SMART Foundation lays groundwork for veterans training program

The transition from active duty military service to civilian life is by no means simple. Those who take the oath to serve in the military risk their lives daily for the benefit of others. When those servicemen and women return, they face new challenges, including how to navigate and thrive as a civilian.

One of the most challenging obstacles veterans face is entering the workforce after service. Civilian life often lacks structure, camaraderie and a sense of purpose to which veterans are accustomed. One of the first steps in adjusting to the shift in lifestyles is to find a stable career that emulates the structure of military life through connection, teamwork and becoming part of something bigger than oneself.

Understanding this need, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transport Workers (SMART), in conjunction with the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), developed the SMART Heroes Foundation in 2017 to offer retiring military service members the opportunity to explore the organized sheet metal industry.

SMART Heroes provides sheet metal industry training through an accelerated seven-week program for enlisted U.S. military men and women who plan to enter civilian life within the year, assisting with their successful transition to the civilian workforce and a satisfying lifelong career in the sheet metal industry.

SMART Heroes Foundation administrator James Page said the program is a “win-win for everyone.”

“The men and women who enter the program are exactly the type of workers we want in the industry,” he added. “They are disciplined, hard-working, eager to learn and loyal. We are honored to provide them with an opportunity to join our trade and become part of our union family.”

The SMART Heroes Foundation is administered by Page and two trustees, Bob Butler, business manager for SMART Local 17 in Boston, and Kevin Jones, vice president at Richards Sheet Metal in Utah.

Butler said the seven-week program encapsulates the first year of a SMART apprenticeship.

“It is an intensive 224-hours of training,” he said.

The International Training Institute (ITI) created the curriculum so that students receive training in testing, adjusting and balancing, industrial welding, service, architectural, and building information modeling (BIM). Students also complete OSHA 30-hour training and 40 hours in their choice of specialty.

Butler said Local 17 has had a few apprentices come in to his JATC through the SMART Heroes program.

“Anytime we get an application from a service member, we make sure we get them in at Local 17,” Butler said. “I love that we can give these veterans a path from a great career in the military to a great career in sheet metal.”

Butler said the SMART Heroes program makes him feel like he is “giving back to the veterans who have given so much for this country. I personally never served, my brother is a career Navy man, and in some small way I see my involvement in this program as my opportunity to support these brave soldiers.”

Butler and Jones are tasked with administering the program. They are working to find additional funding through donations from private companies across the country, build on the existing program, help expand the program, and get the word out to service members, local unions and signatory contractors.

Right now, the program is offered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in DuPont, Washington, and at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but they are looking to expand to additional locations.

“We have some additional locations that we are working with,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, every time we have gotten close to opening, we have hit some obstacle or another. In one case, we were really close, and then the company got deployed, so we couldn’t run the class. Hopefully, we will be able to announce more locations soon.”

For additional information on the SMART Heroes program, visit the website at