Albuquerque sheet metal workers get hands-on training while helping charity

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – At the sheet metal workers training center in Albuquerque, NM, apprentices learning their craft once designed and constructed projects in the lab only to tear them down once their grade was filed. Materials were thrown away and talents were kept in house.

Luckily for Albuquerque’s Habitat for Humanity program, instructor John Pennebaker thought those materials and skills could be repurposed to help a good cause. Today, apprentices still design and build at the training center but, instead of dismantling the project, they install the new air conditioning duct work, dryer vents and exhaust fans into new homes for the Greater Albuquerque Habitat for Humanity. Since November, apprentices have helped complete three houses with a fourth house beginning construction in May.

The partnership brings needed skill and materials to the project while giving apprentices on-the-job training they don’t receive at the training center.

“The job goes so much faster,” said Judy Lucero, executive director for the Greater Albuquerque Habitat for Humanity. “Typically, it takes 12 weeks to build a 1,100-square-foot home from start to finish. When we have groups like this involved, it cuts our build time by a couple weeks, saving money and keeping our program going forward. And this is really a training, on-site classroom for them.”

Approximately 86 apprentices worked on the first three houses combined, and the experience in real-world problem solving has allowed them to gain experience not otherwise found at the training center, said Jerry Arms, coordinator at the New Mexico and West Texas training center. The instructors, who check the work in the lab and on the job site, also can identify apprentices’ individual talents.

“It teaches them the value. It forces them to plan ahead and think through the entire job,” Arms said. “It also gets them into the residential market. None of the guys have been exposed to it unless they worked in it before they came to the union. It introduces them to a market they’ve never been associated with because most of them work in the commercial market.”

The training center, supported by the International Training Institute, the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, currently foots the bill for materials – about $700 for the cost of sheet metal – but the cost is worth the reward, Arms said.

“It’s well worth what we’re getting out of it, no doubt,” he added. “It’s been a really good experience. All the apprentices seem like they really enjoy it. A few have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity on their own time as a result.”

For the Greater Albuquerque Habitat for Humanity, the partnership allows them to continue to build affordable homes for working families.

“The bulk of our volunteers are not skilled,” Lucero said. “To have a group like this, it’s definitely a win-win for all of us. We would really be handicapped without it.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in theUnited StatesandCanada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout theUnited StatesandCanada. Located inAlexandria,Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

Those interested in the Greater Albuquerque Habitat for Humanity can visit or call 505-265-0057.

For more information about ITI, visit or call 703-739-7200.