7 minute read

Heroes Among Us


Every year in the United States almost 250,000 men and women transition out of the armed services and face an uncertain future. Where should they go? What will they do in the civilian world after years in the military?

SMART Heroes graduating class, August 2018. 
Photo courtesy of International Training Institute.
The SMART Heroes class of summer 2018 fast-tracked first year apprenticeship training making graduates eligible for second year entry into more than 150 apprenticeship programs across the United States.
Photo courtesy of International Training Institute.

Meanwhile, the sheet metal industry, like all construction trades, is suffering the ongoing loss of baby boomers in the workforce. Charlie Mulcahy, SMART director of craft services, explains, “Many of our jobsite leaders, our foremen and superintendents, are from that generation; we’re going to experience a drought of leadership somewhere down the road.”

SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. came up with a concept that addresses how to strengthen the future of the industry while helping returning soldiers get jobs and settle into new lives. The SMART Heroes Program paves the way for those transitioning out of the military to find rewarding careers by offering fast-tracked first-year apprenticeship training free of charge to qualified veterans.

Mulcahy says Helmets to HardHats, which works through the North American Building Trades Unions to help veterans connect with a trade, is limited to being a referral program, with veterans treated like all other applicants for apprenticeships.

“These veterans are high quality candidates,” Mulcahy says. “They already know how to be on time, follow directions, and work with teammates; they know how to problem-solve. Their strong work ethic, maturity, and discipline translate well to the worksite and leadership roles.”

If you were struggling with something, no matter how many times they had to show you again, they didn’t mind,” says student Jerod Staidle who admired the instructors’ patience and willingness to reach each student. 

The SMART Heroes Program takes successful applicants through first-year apprentice sheet metal industry training and upon completion offers opportunity for second-year placement in more than 150 apprenticeship programs in the United States.

This is where SMACNA came to the table. “SMART took the lead on the concept and development of the program,” says Vince Sandusky, chief executive officer at SMACNA National. “They approached us to partner with them after they’d done most of the research and all the legwork in working with the military.

“We worked with SMART on a national basis to have our local apprenticeship programs amend their documents so they could accept these candidates’ intensified one-year training and allow them to enter as second-year apprentices,” Sandusky says, explaining that most of the Locals were not set up for direct entry into their second-year programs.

“When you think about it, most of these people grew up in places other than the military base they transitioned out of,” he says. “Many want to go home, back to their families, so we wanted to make sure that option was available.”

SMART had to find a base commander willing to work with the program before it could have its attorneys begin writing a letter of understanding with the Army. Everything fell into place when the commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State offered his support and suggested Soldiers for Life Transition Services could help identify and screen potential candidates for the program.

“The base commander really wanted to work with us, and because our training facility was a mile from the base in DuPont, it was a perfect match,” says Don Steltz, executive administrator at Western Washington Local 66 JATC.

Working with the International Training Institute (ITI), his team put together a curriculum that would run a bit differently from the normal apprenticeship program. “First we took a snapshot of what’s done across the country,” Steltz says. “Our goal was to give these students the basics of what all the other training centers are teaching.”

The result was an intensive seven weeks of full-time instruction covering TAB, industrial welding, service, architectural, and building information modeling (BIM). As part of the curriculum, students complete an OSHA 30-hour construction training course and 40 hours in a specialty of their choice. Adding to the five valued instructors already at the training center, Steltz hired Kevin Thomas to work with the soldiers as they came in. The first SMART Heroes class of eight students began in August of 2017.

In 2017, Jerod Staidle was in the process of transitioning out of the military where he’d served as a welder for the Army. “I had been looking into different welding jobs and programs, but none quite fit what I wanted,” he says. “Then at a job fair at the base, I sat down with Eric Peterson, administrative coordinator at the Local 66, Western Washington JATC training center. I really liked what he had to say, so I signed up and was accepted into the program.”

From the beginning, Staidle admired the instructors’ patience and willingness to reach each student. “If you were struggling with something, no matter how many times they had to show you again, they didn’t mind,” Staidle says. “When I finished classes, one of the instructors helped me out with tools because I got work so fast, I hadn’t had time to get them set up.”

Staidle was part of the first graduating class in October 2017. Two weeks later he cleared and exited the military and since then has been working as a second-year sheet metal apprentice. This fall, he will start his third-year classes, specializing in welding.

Joshua Buckley, a 20-year veteran in the military, signed up for the SMART Heroes program the following spring. “I was in a specific organization within the Army, doing one type of thing and so trying to figure out what I was going to do once I retired was difficult. The idea of working with my hands appealed to me,” Buckley says.

“Right away, I loved the program. For seven weeks straight, every single day, I looked forward to waking up early and going to classes. It was a great fit, and I really enjoyed working with the metal.”

Over the seven weeks, students learned TAB, industrial welding, service, architectural, and building information modeling, along with OSHA training and a specialty of their choice. 
Photo courtesy of International Training Institute.

On August 27, 2018, the sixth class graduated, and two more graduating classes are scheduled for this year. Student numbers are increasing as word of mouth gets out, and, looking to add to the pipeline of veterans coming in, SMART and SMACNA are actively working towards an additional location, preferably on the east coast.

“These are good people who have done good things for our country and for our industry by serving in the military,” Sandusky says. “We’re very proud of this program and happy to be partnering with SMART to help it grow.”

The SMART Heroes program grew from the desire to help military men and women transition to the civilian workforce and strengthen the future of the sheet metal industry. Through hard work and successful partnerships between labor and management, that goal has become reality. •

Combat to Construction: Partners in Progress Conference 2018

As the U.S. economy prospers, the need for a skilled labor pool increases, especially in the construction trades. To add skilled workers who can hit the ground running, there isn’t a better pool of candidates to choose from than the men and women transitioning from the military.

Charlie Mulcahy, SMART; Darrell Roberts, Helmets to Hardhats; Kevin Thomas, Western Washington Sheet Metal JATC; and Joshua Buckley, SMART Heroes graduate, delivered a session at the 2018 Partners in Progress Conference exploring programs available to JATCs, Locals, and companies aimed at bringing military personnel to the sheet metal industry once they leave the service.

Speakers at the 2018 Partners in Progress Conference on opportunities for veterans in the signatory sheet metal industry

According to the panel’s presentation, the U.S. Army is expecting 120,000 personnel to transition out over the next 10 years. In the United States, there are about 18 million males and 1.6 million females with previous military service. As of December 2017, this population was experiencing a 3.8% overall unemployment rate. The rate for those who left the military after 9/11 was about 3.3%. It is only about 2.7% among veterans who are between 18 and 24.

The SMART Heroes program is a dynamic recruitment and training program designed to attract highly-qualified candidates to the unionized sheet metal industry. It is sponsored by SMART, SMACNA, the International Training Institute, and Helmets to Hardhats. The program provides seven weeks of sheet metal industry training, equivalent to first-year apprenticeship training, to enlisted men and women prior to discharge.

Helmets to Hardhats helps military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the construction industry. Over its lifetime, H2H has been responsible for bringing more than 27,000 individuals into the construction industry.

Learn more about these programs and download the full Conference presentation at pinp.org/wp- content/uploads/2018/02/Combat-to-Construction- Presentation.pdf