Being discharged from the military can be exciting, but the unknowns and uncertainties of civilian life can also be scary. Luckily for eight U.S. military soon-to-be-veterans, as well as many more to come, the unionized sheet metal industry has made easing that transition a top priority with the establishment of the SMART Heroes Program. On a crisp fall Oct. 3 morning, dignitaries from across the United States gathered at the Western Washington Sheet Metal DuPont Training Center to honor the program’s first graduating class.

Launched Aug. 15, the SMART Heroes Program was established to provide free sheet metal industry training to enlisted U.S. Military men and women who plan to enter civilian life within the year, thereby assisting in a successful transition into the civilian workforce.

While still enrolled in (and, thus, paid by) their respective military branch, program participants complete a seven-week course to receive the equivalent of their first-year sheet metal apprentice training (224 hours). The second class, which began Oct. 17, is at capacity with 15 participants.

Upon honorable discharge from service, SMART Heroes graduates may choose to enter any of the 150-plus SMART apprenticeship programs in the United States and be provided direct entry and advanced placement as a second-year sheet metal apprentice, including a high probability of obtaining second-year apprentice wages and benefits.

“Military veterans have the ideal qualities we look for in candidates for our apprenticeship programs – work ethic, maturity and discipline, to name a few,” said James Page, administrator for the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry. “Their skills acquired during their time of service can easily be applied on the work site, and it is our honor to assist these U.S. heroes as they transition to civilian life.”

The ITI, which develops the curricula for more than 150 sheet metal training facilities across the United States and Canada, developed a training program specifically for veterans transitioning from service, and all training is focused on areas experiencing the greatest market demand: industrial/welding, architectural, testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) and 3D building information modeling.

“I don’t know a contractor out there who wouldn’t want your skills,” said Joseph Lansdell, president of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) to graduates during the ceremony. “You’re going to be a leader of the pack.”

Adjacent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Western Washington Sheet Metal training center seemed the ideal host for the inaugural SMART Heroes class.

While seven of the graduates work out of McChord, Trey Freitag of the U.S. Navy drove 40 minutes from the Navy’s Bremerton base every day for a 6 a.m. start time.

“It’s great to see the enthusiasm,” said Joseph Sellers, Jr., general president of the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART). “It reminds me of the enthusiasm I had when I was an apprentice.”

Graduates were of all military ranks and years of enlistment: Richard Quintana, U.S. Army, 27-plus years of service; Freitag, five-plus years of service; William Castillo, U.S. Army, 19 years of service; Juan C. Perez, U.S. Army, four-plus years of service; Joshua Buckley, U.S. Army, nearly 12 years of service; Barry Barker, U.S. Army, 23 years of service; Ethan Eastling, U.S. Air Force, nearly six years of service; Ryan Arce, U.S. Army, two years of service.

 “This program is probably the most excellent fit to one of the biggest industry problems we have: finding qualified workers,” Lansdell added.

SMART established the program with SMACNA, in collaboration with the ITI, Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 66, SMACNA Western Washington, Western Washington Sheet Metal training center and Helmets to Hardhats. The McChord Field Education and Training Center provided support to the program by helping identify and screen potential candidates.

“This is a model for our entire country,” said Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who noted organizations working together is the key to helping veterans navigate their transition period. “It gives me so much joy to see that happening here.”

Publication date: 11/21/2017

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