Sheet metal journeymen learn how to open, manage own service shop Nov. 26-30

FAIRFAX, Va. – Answering when opportunity knocks is always the first step. For some sheet metal workers, that knocking sound is the Service Manager course, offered by the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry. The course opens career options by teaching journeymen how to open their own shop or step into managing an existing one.

The course is offered at the request of each training center. The next course will be hosted by Sheet Metal Workers Local 15 from 7 a.m. to approximately 3:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, through Friday, Nov. 30, at the Local 15 training center, 2688 S. Design Court in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando. Only members in good standing in the area are permitted to attend and must contact their coordinator to register.

The five-day, 40-hour course is a pilot program derived from a mix of ITI’s Business 101 course and instructor Darrell Garrison’s personal experience as an experienced service manager. It 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, workers need to be skilled in dealing with vendors and familiar with certifications, day-to-day activities, writing purchase orders and creating documents and spreadsheets, even the basics of marketing. The course allows sheet metal workers to shape their own career paths – create their own service department, vie for promotion to service manager or start their own service business, a growing market in the industry.

“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.”

The Local 15 training center has been teaching a service program for years as a proactive measure. There are currently no union service shops in the area, which has led some contractors to re-evaluate their target audience. The course also gives members skills they can keep at home rather than traveling for work all over the state.

“When gas was cheaper, this was not much of a factor,” said James Kane, apprenticeship coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers Local 15. “Now, we have members trying to find work closer to home and starting in service is much more cost effective than starting a fabrication shop. Also, the service market is a cash opportunity without many of the billing delays found in other parts of the construction industry.”

When the course was scheduled in Florida, the unemployment rate among journeymen was 40 percent.

“Self employment is not the best choice for everyone, but for the right members, this gives the shortest route to independence,” Kane said. “For members who might enjoy the service type of career, this hopefully opens opportunities with existing contractors to expand into this untapped area of our market and boost our membership’s employment.”

The more sheet metal workers are put back to work all over the country, the better.

“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. If one guy is in business, that’s at least one sheet metal worker back to work.”

Being a sheet metal worker gives them 80 percent of what they need to be successful as a service manager. Garrison gives them the other 20 percent through this course while filling in the holes with those high-level service manager skills, said James Shoulders, executive administrator for 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,” Shoulders added. “Either way, they’re increasing and starting a union service business. That’s the idea.”

Members 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.