Heavy Metal Summer Experience positions unionized sheet metal industry for future growth

July 31, 2023

The explosion of megaprojects in North America, combined with ongoing core work in the sheet metal industry, is creating previously-unheard- of workforce demands for local SMART unions across the continent — not just in the next few years, but the next several decades. In response, SMART, SMACNA, the International Training Institute and other industry stakeholders have launched a variety of initiatives to bring young people into the trade and expand beyond recruiting through word of mouth.

“The industry is going to change moving forward, and it’s vital that we evolve with it,” remarked SMART General President Mike Coleman. “If we are going to achieve the growth required in upcoming years, we need to make sure we’re recruiting in all the communities in which we live and work, bringing in apprentices from all backgrounds.”

One program has already proven successful in that regard.

Heavy Metal Summer Experience (HMSE) is a six-week-long summer career exploration camp that introduces high school students and recent graduates to careers in the building trades through hands-on projects, working alongside skilled tradespeople and discovering local apprenticeship training opportunities. Founded by Angie Simon, past president of SMACNA and retired CEO of Western Allied Mechanical, the program seeks to engage young people who may not otherwise know about our trade and give them the opportunity to learn directly from SMART sheet metal workers, among others. This can be particularly beneficial for young people in underserved areas — giving our union the chance to establish a foothold in communities where we may previously have been absent.

The camp began as a trial program at Western Allied Mechanical in Union City, California and Hermanson Company in Seattle, Washington in 2021. Since then, it has expanded across the country, producing success stories along the way. SNIPS NEWS recently profiled Alejandra, a Local 66 (Seattle) apprentice who found her way to the trade via HMSE.

“I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I didn’t have the funds to go to college or university, and I heard about this program, the Heavy Metal Summer Experience,” she told SNIPS. “I attended and they introduced me to the trades — more sheet metal focused — but they did touch on most trades. They told me that they would pay me to learn, and I was sold.”

Alejandra’s experience demonstrates the importance of programs like Heavy Metal Summer Experience in raising public awareness and providing pathways into the trade for women, people of color and others from historically underrepresented communities. By bringing in those members, local unions can expand their reach and grow their strength well into the future.

“These megaprojects and the organizing and recruiting we do now won’t just impact the next few years — these are chances to provide good, family-sustaining careers for generations to come,” Coleman concluded. “By engaging with programs such as Heavy Metal Summer Experience, local unions can help secure a legacy in their communities for the long term.”

Local unions and interested members can find more information at HMSE.org.