At the Special Dreams Farm in St. Clair Township, Michigan, sheet metal apprentices in Local 80’s International Training Institute recently practiced how to professionally coordinate their skills under one roof.

Larry Collette, a retired pipefitter, opened the farm with his wife in 2004 to help teach life skills such as cooking, gardening and building to adults with developmental disabilities. When a silo for livestock needed a new metal roof, Collette put a call into Local 80’s office for assistance.

Sam Velez, a full-time instructor at the Local 80 training center, saw the project as a learning opportunity for a group of first-year apprentices.

“They were very willing to take on the responsibility,” says Velez, who sketched a roofing design for the apprentices to follow. Materials were donated by Alliance Mechanical and Cass Sheet Metal, and DTE Energy donated use of a crane.

“I just gave instructions,” Velez says. 

At Local 80, 60 percent of an apprentice’s schooling takes place the first year, inside. “Being that I mostly work inside, it’s nice to see the architectural application outside,” says Justin Qualenbush, an apprentice who worked on the project.

The project also gave the first-year apprentices a glimpse of how their versatile trade skills can be of use in the community.

“They got a great experience,” Velez adds. “What they saw at the end is something different than they’re used to seeing. It went from a sketch on paper to constructed,” he explains. “They learned what you can do with a little bit of imagination and drawing things out.”

Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, the International Training Institute 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).

For more information on the International Training Institute, visit Submit a project and see it published in SNIPS at mission. This story originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of SNIPS magazine.