Sheet metal industry prepares working, unemployed workers for residential service

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Being a service manager isn’t easy, and instructor Darrell Garrison doesn’t sugar coat it for the sheet metal journeymen in his class. Running or owning a shop has pitfalls and successes, and Garrison is set to make sure each student understands every one of them. The Service Manager course, offered through the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, was offered for the first time in June at the training center at Local 88 in Las Vegas.

The five-day, 40-hour course, a pilot program derived from a mix of ITI’s Business 101 course and Garrison’s personal experience as an experienced service manager, covers everything from creating a business name to hiring personnel with a dose of reality and a bit of encouragement thrown in for good measure.

No matter their ambitions, students in the course need to be skilled in dealing with vendors and familiar with certifications, day-to-day activities, writing purchase orders and creating documents and spreadsheets. The course allows sheet metal workers to shape their own path – create their own service department, vie for promotion to service manager or start their own service business.

“To be an effective service manager, you have to know every aspect of what makes that company run,” Garrison said. “Sometimes you have to wear a lot of hats.”

Union sheet metal workers already possess the service skills, but they require higher level service manager skills.

“They have 80 percent of what they need. Darrell (Garrison) is giving them the remaining 20 percent and filling in the holes with those high level service manager skills,” said James Shoulders, executive administrator of the ITI. “They will gain the confidence they need to start their own business or go out and start a service department for an existing union contractor. Either way, they’re increasing and starting a union service business. That’s the idea.”

In Las Vegas, the course served as hope for the unemployed journeymen, who accounted for half the class. With a 65 percent unemployment rate among journeymen at Local 88, the course gives out-of-work journeymen another tool they can use to progress in their careers.

“What are you going to do if no one is going to hire you? You may as well go into business for yourself. I know I could do it better than others in town. There are a lot of people who are scam artists out there,” said Jesus Montanez, a journeyman at Local 88. “I already know how to make the money. I just don’t know the business side of it.”

With less than 2 percent of the residential service companies in Las Vegas hiring union workers, a shop owned by a sheet metal worker only means good things for peers who are unemployed.

“Some of the people have been out of work long enough to say, ‘Why not? I can hang my own sign,’” Garrison said. “If one guy is in business, that’s at least one sheet metal worker back to work.”

In the eyes of the class members and Garrison, that means there is a niche to be filled by sheet metal workers who will put other sheet metal workers to work.

“We can’t rely on the big companies right now,” said Brett Collier, an unemployed journeyman. “This is a chance for us to make our own bread, so to speak. It gives us the chance to go it alone and then hire others.”

Although it was only the first class, Garrison said he can see it catching on at other training centers across the country for different reasons. Some may be in the same boat as class members in Las Vegas, while others are looking for skills to help advance their careers.

“The whole idea of creating a sheet metal service manager is they are going to hire sheet metal workers as their technicians,” Garrison said. “That puts more unemployed members back to work in an area of the business that greatly needs good people.”

Training centers interested in the Service Manager course can contact their local training coordinator. At least six members in good standing must be signed up for the course for it to take place in that location. If the local joint apprentice training committee (JATC) supplies the students, Garrison will teach the course.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. 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 the United States and Canada. Located in Alexandria,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.

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