Educating those outside the industry about sheet metal work and all it entails is no small feat. There are many misconceptions about the profession and what exactly is asked of workers, apprentices, and trainees.
Eugene Frazier, training director of Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24’s training center in Dayton, Ohio, and Bob Pope, executive vice president of the Sheet Metal and Roofing Contractors Association/Dayton Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) affiliate of Miami Valley, Ohio, along with others, are working to eliminate those misconceptions. Frazier and Pope are dedicated to informing the public about HVAC design and installation, HVAC Fire Life Safety, architectural work, welding, roofing, and the numerous other skills sheet metal workers have to be trained in and prepared to utilize in the trade.
“One of our main purposes is supporting SMACNA chapters and really telling our stories,” said Pope. “You have to be out there all the time talking about who you are, what you do, and what you offer as well as the advantages. No one is going to do it for you.”
“There’s just a misconception across the board,” added Frazier. “We’re trying to talk to everyone we can because if we don’t explain what we do, the average person will never learn who we are or the training we provide.”
A thorough understanding of sheet metal work is necessary to help attract prospective workers as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of sheet metal workers to grow 15 percent by the year 2022, faster than the national average across all occupations. This represents an increase of 22,000 workers, up from 142,300 in the year 2012.
A Partnership with RCI
Beyond correcting misconceptions, Frazier and Pope’s work includes a partnership with the Roofing Consultants Institute (RCI) to offer interactive eight-hour seminars four times a year. The goal of the sessions is to give those involved in the design and observation of installations of rooftops, architectural sheet metal, and masonry — and also quality contractors, architects, and engineers — the chance to earn continuing education units (CEU) designed to inform just how intertwined their careers are with those working in the sheet metal industry.
The first of these sessions was held in February 2014 and will continue throughout 2015.
These seminars take place at Local No. 24’s training centers, allowing Frazier and Pope to show the RCI exactly what sheet metal workers are doing on a day-to-day basis and why.
“RCI seminars have been a great opportunity because they allow us to educate others about what we are doing,” said Pope. “They get a chance to see our guys working and better understand their training and what they go through.”
Per the International Training Institute’s blog, Eye on Sheet Metal, the Local No. 24 has also received the support of Rieck Services, a local sheet metal contractor. Frazier and Pope have invited other firms in for tours of the training facilities and Rieck Services’ fabrication shop. This gives guests a chance to see the training in action as workers and apprentices alike take to the job site.
Spreading the word about the apprenticeship program is one of the biggest goals for both Frazier and Pope. “The apprenticeship and its training facility are our primary selling points,” said Pope. “These provide a thoroughly skilled workforce to our employers. A lot of people don’t even understand how the apprenticeship program works.”
“Whenever any political people or people in the know are able to come through, we try to tell them everything an apprentice goes through in the five-year period they’re in training,” said Frazier. “We tell them how we constantly evaluate our apprentices in a program that requires a minimum of 200 hours a year.”
Senators and state representatives have toured the facility to better understand how college credits are tied to the apprenticeship, and to learn how it is used as a viable alternative to the common methods of higher education.
However, Frazier and Pope also want young students to get a grasp on sheet metal work and the potential it has as a career choice. Pope is on several advisory committees and brings in high school counselors once a year to explain the apprenticeship program.
“We want to reach out to the public as much as possible,” said Pope.
“Bob goes right into the classrooms and talks to the students directly,” said Frazier. “It’s a way to make contact with them and let them know what we are all about.”
Another way to connect with a student body is through those who see them every day. Pope makes every effort to talk with superintendents, administrators, and principals but has found the most success talking with high school athletic coaches. “Coaches are those individuals’ mentors at that age,” said Frazier. “Those coaches are a great ally to who we are. Counselors are from academia. They typically don’t know about or understand apprenticeship.”
HVAC Fire Life Safety
An often overlooked, but critically important, aspect of the HVAC industry that Frazier, Pope, and the Local No. 24 are involved in is HVAC Fire Life Safety.
Per the HVAC Fire Life Safety website, when a fire or other emergency occurs, ductwork can act as a “freeway,” circulating smoke and toxins throughout a structure, even to offices far away from the flashpoint. Built-in smoke and fire dampers can prevent this from happening. Sheet metal workers who take HVAC Fire Life Safety courses and pass a series of exams become International Certification Board (ICB)-certified HVAC Fire Life Safety Level I technicians and supervisors.
The Local No. 24 has hosted fire chiefs, inspectors, and directors for tours and had them attend HVAC Fire Life Safety classes, showcasing both the proper inspection and installation of smoke dampers.
“[Local No. 24 business manager] Scott Hammond made it possible for us to start at the top with the mayor, city manager, fire department director, and fire inspector,” said Pope. “They’re very receptive to coming back now and putting on classes.”
As for expanding their reach even further and finding new groups to educate on sheet metal work, Pope and Frazier remain committed to exploring every avenue available to them.
“All we can do is continue to get up every day and tell our story over and over again,” said Pope. “We will keep trying to find groups we haven’t looked at yet.”
Publication date: 3/9/2015