about the industry, occupations, and opportunities. In his estimation, there is a tremendous variation in the quality of literature currently available. He thought the Associated Builders and Contractors' Website ( was a good place to review for content and to mimic.

For all of Maloney's 68 recommendations, see the Web-exclusive feature article "Speaker Makes Recommendations for Sheet Metal Industry" in this issue.

- by Mark Skaer

Publication date: 11/27/2006