Dennis Canevari, business manager and president for Sheet Metal Workers Local 162 in Modesto, Calif., said a sheet metal career has many options.

LAS VEGAS - The construction industry has suffered more than most during the recession of the late 2000s.

The economists may say it officially ended a couple years ago, but try telling that to many construction workers, where unemployment is still more than double the national average in much of the United States.

That’s certainly true for Sheet Metal Workers union members and the contractors that employ them. Many are still waiting for a recovery.

Close to 800 of them came here March 8-10 for the biennial 2012 Partners in Progress conference, sponsored by the union and the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association. The focus of the meeting was collaboration and getting more work for members. And despite the troubles in the industry, the conference still attracted dozens of apprentices from across the country for the annual student contest.

Many choices

And many of them attended the March 8 session, “Career Opportunities for Apprentices: Endless Possibilities and the Potential for a Lifetime of Rewards.” Three men who had made successful careers in various areas of the sheet metal industry encouraged the students in the Caesars Palace meeting room to do the same.

The first presenter was Dennis Canevari, business manager and president for Sheet Metal Workers Local 162 in Modesto, Calif.

Canevari has been a member of Local 162 for 29 years. He said that when he first started in the industry, he would travel to jobsites with a case full of 8-track tapes.

He encouraged the students in the audience to have short- and long-term career goals. You could end up owning your own business someday, Canevari said.

“I didn’t have any idea that I would end up here,” he said. “I have been fortunate to change careers within one industry.”

Prior to discovering sheet metal work, Canevari worked at a motorcycle shop and a Kmart. He eventually became a shop foreman, to no one’s surprise.

“I have never surprised anybody,” he said. “You sort of learn along the way to take these little opportunities.” People will not wait for you, he said. Take chances.

“I never planned on being here, but I don’t regret the choices I made along the way,” he said.

Larry Lawrence of the International Training Institute told apprentice students at his March 8 session that sheet metal work is “probably the best thing on the planet.”

‘The freak'

Larry Lawrence is an instructional development specialist and Colorado-based regional representative for the union-affiliated International Training Institute.

The bald, “soul patch” and earring-wearing Lawrence said he was “the cream of my local even though I was a freak.”

A U.S. Navy veteran, today he works hard to encourage young people to join the industry.

“The more people who stay with us because we treat them well, the better we are going to be,” he said.

Lawrence encouraged the apprentices in the audience to consider becoming sheet metal instructors.

“You are not going to make millions of dollars as an instructor, but you are going to help our industry grow,” he said. “Our instructors are so overworked right now.”

He told the students to think of themselves as industry ambassadors.

“Every one of you in this room is a recruiter,” he said. “You can influence how apprenticeship is run in the United States.”

Lawrence challenged the students to ensure that their industry educations don’t end once they become journeymen.

Nathan Dills, president of ACP Sheet Metal Co. Inc. in Oklahoma City, encouraged apprentices to consider the image they project with their attire.

The best trade

“Just because the apprenticeship is complete doesn’t mean you should stop learning,” he said, adding, “This trade is probably the best thing on the planet.”

Nathan Dills, the final speaker, is president of ACP Sheet Metal Co. Inc. in Oklahoma City., and currently a member of SMACNA’s board of directors. He also works SMACNA’s market expansion task force and financial committees.

A lawyer by training, Dills told the audience “I cannot do what you guys do,” even though he now runs the sheet metal company started by his father.

He told the company owners in the audience to get out from behind their desks and walk the shop floor, and told apprentices to dress professionally.

“A lot of you are going to work for people who do million-dollar jobs,” he said. They are used to dealing with people who wear suits.

“They do not want to see a guy who looks like he just crawled out from under a rock,” Dills said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail

Joey Hovarter of Moore, Okla., was the first-place winner in the detailing category. As winner, Hovarter won a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

ITI competition showcases apprentice talent

A lot was at stake for the apprentices competing at this year’s 40th annual International Sheet Metal Competition, hosted by the International Training Institute.

Not only were bragging rights on the line, but in one category, the first-place winner walked away with a new Harley Davidson motorcycle.

More than 250 sheet metal apprentices and their families from around the United States and Canada traveled to Las Vegas March 5-9 to put their skills to the test. Five apprentices from union training centers in the United States took top honors in five categories: HVAC; industrial/welding; service; architectural and testing, adjusting and balancing.

Detailing, the sixth category, was open to journeymen and apprentices. The category, now in its second year, was added as a result of a shift in the industry. Detailing skills - which allow sheet metal workers to generate and manage building data on the computer using building information modeling software - are becoming increasingly in-demand in the industry, said institute officials.

To encourage sheet metal workers to get certified in ITI’s Benchmark BIM training software, ITI awarded the winner of the detailing category with a brand new Fat Boy Lo Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“This was the second year for the detailing category, and the competition was fierce,” said James Shoulders, ITI executive administrator. “To earn a spot as one of the top 12 detailers in the country at this competition is a feat in and of itself.”

Aaron VanRheen, first place winner in the HVAC category, competes during the International Training Institute’s sheet metal competition in Las Vegas.

Joey Hovarter, 36, of Moore, Okla., employed by Matherly Mechanical Contractors LLC in Midwest City, Okla., received first place in the detailing category and drove away with the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The first place winner in the industrial category was Josh Lohman, 28, of Kennewick, Wash., while James Alsteen, 25, of Milwaukee, took top honors in the architectural category. Aaron VanRheen, 27, of Portland, Ore., was first place in the HVAC category. First place in service was Thomas Sorensen, 38, of Fairfax, Calif. The top winner in the TAB category was William Kerner, 32, of Stafford, Va.

“This is really the seed of our future. These students train and work diligently all year, and we get to showcase that,” Shoulders said at the awards banquet. “We have contractors here tonight from all facets. Those contractors need good, young people to make their businesses successful and ultimately make this industry successful. So, the industry benefits greatly by the training they receive throughout the year. This is the best of the best here.”