Sheet metal instructor Chris Coatsworth started his apprenticeship in the skilled trades at 18. His dad was a sheet metal worker, and he knew he didn’t want to go to college.

“I liked doing stuff with my hands, and I did not feel that a desk job would be good for me,” says Coatsworth, who is now an instructor with Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 union in California. “I originally actually wanted to do architectural sheet metal, but my dad went through as an installer then transitioned into balancing.”

Chris Coatsworth

Chris Coatsworth, instructor at Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 104 in California.

Like his father, testing, balancing and adjusting is also where he ended up. Coatsworth has been a TAB foreman/general since 2010.  He has completed TAB, service, installation experience working in clean rooms, labs, pharmaceutical labs, office spaces, large cafeterias and industrial buildings. He also has been a part-time instructor for a Local 104 training center since 2008, teaching first- through fourth-year students and the occasional journeyman.

“I’ve dabbled in other parts of the trade, but my main background is testing and balancing,” he says.

Coatsworth currently holds the following certifications: TABB Technician since 2004; TABB Supervisor since 2008; TABB Fire Life Safety Level 1 since 2009; TABB Fire Life Safety Levels 1 & 2; and EPA Universal Certification for handling and recovery of refrigerants. He also placed third in the National TAB Apprentice competition in 2006.

However, when it comes to being a sheet metal instructor, Coatsworth’s most valuable qualification is his own sheet metal apprenticeship experience. He started as a Local 104 apprentice in 2000, and he draws from those memories to relate to students.

“I had some really smart teachers, and you kind of take things you learn from different people over the years, and you incorporate what you like and try to make that part of your own,” he says. “I really like, as far as the classroom, digging into design-engineering concepts. I want to know why things work, why things are the way they are, and those are kind of the gaps that don’t get (filled) all the time out in the field. So that’s what I see as a big part of what we bring to our apprentices. We fill in those gaps that they don’t get out in the field.”

Local 104 represents more than 9,000 sheet metal workers, spanning 49 California counties, from Ventura County to the Oregon border, including the region of Silicon Valley.

As COVID-19 kept everyone away from Local 104’s union hall in San Jose, California, an early adoption of virtual learning and zoom-based classes kept their sheet metal apprentices learning through lockdown.

“We are fortunate to have a wealth of very talented, very dedicated people in our Local,” says training coordinator Brad De Young. “Our administrators are very on top of keeping up with technology, advancements, and the trends of the industry.” A roster of part-time and full-time instructors manage a robust five-year sheet metal apprenticeship program that covers sheet metal fabrication, ductwork installation, detailing, testing and balancing of sheet metal products and HVAC service.

Guidance from the International Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union sets standards for a core curriculum. Dedicated instructors like Coatsworth enrich the coursework.