St. Louis training center networking, making connections to benefit students

Networking and business-to-business marketing is a popular strategy, linking thousands of business owners and organizations and creating partnerships across the economic landscape. In St. Louis, the training center at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 36 has taken the strategy and used it as a tool to educate the business and academic communities about unionized sheet metal higher education.

Creating a line of communication opens doors for high school and college students to learn about the training center and for existing apprentices to further their educations.

It takes time and patience to attend events, meetings and discussions without immediate results, but it’s an investment worth making, said Steve Sneed, training coordinator at Local No. 36.

“All those relationships, people I’ve met have led to opportunities to get involved,” he added. “It’s finding the right relationship and building that relationship. That’s made all the difference in the world for us.”

Three years ago, Sneed took a chance and accepted an invitation to exhibit at a career fair for high school students. Through networking, he was invited to get involved in a school-business partnership, which needed a new place to hold meetings. Sneed offered up the training center.

Since then, he’s picked up more leads, meeting and educating professionals and academics about sheet metal training. During tours of the Local No. 36 facility, career fairs, panel discussions and board meetings, business cards are exchanged and connections are made with college professors, high school counselors, technical school instructors and high school students who thought a two-year or four-year college or university was the only option for higher education.

Adding sheet metal training into the higher education conversation takes time, because people – even academics – often aren’t aware of the opportunity.

“Counselors think college is the only thing out there. The kids aren’t told any other options. They’re driven by ‘college.’ They’re all ‘college bound,’” Sneed said. “Counselors can put that in their school brochures.”

In February, Sneed participated in a panel discussion for St. Louis Graduates Professional Development Institute, which welcomed more than 100 counselors and partners from middle and high schools, colleges, youth-centric nonprofit organizations and career advisers from across the state. Sneed served on the panel along with Rebecca Emerson, director of school and community partnerships, St. Louis Community College; and Dr. John Gaal, director of training and workforce development, St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council.

After the panel, Sneed and his staff guided three tours of the facility, answered questions and exchanged business cards. In the weeks following, he was in contact with many who reached out to him regarding the apprenticeship program.

“It gets to the point where it’s about the kids, the future,” Sneed said. “Afterwards, I realized opportunities really do exist. This is a viable option for outreach.”

This school year, Local No. 36 also created an Explorer Post in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America. The Explorer leadership development program consists of youth ages 14 to 20 who delve into a career interest, receiving hands-on career experiences through partnerships with businesses, organizations and government agencies.

Although Sneed won’t see these students apply for a sheet metal apprenticeship for a few years, the investment is worth it. Sneed sees a shift in the community to one that includes sheet metal training in the higher education conversation.

“The last six months, the recruitment has picked up,” Sneed said. “You’ve just got to do it. Many cities have school-business partnerships. For the training coordinators who have the time, it’s worth the effort. It’s going to be fabulous. I’m sure things will pay off.”

Originally run on Eye on Sheet Metal.

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