Labor, management tout program that helps low-income workers find careers

DETROIT – When the economy crashed, many Detroit residents had to search for any job that could pay the immediate bills instead of a promising career that could provide a future. Building trades unions and their affiliated contractor associations stepped up with the Access for All program ( to help individuals seeking a career in construction find a pathway to success.

That investment is paying off now that Detroit’s economy has turned around, and there is unprecedented demand for skilled union construction workers, according to CASS Sheet Metal President Glenn Parvin.

“We want to create a better Detroit and create more opportunities for residents,” he said.

Parvin is a board member for the sheet metal apprenticeship training center sponsored by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Local 80 and contractors of the Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) Metropolitan Detroit Chapter.

Access for All is a nine-week, 300-hour training program that prepares participants for successful entry into construction apprenticeships and employment in the skilled trades. It covers workplace essential skills, such as safety, financial coaching, mentoring and teamwork; teaches basic construction skills, such as how to read a tape measure and blueprints; and provides a refresher on math and algebra skills. Students also work on a simulated construction site.

The program also provides drug testing and assures candidates have a driver’s license and transportation.

“Many Access for All participants come from poverty and several are homeless, so we have to start with the basics.” said Don O’Connell, industry liaison for Access for All.

In the past four years, more than 100 individuals have enrolled and 80 percent have completed the program. Of those, 91 percent are employed, 81 percent have industry-related employment, and 67 percent entered into apprenticeships.

SMART Local 80 has welcomed several Access for All graduates into the program.

“These students are very energetic and optimistic,” said Sam Velez, a sheet metal journeyman and architectural instructor at the training center. “Their training allows them to be quickly placed with contractors.”

Velez is enthusiastic about the program.

“Access for All is giving opportunities to candidates who want to work hard,” he said, “and it gives us the opportunities to employ good workers.”

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) work together as Partners in Progress. They have a labor-management partnership that is more than 75 years old. Together they fund the International Training Institute (ITI), which develops and produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum for apprenticeship training centers across the United States and Canada. For additional information, visit or