Journeyman Dan Tash from Sheet Metal Workers Local #359 in Phoenix checks on an air conditioning floor unit
Journeyman Dan Tash from Sheet Metal Workers Local #359 in Phoenix checks on an air conditioning floor unit. The Service Manager Course helps teach sheet metal workers how to open their own service shop or operate a service department at an existing company.
FAIRFAX, Va. — Husband and wife team Rick and Kelly Martinez had been kicking around the idea of opening their own HVAC service shop for a few years but could never gather enough information to feel comfortable making the leap. In December, the International Training Institute’s (ITI) Service Manager Course came to Butte, Mont., and although it was an eight-hour drive in the snow from Martinez’s home in Casper, Wyo., he made the trip.

And it’s one he’ll never regret.

“I’ve been on both sides of the fence — dealing with customers and employees as a foreman, former business representative, executive board member, training coordinator and instructor for Local #103. There were things I had under my belt, but there were things that were lacking,” said Martinez, who has been a unionized sheet metal worker for about 30 years. “It can turn into a nightmare starting your own business. It’s intimidating, don’t get me wrong. But these were some tough decisions, the instructor told us, that we would have to deal with. The things you have to plan for, the things you don’t think about.”

The Service Manager Course is a five-day, 40-hour course derived from a mix of ITI’s Business 101 course and instructor Darrell Garrison’s personal experience as a veteran service manager. The course covers everything from creating a business name to hiring personnel with a dose of reality and a bit of encouragement thrown in for good measure.

The first course was held in Las Vegas in June 2012, and it has been hosted at a handful of sheet metal training centers ever since to positive reviews. Martinez is the first to open his shop because of what he learned during the course.

Where Martinez had the motivation, it wasn’t enough to get him started. The course provided vital processes he needed to know to launch Home Environment Solutions LLC, which officially opened in Casper March 1.

“Just the amount of information I got was well worth the class,” Martinez said. “There are a lot of hoops to jump through [opening your own business], and the scariest part is making sure you’ve jumped through them enough.”

Eventually, Martinez would like to take Home Environment Solutions mobile, so he and future employees can fabricate and retrieve parts on site. Today, he’s submitting bids and gradually building up to warmer weather when residents start looking for maintenance on their air conditioning units. It’s slow, but because of the course, he knew what to expect. Until he builds clientele, he is the only employee.

“I planned it that way so I wasn’t trying to do everything trying to get the business up and running and doing the work, too,” Martinez said from his home office. “There are so many hours in the day. Hopefully, we’ll hit the floor running.”

The second avenue of the Service Manager Course is geared to existing service managers or those who would have goals of running a company’s service department. Although some of the same skills apply, there are differences.

“This class was very good for not only the service technicians but also the service managers to hear,” said Scott Bush, who attended the course in Indianapolis. “This is a great class for companies wanting to fine tune their service departments as well as companies looking to get involved in service.”

Two members from Montana who took the Service Manager Course with Martinez are going a different route. They will attend the Service Technician Course held in Las Vegas this year in hopes of opening a service department for an existing company.

“I look at this as a huge success for service training being provided by the ITI,” said Dale Carpenter, training coordinator for the Montana State Sheet Metal Workers training center. “We are also working with Darrell Garrison to bring the ITI Service Technician Course to our training center to further jump start new service companies and service departments into our existing companies.”

Members in Indianapolis also attributed lessons they learned to existing service departments.

“The Service Manager Course was the perfect opportunity to help our existing service contractors make their service departments more efficient and to help our contractors who are just starting a service department understand what it takes to run a profitable business,” said Tim Myres, apprentice coordinator at Local #20 in Indianapolis. “Our existing service managers who attended the class were very pleased with the instruction they received on the business side of their job.”

In Las Vegas, where the still struggling economy has forced many sheet metal workers out of work, giving members another tool that sets them apart is paramount to them finding work.

“As our members take over the role of service managers and man up their crews the members of Local #88 will have opportunities to fill those jobs,” said Dan Rose, training director for Local #88 in Las Vegas. “If you are looking at expanding your market, think about hosting this course for your members, for your local, for our industry.”

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 variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

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Publication date: 5/6/2013