“What can women do in the trades” was the Google search that changed everything for Lisa Davis, who was recently hired as the administrator for the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC).

After working a series of odd jobs both in and out of the trades and experiencing pervasive discrimination, she had almost given up on the building trades as a career path. But in 2008, after Googling that question, Davis found the website for Oregon Tradeswomen, an organization that focuses on providing opportunities for women in building trades apprenticeships. She enrolled in the organization’s trades and apprenticeship career class, which eventually led her to the apprenticeship program at SMART Local 16 (Portland, Ore.).

Today, Davis would be the first to tell you what women can do in the trades: She is now the first woman to serve as administrator of NEMIC.

“I am very excited to be a part of the NEMIC fund — there are so many powerful initiatives that this brilliant team is working hard on moving forward to help bring more work to our members,” she said, also expressing her gratitude to those who came before her. “I’m looking forward to continuing to collaborate with our contractors on what efforts best serve our industry to give us the edge, and to bring public and stakeholder awareness to issues that matter the most, like energy efficiency and public safety.”

“Lisa is a fantastic choice to lead NEMIC into the future,” said David Bernett, former NEMIC administrator and current SMART international representative for U.S. Northeast Region 1. “She worked closely with our NEMIC team over the last several years, and her work ethic, integrity and honesty shine through in everything she does. Honestly, on more than one occasion I wished I had hired her instead of the ITI [International Training Institute], because she is just that good.”

Davis took an unconventional career path into the sheet metal industry. She originally attended the University of California, Davis, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology. With aspirations of becoming a doctor, she then moved to Oregon to attend the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She also became a perfusion assistant, helping monitor the medical equipment that keeps patients’ hearts and lungs functional during surgeries.

The job was grueling. Davis worked 20-hour shifts and was on call day and night. She felt burned out after only two years and realized medicine wasn’t for her.

Davis had worked in a bowling alley as a mechanic during her undergraduate studies, so she found a similar position in Oregon. Not only was the work taxing — as the only woman on the job, she faced consistent misogynistic behavior from the mechanical staff. It was around that time that she entered that fateful Google search.

While her studies at Oregon Tradeswomen restored her faith that she could find a career in the trades, it took almost two years for her to be accepted into the Sheet Metal Institute, Local 16’s five-year apprenticeship program. It was 2008, and the country was at the height of a recession. Jobs were sparse.

Once Davis began her training at the Sheet Metal Institute, she proved to be a dedicated and skilled apprentice. Within a year of journeying out, she was recruited by her alma mater to develop and implement a service apprenticeship program. In 2016, Davis was hired as a full-time service apprenticeship program instructor at Local 16, and she began working at the ITI just two years later.

“Lisa has had the words ‘first woman’ attached to her name a lot over the past several years,” said Dan McCallum, executive director of the Funds, which comprise NEMIC, ITI and the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT). “While the distinction is important and notable, it didn’t factor into our selection process. Lisa was, by far, the most qualified candidate for the job.”

Aaron Hilger, CEO of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), concurred.

“I couldn’t agree more with Dan’s assessment,” he said. “Lisa is the most qualified person for the job, and I am very excited to work with her. Lisa’s strategic leadership at NEMIC will help SMART members and SMACNA contractors gain market share and work hours, and help guide us through the complex waters of indoor air quality and ventilation verification.”

Ohio native Cassandra Kline has been hired as NEMIC’s director of building construction technology. In that role, she serves as a field representative to SMART locals all over the United States and Canada and is responsible for creating and implementing strategies for the use of new and existing technologies in order to expand skills and opportunities for SMART sheet metal workers and signatory employers.

“I’m building relationships with local unions and contractors, promoting new business ideas and technology, as well as representing NEMIC on committees and developing documents for American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accreditation,” Kline said.

As a second-generation sheet metal worker, Kline began her apprenticeship on the advice of her father, who served as the training coordinator at Local 33 in Toledo, Ohio. Kline’s brother is also a sheet metal worker, and she has an uncle who works in the electrical trade, so union life runs in her family. After graduating high school, Kline moved to Panama City Beach, Florida, and worked in the food and beverage industry for several years before returning to Toledo to take a job as a shop maintenance manager’s assistant. This sparked her interest in the field, and she tested and entered the apprenticeship, graduating in 2020.

During that time, she worked at VM Systems Inc., where she gained experience in TAB, architectural, commercial and heavy industrial applications of sheet metal work. In 2021, Kline took classes through the International Training Institute and became a part-time instructor at Local 33 for fire life safety, indoor air quality and TAB. She then joined Gem Inc. as a field supervisor for the TAB division and was soon promoted to service manager.

She says her rise in the field is a testament to the fact that the sheet metal industry provides opportunities to anyone willing to put in the time and effort.

“Be prepared for the opportunities. Show up, work hard and learn everything you can,” she said.

