SMART Heroes graduates

Members of the military preparing to leave the service often have difficulties transitioning to civilian jobs — they suffer a loss of community, have trouble relating to civilians who don’t understand military life and struggle with how to find a career, not just a job. Five years ago, the SMART Heroes program started giving veterans and active-duty military about to transition to the civilian world in western Washington a shot at a career as a sheet metal worker. To date, 500 participants have graduated to become journey-level sheet metal workers.

The program — created by the International Training Institute (ITI), the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) — presents participants with a concentrated seven-week course equivalent to their first-year sheet metal apprentice training (224 hours). Upon discharge from service, program graduates may choose to enter any of the 148 SMART apprenticeship programs in the United States and are provided direct entry and advanced placement as second-year sheet metal apprentices, which includes a living wage, health and pension benefits and a distinct career pathway.

Kevin “Lucky” Moore is a member of the second class of SMART Heroes and will graduate from the apprenticeship program at Western Washington Sheet Metal JATC in spring 2023. Upon his medical retirement from the U.S. Army in 2017, Moore recalled feeling a bit lost as he looked for his next step.

“I wanted to go into a job similar to my job in the infantry, just to stay in the lifestyle,” Moore said. “It was becoming an identity crisis for me, not knowing what to do with my life.”

WATCH: The SMART Heroes program graduated its 500th participant in March 2023, reaching this milestone in just over five years.

For Moore, the military was a family business, and he was concerned he wouldn’t find the solidarity he’d experienced among military members and their families anywhere else. Instead, he found a place that merged his military and sheet metal skills, and although it’s not the same, it was good enough to get the attention of his 19-yearold son, Alex Hogeland, who is currently a first-year apprentice.

“I was losing that identity, and one thing I was really dreading was losing that camaraderie,” Moore said. “The similarities between the union and the military as far as the brotherhood and the camaraderie was a big draw for me. They’re never going to be the same, but they’re very close — so the transition isn’t so bad.”

In addition to the brotherhood and sisterhood found in the union, past SMART Heroes graduates have said working with their hands, being outside, having a clear line of advancement and performing to expectations were all similarities between the military and the union that drew them to the program.

“I had choices after retirement. I knew that with sheet metal I would be actually working. I didn’t want to sit at a desk anymore,” said Richard Quintana, a member of the first SMART Heroes class who graduated from the apprenticeship in early 2022. “I also didn’t want to be in charge of a bunch of people. The Army isn’t the easiest [place] to be in charge of people. You can go somewhere, and you will come back with half of them. It takes a toll. I needed a break. I wanted to work with my hands, and this one sort of fell in my lap.”

Five years in, Moore said he’s watched the program evolve, and every day he finds out more information to help the next class of SMART Heroes. He and other veterans at SMART Local 66 (western Washington) have started a volunteer veterans committee and sit in on SMART Heroes admittance interviews to provide military expertise and guidance for the veterans and the union.

As part of that evolution, SMART Heroes opened a second location in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2019. Josh Moore (no relation to Kevin Moore), SMART Heroes specialist with the ITI and an Army veteran, would like to see the program branch out even farther across the country.

“You’re not going to find opportunities like this too often after taking a seven-week course,” Josh Moore said. “I think these veterans have a solid opportunity in front of them. I would love to tell all veterans about becoming a sheet metal apprentice, even if they don’t come through this program.”

SMART Heroes graduate and Local 100 member Giann Salicrup greets SMART GP Joseph Sellers

On November 7, SMART welcomed representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, Pfizer, PhRMA, the Ironworkers and SMART veterans from multiple branches of the United States military for a celebration of SMART Heroes — a partnership between SMART, SMACNA, Helmets to Hardhats and the International Training Institute that provides seven weeks of sheet metal industry training (equivalent to the first year of apprenticeship training) to active-duty U.S. military members and recent veterans.

As part of the event, current reservist, SMART Heroes graduate and SMART Local 100 (Washington, DC area) second-year apprentice Giann Salicrup presented a Squad Level Sponsor award and a Company Level Sponsor award to PhRMA President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Ubl and Pfizer Director of Government Relations Jim DeMay, respectively; a recognition of both organizations’ generous financial support for SMART Heroes.

“What a great marriage this is, in terms of military servicemembers matriculating into apprenticeship programs,” said Ubl when accepting his award. “Congratulations on this great program — we are proud to support it.”

