Apprenticeship with 39 percent veterans earns national award

The recruitment of military veterans is a priority for the unionized sheet metal industry, especially on the training side. At Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 in Colorado Springs, the recruitment of veterans has been going on for more than a decade, and in November, the Department of Labor recognized the apprenticeship program’s effort and continued success.

On Nov. 8, training coordinator Andrew Gilliland traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the 2018 Platinum HIRE (Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing) Vets Medallion Program Demonstration Award.

To date, the apprenticeship program is made up of 39 percent veterans, and while Gilliland recruits, he doesn’t specifically target veterans. The success is based off relationships formed with neighboring Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson.

“It’s taken over 10 years to build that relationship with all those bases,” Gilliland said. “I can hear the bugles from Fort Carson. We have a very good location, and I have fostered over the last 15 years a very good network of military exit counselors who I’ve dealt with throughout the entire region. Sheet metal workers have a fantastic opportunity for veterans. It’s a fairly substantial military population.”

The partnership the apprenticeship program has with Mt. Carmel Veterans Services Center is another reason it was chosen to earn the platinum distinction. It gives veterans additional peace of mind.

“It’s a one-stop shop for veterans who can go there with any problem. They can help,” Gilliland said. The partnership began when Mt. Carmel broke ground in 2015. “We wouldn’t have been able to receive this award without their partnership.”

The brotherhood/sisterhood found in the union, along with the work environment, is primed for military veterans, Gilliland said.  Many times, service members don’t know how to transition infantry, tank and scout skills to a new civilian career.

“The anxiety level of a soldier shows when they walk through my door is at a 10. I sit down and show them the plan for the rest of their life if they want to be a sheet metal worker. When I tell them the veteran saturation I have in the program, they feel like they belong,” Gilliland said. “They all have built-in leadership skills, work ethic, problem solving skills. They have all that just from their life experience. We get the benefit of them. We’re the lucky ones. We get ready-made, quality people walking through the door. And the employers seem to like them, too.”

Gilliland calls the higher-than-average veteran population in his apprenticeship an “organic occurrence,” due to the number of military bases in the area. When veterans walk through his door, wanting to head for their hometowns, Gilliland gets on the phone to the training coordinator in that area. Actively recruiting veterans is something all coordinators can do in one form or another, he said.

“Veterans are succeeding,” he said. “I decided to apply for this award because I wanted something to hang on the wall for those veterans, so they could say, ‘That’s because I’m here. That’s mine.’”

“America’s veterans are proven leaders who bring skills, dedication and determination to our nation’s workforce,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in the Department of Labor award announcement. “To earn a HIRE Vets Medallion Award, job creators must demonstrate a solid commitment to providing veterans with the opportunity to build a meaningful career. This program recognizes a standard for excellence in veterans hiring and helps veterans identify employers who are committed to advancing veterans in the workplace.”

The Department of Labor established the program under the Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing (HIRE) American Military Veterans Act, which was signed into law in May 2017. For additional information, visit

More than 14,000 apprentices are registered at over 150 training facilities across the United States and Canada. The International Training Institute (ITI) is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) 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 heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), welding and industrial, architectural and ornamental, and service and testing, adjusting and balancing industry throughout the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, the ITI develops and produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.

Originally posted on Eye on Sheet Metal.