Kline has been settling into her new role and is enthusiastic about working with the rest of the NEMIC staff.

“I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a great team,” she added. “I’m learning every single day and have great mentors looking out for me and helping guide me along the way.”

Kline spends her spare time golfing and enjoying walks with her dog, Huckleberry.

Vince Alvarado, a longtime business manager for SMART Local 49 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, joined NEMIC this past fall as the fund’s new director of implementation. Alvarado has been tasked with overseeing some of NEMIC’s legislative initiatives and working to implement solutions that NEMIC identifies across the country.

NEMIC Director of Implementation Vince Alvarado

“I’m working on the ‘how’ of things. How can we assist locals and contractors in states where we’ve passed legislation on indoor air quality, for example? We get the legislation passed, but there may be no enforcement. We need to change that,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado started working for a small independent refrigeration contractor as a junior in high school. He apprenticed at Local 49 and went on to serve in various leadership roles there, culminating in his election as business manager/financial secretary in 2010. After a few years, he was also elected to serve in a statewide leadership role as president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, in 2018.

In both roles, Alvarado had to find ways to influence local politics. For SMART, he worked on smoke and fire damper legislation. As the leader of the AFL-CIO New Mexico state federation, he assisted in getting various types of legislation in front of state decision makers, most aimed at improving health and safety outcomes for working people and their families.

At NEMIC, Alvarado looks forward to helping people and organizations like Local 49 on this much larger scale, and he realizes he will need to navigate political scenes that may be more complex than he’s previously experienced. COVID introduced to the world many of the issues with indoor air quality, and now it’s time to work to help fix those issues, he said.

“I’ll be working with new faces, which is exciting, but it could be difficult, if I don’t understand the political landscape,” Alvarado said. “While I could approach solutions in my work at Local 49 entirely from a working family perspective, I now have to approach it with more groups in mind. That could be a challenge.”

Even before the pandemic, Alvarado was fighting to improve indoor air quality regulations, along with smoke and fire damper laws. In 2019, Local 49 fought for and passed SB 143 — the nation’s first statewide fire safety law. Alvarado subsequently worked with leaders in Nevada, New Jersey and Hawaii to pass similar legislation.

NEMIC is saying “see you later” to two longtime sheet metal stalwarts who recently retired after decades of valu­able service. Their hard work and the countless contributions they have made as leaders have kept our industry at the forefront of the skilled construction trades.

John Hamilton, director of imple­mentation for the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB), began his career as a sheet metal apprentice in 1982. Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, John has been a member of Local 10 in Maplewood, Minnesota, his entire career.

John attended Saint Paul Technical College and graduated with an associate degree in sheet metal and HVAC, which jump-started his apprenticeship. After his apprentice­ship, John spent five years as a field foreman and manager of testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) jobs at Harris Mechanical in Saint Paul. He advanced by joining the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) as a field representative and then the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal industry, as a regional coordinator. During that time, he founded the train-the-trainer program for TAB instructors and developed the current ITI/ NEMIC air duct calculator.

As a regional coordinator, John served as the technical expert for many of the current ITI training modules, including fire life safety, sound and vibration, piping systems, ventilation/indoor air quality, pumps, fans, psychometrics, the TAB manual and the TABB home study course for test and balance.

In 1995, he was hired as the chief operating officer (later, director of implementation) of TABB. There, he helped craft the current International Certification Board (ICB)/TABB certification program; lobbied for fire life safety legisla­tion in cities, counties and states nationwide; worked to get TABB-specific language into thousands of construction specifications; and was instrumental in the accredi­tation of ICB/TABB to ISO/IEC 17024 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) National Accreditation Board (ANAB).

Scott Hammond, NEMIC’s director of research, is a lifelong resident of Circleville, Ohio. Scott joined SMART Local 24 in Columbus as an apprentice in 1986. As a young journeyperson working with Speer Mechanical, he was appointed to a committee to investigate the establishment of a defined contribu­tion pension plan in the Columbus district. In 1999, he became an organizer with Local 24, where he reached out to potential members and oversaw the youth-to-youth program. He took on additional responsibilities when he was elected business representative in 2008.

In 2011, he became business manager for Local 24. In this role, Scott, his team and fellow leaders of other Ohio locals worked to get ordinances passed in cities and counties around the state to require damper inspections and repairs by ICB-certified technicians.

As the director of research for NEMIC, he used his extensive knowledge of fire damper legislation to help members across the country educate their local politicians, fire and building inspectors and building owners about the impor­tance of HVAC fire life safety.

Scott also served as a trustee on several Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Taft-Hartley funds, and he has represented sheet metal workers on multiple funds, boards and committees, including Mayor Andrew Ginther’s Labor Advisory Committee, established by the city of Columbus, and the Ohio State Building Trades Council Executive Board.