“Not only does SMART Heroes afford servicemembers the chance to enter into an apprenticeship program with advanced placement, it’s giving that transitioning soldier a sense of security — a real job, a real career with benefits, retirement security, the ability to sustain their family.”

The event kicked off with remarks from SMART General President Joseph Sellers, who pointed out how programs like SMART Heroes provide a sense of stability not just for servicemembers and veterans, but for their families as well.

“When soldiers are transitioning out of the service, they’re not sure what to expect, where they’re going — do I have a job, will I have healthcare, will I be able to support my family?” Sellers said. “Not only does SMART Heroes afford servicemembers the chance to enter into an apprenticeship program with advanced placement, it’s giving that transitioning soldier a sense of security — a real job, a real career with benefits, retirement security, the ability to sustain their family.”

The Honorable James D. Rodriguez, assistant secretary for the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, echoed Sellers’ point about the importance of programs like SMART Heroes for the spouses and families of veterans. He also emphasized the Department of Labor’s commitment to partnering with unions to help servicemembers and veterans transition into the workforce.

“It’s a natural fit to want to go to an organization where servicemembers have a sense of camaraderie, teamwork, mission,” Rodriguez remarked. “We know that our veterans who participate in apprenticeship programs have financial security.”

“I’m just happy to be here, to be able to do this work with you all,” he added.

Watch coverage of the November SMART Heroes event in episode four of SMART News.

Other speakers included Eric Dean, president of the Ironworkers; Martin Helms, executive director of Helmets to Hardhats; and Michael Harris, administrator of the International Training Institute. Harris noted that the SMART Heroes program is approaching its fifth year of existence and is already nearing the 500-graduate benchmark — a remarkable achievement. Helms, meanwhile, explained that programs like SMART Heroes and Helmets to Hardhats really have one mission: “To change veterans’ lives. Making sure young individuals like Giann here have the opportunity to transition to these life-changing careers.”

SMART Director of Organizing Darrell Roberts, himself a veteran, concluded the event by thanking the attendees and praising the cooperation of all parties involved.

“It takes a village, and you’re all part of our village, so thank you very much,” he declared.

In early June, SMART Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) journey-worker Lisa Davis was named one of the winners of the June NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes Award, which “honors two apprentices and two journey-level workers in the United States and Canada that set an exemplary example both on and off the jobsite.”

“Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for SMART International Training Institute [ITI],” read the press release announcing Lisa’s win. “Sister Davis’s passion for moving the industry’s direction to increase safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion standards in the workplace is nothing short of what she has been able to accomplish to reach those goals.”

In 2005, Lisa graduated from the University of California, Davis, solely committed to one goal: becoming a surgeon. Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Lisa moved to Oregon to attend Oregon Health and Science University — but she soon realized a life in medicine wasn’t her calling.

Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for the International Training Institute.

The next three years found Lisa exploring what that calling might be. She worked as a barista, in an operating room and on a farm in Hawaii. After those disparate and exciting experiences, though, it was ultimately something much simpler — a job working as a mechanic in a bowling alley — that changed her life. It was there that she realized working with her hands with mechanical tools, rather than a scalpel, was her ticket to happiness.

Following that epiphany, Lisa sought out Oregon Tradeswomen and completed the organization’s training before she was accepted into the apprenticeship at Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 in Portland. There she completed a building trades apprenticeship and service program. A passionate advocate for education, recruitment, retention and diversity, Lisa worked her way up to become Local 16’s first female instructor. She also helped form a diversity committee and served on the ground floor of the local’s mentoring program, both of which continue to this day.

In 2019, Lisa furthered her role as a mentor by joining the ITI as a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) service and testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) specialist. She also serves on SMART’s International Women’s Committee, where she helped craft resolutions and amendments leading up to the union’s 2019 national convention.

“Sister Davis continues to elevate all members by devoting her extra time to actively working with her peers to create and implement DEI and safety language within government laws, initiating mentoring programs, training and educating members, and simply ’Doing the Right Thing,’” the press release concluded. “[Her] commitment, dedication, and hard work have proven that opportunity is a viable pathway for members to reach their fullest potential. Sister Davis is a true HERO for all members of SMART.”

Michael Harris, a longtime staffer at the International Training Institute (ITI), has taken the reins as its administrator. A second-generation sheet metal worker, Harris got his first taste of the industry at age 16, when he spent the summer working in a sheet metal shop.

