9 minute read

Calling Brand Ambassadors


SMACNA-SMART Market Expansion Task Force Calls the Industry’s Best to the Frontlines of Social Media #MJMG

By / Jessica Kirby Photos courtesy of South East Washington North East Oregon Sheet Metal Training Trust and SMACNA

Social media’s refurbishing of the advertising landscape has changed the way businesses and organizations promote their offerings and effectively reach a viable market. Its ascension to omnipotence has triggered an over-saturation of the information market where brand creation and promotion are only a few clicks away from just about any fingertip, making it difficult for the average consumer to garner meaningful information about what has genuine value. While overwhelming in some ways, this abundance has also demanded a return to the basics— personal stories, recommendations, and first-hand reviews—as key determinants of quality.

So what does this mean for the signatory sheet metal industry? Looking at North America’s labor shortage, it can

mean a great deal in terms of recruitment. Young people are graduating every day and making decisions about their futures. As with any other entity leveraging the online consumer market, the challenge is standing out among the onslaught in a genuine, meaningful way.

The SMACNA/SMART Best Practices Market Expansion Task Force has launched a recruitment initiative that seeks to do exactly that. The Brand Ambassador program—which already completed the pilot stage in Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Portland, and Austin—uses an evidence-based approach to attract new recruits to the sheet metal trade, leveraging research collected surveying apprentices in their first, second, third, and final years of training. It will be available to all members this fall.

The approach is simple—contractors, training centers, and instructors can identify apprentices and journeypersons in their communities that are models of “best of breed,” and might be active on social media. These “brand ambassadors” should typify the sort of individuals they would like to see more of in the industry. Ambassadors will be encouraged to take to the frontlines of social media promoting various aspects of the sheet metal trade.

Watch pinp.org for information about an upcoming webinar that will introduce the Industrial Athlete program nationally.

Jerry Henderson, chapter executive with SMACNA Oregon and Southwest Washington, says his locale is ideal for running the pilot program because it has had its eye on a joint marketing campaign, similar to what NECA-IBEW started in 2014.

“Locally, we’ve had a joint agreement between the union, training center, and the chapter to employ various marketing campaigns, but they are costly to develop on our own and our resources are limited,” he says.

“Every area in the country is also doing their own thing with no focused effort on building a national SMACNA- SMART brand. It would make sense to get everyone pulling on the rope in the same direction, and personally I’m hoping this is just the first step.”

Shyanne Sarris is a social media intern SMACNA Oregon and SW Washington. She says the association is hoping that the Brand Ambassador program will help spread the news about our four-year, debt-free degree program to people searching for new vocation options.

“Many men and women are unaware that a successful alternative to attending university exists,” Sarris says. “The trade industry not only pays its workers well, but also it provides apprentices with a fulfilling and meaningful career at little to no cost.”

Ideal ambassadors

Paul Pimentel, who heads up research and communications activities for SMART, says a “brand ambassador” is someone who goes above and beyond and can uniquely communicate his or her positive contribution to the sheet metal industry.

Ambassadors demonstrate members’ skill, pride, and craftspersonship and the high standards consistent in the unionized sheet metal industry. “We represent contractors and members that are a cut above the rest, and we should not be shy about making it known,” Pimentel says.

Fulfilling this mission means standing out and making an impact bigger than the every day work. “We all want to leave the world we inherit better than how we came into it,” Pimentel says.

“This is how we recognize people who have made a positive mark and hold them up as examples to be followed. Brand ambassadors are the best among us, the ones who industry stakeholders look to as pioneers. They have the ability to blaze a path forward for women, lead a campaign against safety issues on a non-union job site, or be an example of our strong union work ethic.”

Watch pinp.org for information about an upcoming webinar that will introduce the Industrial Athlete program nationally.

Living by example

Pimentel says Ursela Gaskill, journeyperson sheet metal worker and shop steward at Total Energy Management in Richland, Washington, is an example of an ideal brand ambassador. Gaskill has been with the company for seven years total, and prior to that she completed a two-year technical degree in welding followed by a five-year apprenticeship program.

Her time in the industry has had its challenges, but the trade’s diversity and the leadership opportunities have been rewarding. “I love the work and the difficulty of being a female making it in my shop and industry,” Gaskill says. “The most challenging for me has been the drive to make it to the top, because like it or not, men sometimes don’t want women to be the boss or to tell them what to do. Getting to a lead position can be challenging.”

Any resistance she felt in the beginning of her career has only made Gaskill work harder to be part of the solution. She routinely visits schools, colleges, and tradeshows, talking to youth about a successful career in sheet metal and how much her career means to her.

“I want others, especially women, to be as successful as I am,” Gaskill says. “My union and trade have changed my life and made me a very successful individual, and I want that for more people.”

Pimentel says role models are important on many levels and can be a light in dark times, particularly with younger workers who need help seeing the way forward.

“Anecdotal examples have a big cumulative impact,” he says. “It’s important for a young member who is just starting off in the industry—let’s say a female sheet metal worker or an African American worker—to see others who were in a similar situation and who succeeded in overcoming their challenges. They are an inspiration.”

