Two members of the first class of SMART Heroes, the unionized sheet metal industry’s bridge from military life to a civilian career in sheet metal, welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), are set to graduate in the next few months.
Army veterans Joshua Buckley, 40, and Richard Quintana, 55, were members of the first SMART Heroes class, which began in August 2017. Upon graduation from the program, they entered the apprenticeship as second-year students at Western Washington Sheet Metal, the training center of Sheet Metal Workers Local 66, in Dupont. This means Buckley and Quintana will graduate the five-year apprenticeship in four years — Buckley in November, Quintana in January.
Both soldiers said they chose sheet metal because they enjoy working with their hands as well as the comradery and benefits the union provides.
“It was a really smooth transition,” Buckley said. “You stand together. You’re stronger together than you are apart. The Army is the same way.”
“I had choices after retirement. I knew sheet metal would be actually working. I didn’t want to sit at a desk anymore,” Quintana added. “I also didn’t want to be in charge of a bunch of people. The Army isn’t the easiest thing to be in charge of people. You can go somewhere and you will come back with half of them. It takes a toll. I needed a break. I wanted to work with my hands, and this one sort of fell in my lap.”
Buckley currently works in architectural sheet metal. Quintana plans to work in HVAC service.
In order to graduate from SMART Heroes, participants completed a seven-week course to earn the equivalent of their first-year sheet metal apprentice training (224 hours). Upon discharge from service, these graduates may choose to enter any of the 148 SMART apprenticeship programs in the United States and be provided direct entry and advanced placement as a second-year sheet metal apprentice, including a high probability of obtaining second-year apprentice wages and benefits.
The program was created by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers; the International Training Institute (ITI), SMART’s education arm; and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), the contractors’ side of the unionized sheet metal industry. Using curriculum developed by the ITI, the three organizations then collaborated with Sheet Metal Workers Local 66 in Western Washington, its Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC), SMACNA Western Washington and Helmets to Hardhats.
The first SMART Heroes program was launched in August 2017 in Washington and was established to provide free sheet metal industry training to active-duty U.S. military men and women who plan to enter the civilian life within the year, thereby assisting in a successful transition into the civilian workforce. The second location in Colorado Springs began offering the same training in August 2019.