Initially opting for college, Harris later changed course and worked in a custom fabrication shop alongside his father before joining the SMART Local 20 (Indianapolis, Ind.) apprenticeship program in 1991. During the fourth year of his apprenticeship, Harris began teaching part time at the Local 20 training center, moving to full-time teaching in 1997. By 2000, Harris took over as director of training for the statewide training trust.

In 2005, Harris joined the ITI staff as a welding assessor, and in 2009 he took on the role of program administrator, overseeing programming and instructor training and managing field staff. After the retirement of James Page in 2020, Harris assumed many of the responsibilities of ITI administrator in an acting capacity, assisting Funds Administrator Daniel McCallum in running the day-to-day operations of the organization. Effective Jan. 1, Harris officially accepted the role of ITI administrator.

 “Mike has been instrumental in the success of ITI over the years,” McCallum said. “His knowledge and experience have made my job as funds administrator far easier. He is absolutely the best person for the job.”

Harris hopes to continue to build on ITI’s success, adding new instructional offerings and developing programs for the sheet metal workers of tomorrow.

“I’m excited to take on this new role at ITI,” Harris said. “I genuinely believe that the ITI trains the best and the brightest. Our instructors are top notch, our programs are among the most advanced and dynamic in the industry. And our staff is second to none.”

The International Training Institute’s (ITI) Ventilation Verification for Indoor Air Quality curriculum took another step forward this year when the ITI hosted eight JATC instructors at its first train-the-trainer course at Local 359 in Phoenix. It was the second component of the training — the first half was held remotely.

Ventilation verification is a physical assessment of an existing commercial HVAC system completed by a skilled, trained and certified technician. The result is a report that design professionals can rely on when recommending adjustments, repairs, upgrades or replacements. School districts and building owners can then make educated decisions on the verification or recommended improvements to their building indoor air quality — from virus and biologic mitigation to carbon dioxide level control.

The Ventilation Verification for Indoor Air Quality curriculum provides a basic heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) foundation in addition to sample forms and hands-on skill assessments. It was designed to be customizable by a given JATC to meet a student’s or class’s level of experience and expertise. For the instructors learning the curriculum, once they have the overall picture of the training material and curriculum, they can tailor it to each level of training required.

“If a JATC has experienced HVAC, TAB or service instructors, they can offer this curriculum immediately — even if they do not have an installed TAB lab. The HVAC equipment that runs the building of the training center may work for demonstrations or practice,” said Pat Pico, one of the framers of the curriculum and a member of the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB) Hall of Fame.

While the instructor class is delivered partially online, the hands-on, in-person component of the class provides the most benefits because instructors can “get [their] hands on the instruments and equipment and build that muscle memory,” added Pico, who is also the training coordinator and TABB supervisor for Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 and the Bay Area Training Fund.

Although the initial planning for the curriculum began long before the pandemic — as a means to address improper ventilation and increased levels of carbon dioxide in classrooms — it came together while the world was still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19. Development of this new curriculum began at the end of 2020, and the first virtual pilot course went live in May 2021 — a rapid turnaround under normal circumstances.

“We were able to respond quickly because we had subject-matter experts already in place and familiar with ITI’s process of curriculum development,” Pico said. “With this curriculum, we can show any federal, state or local government entities that we have the resources and ability to train people to get the work done properly.”

At Local 104 in Northern California, where Pico is a TAB and HVAC instructor, every apprentice receives HVAC fundamentals and basic TAB skills as part of their overall training. If a member has received an education that focused on HVAC fabrication and installation, this curriculum can add skills and knowledge to keep them prepared for the opportunities in ventilation verification assessment — even if those opportunities have yet to hit their corner of the country.

“The curriculum can make our members better sheet metal workers by adding skills and knowledge that helps explain HVAC system functionality,” Pico said. “Now, sheet metal workers have the tools to recognize potential design mistakes before fabrication and installation and can reduce potential errors in ductwork installation. They can recognize how a system is supposed to operate and function. They ask key questions, so the work is done right the first time. We sell that quality, so we can be the best in the industry.”

Additional classes are scheduled throughout the year for training centers that want to get into the game.

“We’re hopeful end-users see the success of ventilation verification assessments and it leads to more opportunities for our contractors and our members, as well as to a healthy building environment for occupants,” Pico said. “If you need an instructor to take this curriculum and bring the knowledge back to their locals and training centers, send them to this valuable class.”

Click here to check the ITI’s course catalog for the next Ventilation Verification for Indoor Air Quality train-the-trainer course.