Gaskill says she made some poor decisions in high school, ended up using drugs and went to prison. While she was there,

Calling Brand Ambassadors

Ursela Gaskill works hard to promote the trade to youth, making her an ideal brand ambassador for the sheet metal trade.
Ambassadors can promote the Indistrial Athlete campaign with photos and selfies using #MJMG My Job is My Gym (see the shirt).

Ursela Gaskill works hard to promote the trade to youth, making her an ideal brand ambassador for the sheet metal trade.

she completed a treatment program and received her GED. Once released, she was determined to be successful and change her whole lifestyle. With help from her dad, she was working full time and attending college with in months and has never looked back.

“I never thought that I would be where I am now, because of my past,” Gaskill says. “I have some charges on my record and a GED rather than a diploma. But I was accepted into my hall and never questioned about it.”

Then-coordinator Ken Cox, someone she considers an important mentor in her journey, was key in supporting her as she rose to each challenge.

“He saw something in me from the beginning and pushed me to be the best,” Gaskill says. “I proudly represent my hall because of him and so many.”

She would like young people considering a career in trades to know there is never a better time but the present to jump in and get started making their career goals a reality.

“Don’t put it off,” Gaskill says. “Go down to any Local and put your name on the list. It’s easy, and the construction industry is busy with work. I never thought I could be so successful and have an amazing life and future. I want this life for everyone—women, men, individuals wanting to change their lives and become good people. The union will do that for you.”


Studies involving online consumer habits have found that 90% of people searching for programs and products online trust peer recommendations, and user-generated content is deemed 50% more trustworthy than traditional media. Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals, and 81% of American consumers trust advice and information from blogs. Most importantly, 9 out of 10 people trust recommendations from within their networks. ▪

Ambassadors can promote the Indistrial Athlete campaign with photos and selfies using #MJMG My Job is My Gym (see the shirt).

Industry research

The SMACNA/SMART Best Practices Market Expansion Task Force recruiting initiative surveyed 1,459 apprentices to find out where they learned about a career in sheet metal, how they would suggest improving recruitment efforts, and whether they would recommend the trade to others.

Of those, 1,209 learned of the trade from family and friends, 95 received the information from a school counselor, 72 from social media, and 52 from job fairs. The remaining few were inspired by radio, TV, and newspaper ads.

They gave nearly equal consideration to wages, training, health care, and retirement benefits (in that order) when deciding on a career in sheet metal, and listed social media (70%), supporting school counselors (56%), and support for non-print media ads and websites (52%) as the best ways to reach new recruits. In addition, 94% percent said they would recommend the trade to others.

Brand ambassador program materials focus on these areas and promote the items apprentices said they wished they’d known about the trade before entering, such as variety of work, diversity in the trade, earning college credit, continuing education, and leadership opportunities.

Lisa Bordeaux, consultant to the SMACNA/SMART Best Practices Market Expansion Task Force and an expert in recruitment efforts aimed at young people, said the Brand Ambassador program’s first campaign is aimed at promoting the Industrial Athlete aspects of the work.

6 » Partners in Progress » www.pinp.org

Being active is a big draw to the trades for some recruits. The Industrial Athlete campaign focuses on the athletic aspects of sheet metal work.

Being active is a big draw to the trades for some recruits. The Industrial Athlete campaign focuses on the athletic aspects of sheet metal work.

“Not having to sit at a desk and is an important benefit for some,” Bordeaux says. “With that in mind, the first campaign is ‘My Job is My Gym’, promoting the athletic component of the sheet metal trade.”

Apprentices with a flair for social media are encouraged to post photos and selfies with the hashtag #MJMG on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, vying for two monthly top prizes ($100 at Amazon): one for best photo and the other for most likes. (Order a t-shirt to help promote the campaign.)

The Task Force will track the results on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. “As a result of interest and feedback, we will customize and provide resources—flyers for counselors and t-shirts to share with friends and family on social media,” Bordeaux says.

Handouts and flyers will be available to contractors, chapters, local unions, and JATCs, and can be customized for each region. SMACNA and SMART will also be emailing and sharing these resources with high school and middle school guidance counselors.

The pilot was the beginning of a multi-year initiative starting this fall that will evolve based on user feedback and will capitalize on successes. “The first of the recruiting components was rolled out to locations where the training directors had expressed a strong need for support due to work shortages,” Bordeaux says. “We are refining based on their feedback before we roll it out nationally.”

For additional program information, contact Paul Pimentel ppimentel@smart-union.org or Jason Watson jwatson@ smacna.org. Program feedback and suggestions can go to Lisa Bordeaux at bordeaux11@gmail.com. ▪

Jessica Kirby is a freelance editor and writer covering construction, architecture, mining, travel, and sustainable living for myriad publications across Canada and the United States. She can usually be found among piles of paper in her home office or exploring nature’s bounty in British Columbia’s incredible wilderness.